A week after the launch of the new era of Bellator MMA when it debuted on its exclusive broadcast home of Showtime in the United States, the promotion will kick off a highly anticipated light heavyweight tournament this weekend.
Former 205-pound Bellator champion – and current heavyweight king of the promotion – Ryan Bader takes on former UFC defending champion Lyoto Machida in a rematch that has been brewing for nine years. The five-round bout made headlines at the Bellator 256 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, and marked the start of the eight-man Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix.
Let’s take a closer look at the biggest scenarios entering the tournament.
1. Vadim Nemkov has everything but a champion advantage
Reigning light heavyweight king Bellator MMA has emerged out of nowhere in recent years to become one of the sport’s brightest young future stars. Nemkov, 28, from Russia, arrested Bader last August to register his seventh consecutive victory. The victory was Nemkov’s fourth in a row against current and former Bellator champions and helped Fedor Protégé Emelianenko make his mark on a global scale.
But Nemkov’s challenges only get tougher from here as he opens the tournament on April 16 against former champ Phil Davis in a rematch of their 2018 fight decided by split decision. If he were to advance from there, Nemkov finds himself on a particularly dangerous side of the fork awaiting the winner of the highly anticipated May 7 shootout between former UFC title challengers Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Yoel Romero. As the defending champion and tournament betting favorite, Nemkov will have a giant target on his back every step of the way. If he can finish the tournament in October as a champion, that would also give him a solid case for 2021 Fighter of the Year and the nickname of being the most combat-tested 205-pound fighter on the planet.
2. Does Anthony Johnson vs. Yoel Romero fail?
Kudos to the Bellator matchmakers for reserving this showdown between explosive free agent signings as a first-round bout in the Grand Prix rather than betting on the odds of pairing them up. Johnson-Romero is, without a doubt, the most anticipated fight of this tournament, and he could produce a favorite of the black horses given the caps of the two fighters. The question surrounding the two, however, is whether we’re going to see them perform up to the image fans have in their heads. The match has the potential to be a surprise disappointment, similar to Romero’s narrow decision loss to Israel Adesanya last year in a largely action-free bout.
Romero is 43, is technically riding a three-game losing streak and climbs back to 205 pounds, where he hasn’t competed since 2011. Johnson, 37, hasn’t fought since a self-imposed retirement that has started in 2017 after his passive UFC title loss to Daniel Cormier in their rematch. The two come in with plenty of questions about their futures as well as equal potential for fireworks once they touch gloves given their history as violent finishers. Whether he lives up to expectations or falls short, there is little debate that the fight will be tense throughout as Johnson and Romero surround themselves ready to strike. This one has all the qualities to be the most unique and the most interesting of all the fights that the tournament can produce.
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3. Ryan Bader’s competitiveness deserves to be recognized
It wasn’t that long ago that Bader was enjoying a career resurgence when he won the Bellator heavyweight title by winning that Grand Prix tournament in 2019, adding to the 205-pound title he already owned. The longtime UFC veteran would come up against the fashion saw Nemkov, however, as the newly crowned light heavyweight king walked through Bader with relative ease last year. Given his age at 37 and his new identity as a viable heavyweight fighter,
Bader could have easily let go of his 205-pound dreams in the past while still focusing on defending his Bellator heavyweight title. Instead, Bader doubled down by quickly offering his name to support when Bellator president Scott Coker shared his plans for a tournament. Bader went on to explain his loss to Nemkov as a lack of focus given the growing level of unexplained personal issues threatening him out of the cage at the time. Starting with Friday’s rematch against Machida, which knocked him out in their 2012 UFC fight, Bader begins his road to redemption in the hope that the tournament final will give him another rematch – this time against Nemkov. to find its title.
4. Sleeping Dogs are found in the form of Phil Davis, Corey Anderson
Let’s face it, the best part of any tournament is the potential for upheavals and interesting confrontations to develop organically. In many cases, especially in combat tournaments, the first favorites are not those who end up hoisting the equipment due to injuries and the wear and tear that comes with accepting to fight three times against a class competition. global over a six-month period. . Things like consistency can become just as important in a tournament as the potential to dramatically win. Taking a closer look at the eight-man field, it’s clear that either side of the rack is home to a potential tournament sleeper in the form of wrestlers Corey Anderson and Phil Davis.
Fresh off a dominant win on his Bellator debut, Anderson begins his title quest in a quarter-final bout on April 16 against newcomer Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov. Former champion Davis, meanwhile, made headlines on that same card in a rematch of his split-decision loss to current defending champion Nemkov. Both fighters possess the athleticism and drive to take anyone into the tournament on the ground and control extended periods of time with their wrestling. Provided both are offensive enough that they leave no doubt on the scorecards, it’s not out of the question that either will continue to run the table given their styles are so heavily focused on emptying the gas tank of their opponents.
5. The winner has a case to be called the best in the world
The above statement is not hyperbole. Given the combined resumes and skills of the eight fighters in this tournament, including the number of them who have held or competed for major UFC and Bellator titles in recent years, the Grand Prix winner will hold a lot of bragging rights in the world. among the 205-pound fighters.
Does it help that the UFC’s light heavyweight division is currently undergoing a small facelift after Jon Jones’ move to heavyweight, Israel Adesanya’s unsuccessful attempt to win the title, and recent losses of top contenders Dominick Reyes and Thiago Santos? For sure. But whether it’s Nemkov leading the table, with “Rumble” reintroducing himself into the top-flight of the division or anyone else for that matter, coming out of the tournament holding $ 1 million and the Bellator title, they will undoubtedly have an argument to be the best in the world. .