Bellator is in the midst of a signing frenzy, announcing three or four tournament participants each week leading up to season four. The upcoming season of the tournament-format MMA promotion, which will air on MTV2, is expected to include featherweights, lightweights, welterweights, and light heavyweights. That means that Bellator matchmaker Sam Caplan is likely scouring the globe in advance of season five, which will likely round out Bellator’s featured divisions with tournaments at bantamweight, middleweight, heavyweight, and women’s flyweight. With Strikeforce making news with its planned Heavyweight Grand Prix and the UFC putting it’s biggest star on the TUF set to promote an interim heavyweight championship fight, we’re left wondering who (besides Ron Sparks) is available to fill Bellator’s brackets. The promotion has done a great job of mining talent so far but we figured we’d help out and offer up our suggestions.
(Props to MMA Recap.)
The M-1 Global Heavyweight Champion has breezed through the competition recently and given M-1 Global’s willingness to work with other promoters, it would be nice to see how the Ukranian big man fares against this field.
A finalist in Bellator’s first heavyweight tournament, Grove should be a gimme. The Brit has a crowd pleasing style and Bellator has sufficient footage of him to build good buzz for his first MTV2 bout. Should he make it through the second tournament and get a second crack at Konrad, that fight sells itself.
Bellator loves qualifying matches in which the winner secures a spot in the next tournament. Frankly, I love them, too, because they add meaning to what might otherwise be entertaining but otherwise unimportant undercard fights between unknown regional fighters. Why not book a qualifying match for season three between two young heavyweights? East is a young guy with Bellator fights under his belt and a four-fight win streak following back-to-back losses to KOTC lifer Tony Lopez. Barnett is an XFC fighter with nice wins over ATT’s Mario Rinaldi and M-1 Global Americas Selection 2010 winner Kenny Garner. Throw them in a cage together and find out who’s ready for prime time.
(Props to Sherdog.)
Thirty-eight and 6’8″, “The Sandman” is a long and crafty vet that would give any of the fighters on this list problems. Christison had a rough go in his UFC and IFL stints but has racked up a 10-1 record on the regional circuit since 2007.
Andreas Kraniotakes was the dark horse heavyweight prospect coming into 2010, the European smashing machine who would be a playable character on EA Sports MMA. And then he dropped his first two fights of the year by KO and unanimous decision and I haven’t heard much about him since. Michal Kita looked good early in his fight with Dave Herman at Bellator 31 (watch the vid below), dropping “Pee Wee” and hurting him repeatedly with rights. Then he lost by submission. Both guys have potential and Bellator has already proved that it has the guts to put relatively unknown guys who don’t speak English on TV, so fly ’em over and let them scrap for a tournament seeding.
(Glory days, yeah go on back, glory days…)
The former UFC Heavyweight Champion was supposed to fight at Bellator 31 but suffered an injury in training. He’s talked recently about fighting at 205 but he’s big enough and skilled enough to hang with most heavyweights. Ricco famously battled substance abuse for years, ballooning to more than 300 pounds, but he’s gotten his life together recently and it would be nice to see if he can’t make a run on national television.
Following two straight knockout losses, former UFC heavy Todd Duffee doesn’t have quite the luster he once did, but that should give him incentive to prove that he’s the real deal and not a mediocre fighter with a superstar physique. He’s got TV looks, and he’s young enough to build himself up to top 25 status in three fights, which is exactly how many he’d need to win to collect an oversize $100,000 tournament winner check from Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.
Yeah, yeah, we know “Pee Wee” butted heads with Bellator over his contract status, but according to both parties, the issue was resolved after Herman’s win over Michal Kita at Bellator 31. And the fact of the matter is that Herman is the best American heavyweight not currently under contract with the UFC or Strikeforce. The fighter has expressed interest in taking one-off fights with Bellator, so why not offer him a superfight with Bellator Heavyweight Champion Cole Konrad (#26 Heavyweight) during season four? It would give Herman more exposure than he’ll get on regional American cards or in Japan or the Middle East, for that matter. And it would give Conrad a meaningful fight before his first title defense, something that Bellator’s champions have lacked. If Herman loses, he can go on his merry way or enter the season five tournament. If Herman wins, then he has the leverage to negotiate a long-term contract with Bellator (or any other promoter) that’s more to his liking.
(Dave Herman vs. Michal Kita at Bellator 31 starts at the 4 min. mark.)