Out of all the MMA organizations besides Zuffa, Bellator has to have the most potential to be a true player for years to come. Bellator is slowly but surely building depth in most of their divisions. In January they are making a quantum leap from being broadcasted on MTV 2 to Spike TV. Spike played a huge role in helping the UFC build its brand mostly by airing the “The Ultimate Fighter.” They would also have frequent free events like UFC Fight Night every few months as well. Granted this relationship was a 2 way street, and the UFC was able to put together such a professional and high quality product that it made life easy for Spike execs. All these years of experience has really trained the people at Spike to know how to promote and produce their programming and make it look extremely legit to the fans. No offense to MTV 2, but they are not exactly known as a fights network.
This past year Bellator lost there most dominant, respected, and exciting fighter when former Middleweight (185 lbs) champion Hector Lombard’s contract expired and he decided to bolt to the UFC. Bellator was negotiating to keep him but the UFC used the smart strategy to include a pay-per-view percentage into Lombards contract offer to sweeten the pot a little for him. Bellator does not put on pay-per-view events yet so it was tough for them to compete with Zuffa’s offer. Plus I think Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney knew that in Lombards heart and mind that he really wanted to test his skills against the worlds best middleweights, and that is by far the talent rich UFC middleweight division that boasts such names like Champion Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping, Brian Stann, Mark Munoz, Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Cung Le, Rich Franklin, Chris Leben, Chris Weidman, Alan Belcher, Rousimar Palhares, Tim Boetsch, and Yushin Omami. Just to name a few. This division has become extremely stacked over the last couple of years.
Eddie Alvarez, who is the former Lightweight (155 lbs) champion at Bellator is also coming up to a point in his career where he will have to make a decision whether he wants to stay with the company that has really featured him in a lot of their promoting tactics, and admittedly has paid him very generously. Or, possibly also make the move to Zuffa who has made it clear that they are very interested in signing Alvarez to add to their most depth filled division. It is possible Zuffa might make the proposal to put Alvarez into Strikeforce and give him an immediate title shot against there reigning Lightweight champ Gilbert “El Niño” Melendez as well. See Bjorn Rebney has made it clear to Alvarez that in order for Eddie to get a rematch against the man who took his belt away, current champ Michael Chandler he would have to reenter their lightweight tournament again. This is Bellators business model and it looks like they are going to stick to this for the foreseeable future. I respect their stance with the tournament format, but I think they should consider making a few tweaks to this format for fighters who have already won the tournament in the past or have held the title. There has to be a way for these fighters to get title shots or rematches for a title shot a little quicker than guys who have never accomplished these feats. This might help them keep top quality fighters in the future.
King Mo brings the potential star power that Bellator needs to make a splash on Spike TV.
In the last few months though Bellator has made a few splashes with some big name talent. First they signed the charismatic former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight (205 lbs) champion Muhammad “King Mo” Luwal. Luwal is a very talented fighter with an extremely high level wrestling background. He trains out of the famed AKA camp with such MMA fighters like Daniel Cormier, Jon Fitch, Cain Velazquez, Josh Thompson, and Luke Rockhold. Luwals deal with Bellator was very unique and groundbreaking because it was a dual contract to also compete as a professional wrestler in TNA which also airs on Spike. Luwal has always had a dream to do this so Bellator smartly used that fact to their advantage while negotiating with “King Mo.”
Of course Luwal is currently suspended for testing positive for an anabolic steroid. Luwal claims he unknowingly took this steroid. He was released by Strikeforce after making derogatory comments on Twitter about Nevada State Athletic Commission member Pat Lundvall, who during a hearing on Mo’s suspension asked him if he speaks English and if he can write and read English. He was very offended by this line of questioning but handled it the wrong way. He later did the right thing and issued an apology to Lundvall. Overall Luwal is a really good guy and has an incredible knowledge of combat sports. He has commentated MMA and K1 events and makes the rounds on all the MMA podcasts and radio shows and always represents himself and the sport very well. This was a huge coup for Bellator to add Mo to there weakest division.
Luwal will have to enter the tournament next year and barring a huge upset or injury he should definitely be wearing that 205 belt next year. The current champion Christian M’Pumbu is basically an unknown who recently lost a non-titled bout against MMA vet Travis Wiuff. The main concern with this dual contract is can “King Mo” stay healthy? He has a bad history of major knee problems, and real or not Professional Wrestling can take a heavy toll on any mans body. Especially a guy who is new to the sport and doesn’t know the correct way to fall and execute certain maneuvers. Mo is such a great athlete though and I am sure he will get the hang of it, but I hope he puts MMA first.
Another addition to the Bellator family is Paul “Semtex” Daley. Daley has a record of 29-12 with 20 of his wins coming by KO. He has previously fought in a number of MMA promotions most notably the UFC, Strikeforce, and Elite XC. This Welterweight (170 lbs) has wins over Duane “Bang” Ludwig, John Alessio, Dustin Hazelett, Jorge Masvidal, and Scott Smith. His TKO loss to Nick Diaz in April 2011 was one of the most exciting rounds of fighting we have ever seen. He had Diaz in real trouble knocking him down with punches, but Diaz was able to survive the onslaught and get back to his feet and stun Daley with just 3 seconds remaining in the round. It would have been amazing to see that fight go into the 2nd round but Daley was seriously dazed for a few seconds and in this sport that is all the ref needs to see to stop a fight. It was Daleys loss to Josh Koscheck back in UFC 113 that got him booted from the UFC probably for life. He lost a unanimous decision and was so frustrated by Koschecks verbal abuse during the fight and his inability to stop the superior wrestler from repeatedly taking him down over and over again, that Daley lost control after the fight and punched Koscheck in the face. This act enraged UFC President Dana White and he immediately cut Daley.
There is no denying that Daley has serious power in both of his hands and is a great addition to Bellators welterweight division. Though his first opponent has not yet been announced yet, I am sure he will enter next years Welterweight tournament where he will possibly be joined by the likes of Douglas Lima, Marius Zaromskis, Brian Baker, Brian Foster, Karl Ammoussou, Ben Saunders, Dave Rickels, Waachiim Spiritwolf, (maybe War Machine), Chris Lozano, or Lyman Good. I am not saying these are for sure fighters who will be in the tournament but they are the best fighters currently on Bellators welterweight roster. I have to say that is a respectable group of fighters, and probably the deepest division that Bellator has now. The champion is Ben Askren who doesn’t hide the fact that his game plan is to take you down with his superior wrestling and keep you down with his funky style that many fight fans criticize and call it “lay and pray.” not the most exciting fighter, but his results are undeniable. Askren is 10-0 in his career and 7-0 in Bellator. If Daley were to win that tournament Askren is a terrible matchup for him.
Brett Rogers adds some name recognition to the Bellator Heavyweight division.
Just this past week Bellator has signed three Heavyweights (265 lbs) to try to bolster a fairly week division. The most notable of these three is former Strikeforce contender Brett Rogers. Rogers is 11-4 in his career with his biggest win being a 1st round TKO over former UFC Heavyweight champion Andre “The Pitbull” Arlovski. He had a strong showing against MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko. It ended in a 2nd round TKO loss, but Rogers had Fedor in a bit of trouble early on the fight before Fedor landed a quick and powerful right hand that dropped Rogers. Since that loss he is 1-3 including a manhandling by Alistair Overeem and a quick submission by Josh Barnett. He has had some non fighting problems in his personal life, but this has not prevented Bellator from taking a chance on Brett Rogers hopefully reinventing himself in a new environment. His experience against those 3 legends of the sport can only help him against Bellators Heavyweight roster which only has, in my opinion a few guys that can give Rogers a good fight or possibly take him out. Names like Jon Madsen, Thiago Santos, Eric Prindle, Ron Sparks, and Neil Grove are the best Bellator has to offer. They have also signed undefeated (8-0) Russian Vitaly Minakov and American Ryan Martinez (7-1) to help fill out the division. These 8 fighters can make for a decent tournament next year. The champion is undefeated (9-0) Cole “The Polar Bear” Konrad. He is an underrated champion who has superior wrestling that he uses to to smother and sometimes submit his opponents.
The Lightweight division champion, like I mentioned earlier is Michael Chandler who is in my opinion the biggest star right now in the whole promotion. He has that great combination of skill, heart, stamina, and tenacity that very few fighters possess. Not to mention he is a humble and well spoken individual who represents Bellator well. This division, in my opinion is there 2nd best . It has such fighters as 2012 Lightweight Tournament winner Rick Hawn who is going to fight Chandler in an upcoming fight, tournament runner-up Brent Weedman, the colorful but dangerous Lloyd “Cupcake” Woodard, the young submission specialist Marcin Held, Thiago Michel, and Patricky “Pitbull” Freire. Also Eddie Alvarez, but like I mentioned earlier he has 1 foot out of the door.
The Featherweight (145 lbs) division champion is rising star Pat Curran. Curran is a guy, who like Chandler, Bellator can really promote with their new Spike TV deal. A young, tough , and relentless fighter who has a real killer instinct that he has exhibited in KO’s of Marlon Sandro and former champ Joe Warren. He took Warrens belt in March with a 3rd round destruction that should have been stopped earlier in the round. He smelled blood and really went in for the kill. This division has decent depth as well with fighters like Daniel Straus, who won the Featherweight tournament and will be fighting the winner of Curran and Patricio Freire, Ronnie Mann, Marlon Sandro, Nazareno Malagarie, Waggney Fabiano, Mike Corey, Rad Martinez, Joe Soto, Joe Warren, and young gun Shanon Slack.
The Middleweight (185 lbs) division has no current champion due to the departure of Hector Lombard. The biggest star right now would have to be the flashy Alexander “Storm” Shlemenko. He will be facing Maiquel Falcao, who won the 2012 middleweight tournament for the vacant title. This should be a truly great fight where I will have to believe someone is getting KO’d. Other tough fighters at 185 are middleweight tournament runner-up Andreas Spang, Brian Rogers, Bruno Santos, Vitor Vianna, Giva Santana, and Vyacheslav “Slava” Vasilevsky.
In the Bantamweight (135 lbs) division the champion is the young and talented Eduardo Dantas. He won the belt from former champ Zach Makovsky. This division does not have a lot of depth, but the few guys they have are very good fighters. MMA vet Chase Beebe, Hiroshi Nakamora, Travis Marx, Ed West, Marcos Galvao, Luis Nogueira, and Rodrigo Lima are the top guys. If they can add a few more names from the regional scene they can have themselves a nice little tournament next year.
This rounds out my breakdown of the additions and subtractions of what is Bellator 2012. I think there is a world of potential for them to tap into the European markets as well. There a slew of fighters there that are competing in much smaller promotions and the UFC can’t sign everyone. This Spike deal is bigger than a lot of people even realize right now. There is also talk of them doing their own reality show based on the same premise as TUF. Spike can produce this with their eyes closed. It will really bring to light a lot of their young fighters. Big things for Bellator in 2012 and beyond.