Sergei Kharitonov was one of the heavyweight division's hottest free agents -- until Bellator got ahold of him.
Set to face Javy Ayala this Friday at Bellator 163, the former Strikeforce and PRIDE FC mainstay is making his return to the cage after a full year of inactivity. Despite having only one fight in the last 23 months, Sergei told Fightful.com he's ready.
"I don’t think it will affect me this time," Kharitonov told us in an exclusive interview. "I’m very fresh. I’m fully prepared. I’ve had some to rest and think about my life and my career, to reflect on it sort of and I realized many things and now I’m fully prepared and motivated to fight in Bellator. Also, my goal for the next year is to be very active, I’d like to have 4 or 5 fights a year."
At 36-years old, Kharitonov is no spring chicken, but he also knows that he's not too old to make a run at a top heavyweight spot. He had plenty of other suitors, but landed on Bellator for reasons he made very clear.
"You know, I feel great. I’m in great shape, my health is good, all is well and I think that being 36 years old is not really that much for a heavyweight division. I feel a lot of power inside of me. I feel a lot of energy so that’s why I want to be more and more active," he said. "I have only one goal, being the Bellator champion. Well, I had a lot of offers but all I can say is that Bellator offered me the better deal. It was better than everyone else."
The PRIDE Heavyweight GP Semifinalist is competing in the United States for the first time in over five years. Despite being a seasoned vet, he feels a sense of pressure.
"I’ll be honest with you I feel a lot more responsibility when I’m fighting in the U.S. because of the fans, really. First of all they are very passionate and they are used to exciting fights, they are looking forward to exciting fights. Second, they are very knowledgeable. One of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. They know so much about the sport so every time I compete in the U.S. I feel this tremendous responsibility," Kharitonov said.
Bellator 163 takes place this Friday from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Fightful.com will have full coverage of the event.