A year and a half after the heavyweight title was stripped off the champion, Bellator MMA finally has a plan to crown a new champion and it’s a big one.
On Friday, the promotion announced to MMA Junkie that an eight-man heavyweight tournament Grand Prix is expected to begin in late-January with a conclusion in December 2018. The Grand Prix format is a favorite of Bellator president Scott Coker who famously last had a heavyweight Grand Prix in Strikeforce’s dying days.
The tournament is loaded with notable talent, making for some interesting potential matchups:
– Fedor Emelianenko
– Frank Mir
– Roy Nelson
– Matt Mitrione
– Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion Ryan Bader
– Rampage Jackson
– King Mo
– Chael Sonnen
Yes, you read that right. Sonnen will compete in the promotion’s heavyweight tournament without actually having fought at heavyweight before. He joins the newly re-signed Jackson, King Mo, and Bader — all of which have made their names at different weight classes. Mo and Jackson have fought each other at heavyweight while Mo has competed there several times over the past few years.
Bader’s inclusion is particularly interesting, given he just defended his light heavyweight gold for the first time last weekend. It’s unclear how this will affect the title going forward.
Mir was released from his UFC contract months after a USADA violation that put his career in doubt and signed with Bellator earlier this year. Mitrione is coming off a knockout of Emelianenko, while Nelson is coming off a win in his promotional debut.
No brackets were announced, but expect that to be part of of the official announcement that will happen at one of Bellator’s five remaining 2017 shows. In the Junkie piece, Coker said there will be one fight per event at seven different shows throughout the year. However, there wasn’t any mention of alternates if one of the tourney fighters gets injured.
The last Bellator heavyweight champion was Vitaly Minakov who last defended the title in April 2014 by downing Cheick Kongo. He was finally stripped in May 2016.