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Bellator MMA heavyweight prospect Adam Keresh reflects on big KO win vs. ‘Baby Fedor’

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Adam Keresh (3-0 MMA, 2-0 Bellator) nabbed a great win at Bellator 209 earlier this month in Tel-Aviv, spoiling “Baby Fedor” Kirill Sidelnikov’s promotional debut. After what looked like an unnerving start – which included getting semi-suplexed onto the mat – Keresh remained poised. He promptly dropped the M-1, Affliction, and Rizin veteran with a sneaky front leg head kick. That was soon followed by a rushed, yet nicely-directed right hook that ended the fight.

Watch the bout here.

Bloody Elbow met with the unbeaten prospect in Tel-Aviv at ‘Team Bert’, his trainer Eran Bert’s gym.

Up close, he is a big guy (almost 6’3, around 244 lbs), athletic looking, in crew-cut and shorts; even though it’s getting pretty cold even in the Mediterranean. On his right hand, a bandage, the lone apparent piece of evidence from the fight he was in two weeks ago – no surgery, just time. Keresh waits silently for his trainer before he starts the interview. He doesn’t want to say anything himself, he’d rather answer specific questions, if that’s okay. Keresh is 25. He was born in Jaffa, an ancient port city, nowadays a heterogenic, Jewish-Christian-Muslim borough of Tel-Aviv. Jaffa is beautiful, but some of its neighborhoods can get less charming.

“At the age of six I was sent to a boarding school,” Keresh said. Generally, boarding schools in Israel are less of the Choate Rosemary Hall type, more of the Salem House School type.

“I have six brothers, I’m the oldest one,” Keresh said quietly, almost too quietly, for the mic to pick up. “Apart from the youngest, we were all together in the same boarding school. And I rolled around, they threw me from this place, cut me out of this other. I wasn’t in that boarding school all the way through, but I finished school with a full diploma. Nevertheless I had some social adjustment issues getting there.”

Started training to be able to defend his brothers and himself. Adam Keresh, 25 year old Bellator prospect from Israel, at Eran Bert’s gym in Tel-Aviv

Keresh – literary meaning ‘Plank’ in Hebrew – started training at 17 or so, at Eran Bert’s; his other gym was just down the street in the middle of the first Hebrew city. Keresh wasn’t interested in the sport back then; if anyone would have asked him, he wouldn’t have known who, for instance, Georges St-Pierre was. He didn’t watch the fights, or know really what it was all about. But he says that all his life he wanted to know how to defend himself.

“To defend myself,” Keresh said just a little more loudly when asked to speak up. “And the people who are dear to me. And this is how I started training at Eran’s.”

When asked who are the people who are dearest to him, Keresh replied, “Those people are mostly my brothers. My brothers who were with me at the school.”

“No,” when Keresh was asked if that boarding school was an easy place for him.

Life circumstances, namely Keresh’s socio-economic status at the time, led to an exemption from Israel’s mandatory draft service in the IDF. He wasn’t a sportsman before he started in MMA. You can even say he was the opposite of that. And then at training, at first, the ground game felt more natural to him. But it soon changed.

In the anteroom of his below street-level MMA gym, Eran Bert says that his student is likely a better striker than any other heavyweight in Israel.

“Today, the place he finds more room to express himself is standing up,” Bert said.

He then directed a statement to his fighter: “On the ground you find your way, but not like in the stand-up.” And then to the reporter: “Before the fight we said he was a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. We planted it on a Russian MMA site.”

Be it as it may, once they hit the ground, it didn’t look as if the Russian simply let the Israeli back up on his feet. Keresh utilized an underhook to scramble onto his knees, and then up and away.

“I worked on getting back up to my feet like that in training,” he said.

His trainer continued: “I think that takedown early kind of dropped in Sidelnikov’s lap by surprise. I didn’t think it was in his gameplan. He found himself on the ground, and thought maybe this isn’t right, and Adam immediately capitalized then.”

It seemed to be a very demoralizing start for the young Israeli. Keresh looked like the three-fight rookie against the full pledged pro. But once back standing, the expression on Keresh’s face remained unchanged, like nothing had happened, and he took over. Keresh tends to agree with this viewer’s assessment.

“He had tons of experience,” Keresh noted. “You can say that I put myself together again. But at no point did I feel (like I was) being run over. We were completely ready for something like this. We knew he was going to start at 200. We knew it, I was ready for it.”

Then came the kick causing the knockdown. A speedy, natural looking front left leg head kick.

“No, we worked on that,” Keresh said. “I don’t kick too much, it’s not my style, but we did work specifically on that because we knew he drops his leading hand.”

Fans took note that there might have been an illegal soccer kick thrown by Keresh in that finishing sequence.

Keresh smiled. “What do you think?”

The reporter doesn’t have an opinion, only what he saw in the arena and read online. He hasn’t yet watched a clear replay.

“I haven’t watched a replay either,” said Keresh. “There’s always controversy. The critical part is what the referee called.”

The trainer says he asked his student that as well.

“He told me that he started the kick,” Bert gestured a kick from off his chair. “but caught himself in time to redirect to the body.”

“Truthfully, yes.” Keresh said. “You know, eventually, you can say ‘a sport’, but eventually it’s violence. MMA is a sport, that has violence in it. My instincts, instinctively I made to aim for his head, I really stopped myself and hit his shoulder.”

“He has warrior qualities. He’ll break his arms and legs and won’t lose. That’s his mentality”. Adam Keresh (right) and trainer Eran Bert

In his promotional debut – his second pro fight, in Bellator 188, the organization last outing to Tel-Aviv, in November of last year – Keresh looked calm and seasoned beyond his experience, and scored a second round TKO, against a local Roman “Panda” Kushnir. Keresh and Panda didn’t seem sympathetic to each other at all, back then. At Bellator 209, Panda was in Keresh’s corner.

“I disliked Panda before our match. Now I needed his help, to be honest,” Keresh said. “Eran Bert says that Kushnir was independent, and they knew they needed sparring partners, and Adam is the one who asked him for help.

“I work on everything with Eran,” he added. “There’s a lot of trainers here, but I work on everything with Eran. Obviously I have sparring partners, and I appreciate any help, but Eran is my only trainer. At first I spoke with Eran, I asked him, I asked for his advice, he gave me his blessing, and that’s it, I called Panda. Once our fight was over my disliking was over.”

On the other side of the small counter, his trainer said, “Adam’s world is very dichotomous. There’s who’s with him, in his corner, and there are very few people that get into his corner – because of what he went through in his life. And all of those who are not in his corner, are in the opposite corner. And Panda was in the opposite corner”.

Bert said he didn’t like the way Keresh fought and won against Panda. Against Sidelnikov, he thinks one of the of the main reasons that Keresh won is that this time the preparation and fight were kept strictly professional.

“I think that some of this is owed to maturing, on many levels.” Bert said. “Technically, tactically – realizing that technique serves a certain purpose – and maturing mentally. And his ability to receive people’s help. He doesn’t like getting help. He likes to do everything alone. He likes action. And part of this process was realizing that we can’t win this fight alone, that it’s not the kind of fight we had so far. We weren’t worried so far. Now we needed help.”

Keresh did two sessions a day camp in preparation for Sidelnikov, with the help of Roman Kushnir, and Crob Pugliesi – and Nika Ben Tuashy, who also won by KO in Bellator 209. Inside the cage, and once the tumultuous start was behind him, he looked as comfortable in there as he did in his previous Bellator fight.

“I felt comfortable,” Keresh said.

Keresh came into the Sidelnikov fight having lost weight, but he was banged up.

“Well, two months before the fight I had an infection in the leg and was hospitalized,” he said. “But mostly, last year I’ve broken a rib and couldn’t train for three weeks before the fight, so I looked a little fatter then. Other than in my first pro fight, in all my fights I came in a lousy physical condition. In this fight I came in with a broken toe, and another tear in a leg muscle.”

Keresh then denied that training too hard was the culprit for those injuries.

His trainer didn’t necessarily agree.

“From the start he was very unique,” Bert said. “He has fight in him. He has warrior qualities. He’ll break his arms and legs and won’t lose. That’s his mentality. A mentality of this kind is compound. It’s very good, at the extremity, but it creates a lot of problems getting there. From problems inside the training sessions, through injuries. But he’s maturing now.”

“When I’m in there,” Keresh said, his voice marginally louder by now, “I don’t know if I think about my growing up and life and all of that. But I won’t accept a loss. If it’s up to me.”

When he’s not in there, Keresh now owns a fledgling scooter delivery service.

“I work very, very hard, today I work with 30 restaurants, I’m a hard worker. A day before the Sidelnikov fight, I worked for 12 hours, until 12 at night.”

After the fight was over and he won, Keresh, Bert and Panda went out for steaks.

“Adam is out of the bottle in a way,” Bert said. “Things that could have worked so far, won’t work from now on. Now it is needed to take his talent, and he has talent – he has ring perception, power, speed, sharp instinct; He’s alive in the ring, He’s one these fighters that can bring his everything into the ring. Sure, experience can be a factor. But I think if we do this correctly he can go very very far. We started with one of the toughest challenges he could have, and it’s for the better and worse. They offered us this fight, Baby Fedor, I got a fever, went and looked at videos for 24 hours, and I felt that this can be done – because of certain things he does, and weaknesses – and it’s a good fight for us.”

These days Adam Keresh will watch some fights.

“I watch the guys who interest me. I like big heavyweight fights. I watch all of Alistair Overeem fights, definitely. Yoel Romero. I enjoy watching him.”

Keresh will go back in there himself as soon “as soon as I heal back up.” But at what level of dedication remains to be seen.

“You know, there are negotiations right now [with Bellator]. From their end, they’re interested. For me, in the end, it’s all about money. The money has to be right. I can’t do this for free. Ten years from now, is a very long time from now; I’m taking this on a fight by fight basis,” he concluded.

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