For those casual MMA fans who think the sport is called UFC, we have some news for you. Bellator MMA, the world’s number two MMA promotion, is slowly racking up market share with amazing events while re-purposing the careers of UFC stars turned throwaways.
Yesterday, Bellator announced the first round matchups for the Heavyweight Grand Prix set for January 20th at The Forum in Los Angeles.
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The tournament opens during Bellator 192: Douglas Lima vs. Rory MacDonald with former UFC light heavyweight champ Quinton Rampage Jackson (37-12) taking on renowned trash-talker Chael Sonnen (30-15-1) in an exciting first-round matchup. The event will air on new broadcast partner, the Paramount Network; a departure from their normal broadcast partner, Spike.
Both Jackson and Sonnen were stars in the UFC until they apparently aged out of the promotion’s fast-paced, young athletic roster. Bellator has been there to provide new life for former UFC champions and stars, adding value to the overall brand after the Kimbo Slice era. Matchups like Slice vs. Dada 5000 and Slice vs. Ken Shamrock created a circus-like veneer around the brand, but MMA’s free agency has bolstered the roster.
The UFC pays tribute to former MMA star Kimbo Slice, who passed away on June 6, 2016.
The remaining matchups are equally intriguing with familiar UFC notables. Matt Mitrione (12-5) will meet Roy Nelson (23-14) on February 16 at Bellator 194 from the Mohegan Sun Arena. In April, famed heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko (36-5, 1 No Contest) battles former UFC champ Frank Mir (18-11) inside Allstate Arena in Chicago.
The final first round bout will feature current Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader (24-5) taking on former Strikeforce champ Muhammad King Mo Lawal (21-6, 1 NC) at San Jose, Californias SAP Center in May. Lawal is the co-host of “On The Throne with King Mo” which appears on The Shadow League.
Future dates for both the semi-finals and final will be determined, as will tournament alternates who will be available to fill in due to any unforeseen circumstances. The Bellator World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament will be a year-long event that will culminate in the winner becoming the new Bellator world heavyweight champion.
The event actually proves that Bellator is working hard to stay in the game and compete with the UFC. Although the UFC is light years ahead with a streaming platform and pay-per-view supremacy, Bellator is working to create platforms that can possibly jump to pay-per-view or at least further encroach on the UFC’s dominance.