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The Definitive Guide to Bellator MMA

Steven RondinaFeatured Columnist IVOctober 26, 2016

The Definitive Guide to Bellator MMA

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    Since January, Bellator MMA has been putting on some good shows on Spike TV, the former home of the UFC.

    With a good number of elite fighters on their roster, Bellator is a promotion worth keeping an eye on. Many fans of the sport, however, remain unsure about what is now one of the largest promotions in the world.

    Well, for all the folks out there who are curious about the promotion, or those just looking to learn names to drop around the water cooler each Friday morning, this is the guide for you. Welcome to The Definitive Guide to Bellator MMA!

    Prepare to learn who the top dogs of the promotion are, and get ready to know who to root for, and what to watch.

What Is Bellator Fighting Championship?

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    Bellator FC (or Bellator MMA) is a mixed martial arts promotion headquartered in California. With the recent absorption of Strikeforce into the UFC, Bellator is now the second-largest MMA promotion in the United States, and ranks among the biggest in the world.

    It was founded in 2008 and began putting on shows in April 2009, with many subsequent tape-delayed events airing on ESPN Deportes. In 2010, they left ESPN Deportes for Fox Sports Net, who they would stay with until 2011, when they joined MTV2.

    During this time, Viacom, the parent company of MTV and owner of other stations like VH1, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, would buy out a majority stake in Bellator.

    Earlier this year, Viacom relocated Bellator to another one of their networks, Spike TV.

What Makes Bellator Different from Other Promotions?

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    Rule-wise, Bellator is basically identical to the UFC (the only difference is with elbow strikes during some bouts). What makes them truly unique is their rigid tournament format, where they run tournaments in several weight classes across a series of consecutive events, conveniently dividing Bellator history into “Seasons”. The tournament winners get a fat check and a title shot (or a title, if the spot happens to be vacant).

    If you've been watching MMA for any length of time, you know that tournaments are both a good and bad thing.

    The good is that there is a sense of importance to the vast majority of fights put on by Bellator. In the UFC, for example, it's tough for even the biggest MMA lover to muster up any enthusiasm for a fight like Erik Perez vs. Byron Bloodworth. In Bellator, though, a fight between Sultan Aliev and Mikkel Parlo has profound title implications.

    The bad, however, is twofold. First and foremost, the tournament format has a tendency to keep fans from seeing matches that they truly want to see. It happened in Pride, it happened in Strikeforce, and it happens in Bellator.

    Secondly, the rigidity of Bellator's tournament format has some serious pitfalls. Bad refereeing and judgments make an even bigger difference when there are no real opportunities to rectify this from a matchmaking perspective.

    Additionally, the fact that champions previously had to wait on tournament winners necessitated many less-than-appealing non-title “super-fights” or, even worse, the need to compete in other promotions. This has resulted in numerous credibility-destroying losses for champions like Eduardo Dantas, Zoila Gurgel and Christian M'Pumbu. 

Why Should You Watch Bellator?

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    Have you been to a live MMA event? If not, one of the major reasons is probably because there aren't any legitimate events in your area.

    The UFC gets around a bit, sure. That said, unless you're in Las Vegas or Montreal, they're in your neck of the woods once a year, at best. Strikeforce and the WEC both primarily stayed close to their California homes, and if they ventured, it was probably to other Southwestern states.

    Bellator, though, really gets around.

    In 2012, Bellator put on shows in Indiana, Louisiana, Texas, Connecticut, Ontario, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Michigan. In the first quarter of 2013, they are going to add Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Utah and Maine to that list.

    That, by the way, is just in terms of seeing them in person. You should watch them on TV because you love MMA, and they put on some solid fights on a regular basis.

Bellator's Heavyweight Division

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    Champion: Alexander Volkov

    With retirement of long-time champion Cole Konrad, the Season 7 Heavyweight Tournament became a race to the belt. Alexander Volkov won it all, filling the vacant title in December.

    The 24-year-old Russian is among MMA's hottest heavyweight prospects (if you can really call somebody a prospect when they're already a champion in a major promotion). Volkov first rose to fame fighting in eastern European promotions, predominantly M-1, and has already fought 22 times in spite of his relatively young age.

    Other Notable Fighters

    Bellator is in a tight spot talent-wise when it comes to heavyweights. Some solid fighters have appeared over the years, but few have name value or success against any noteworthy stars. Rich Hale, as stated, was the runner up for the last tournament, making him the de facto second-best heavyweight in the promotion (however he has also fought at light heavyweight).

    Other names worth remembering include Eric Prindle, Damian Grabowski, Vitaly Minakov and Thiago Santos.

    Previous Tournament Results

    Season 3: Winner: Cole Konrad (Became Inaugural Champion), Runner-up: Neil Grove

    Season 5: Winner: Eric Prindle, Runner-up: Thiago Santos

    Season 7: Winner: Alexander Volkov (Filled Vacant Title), Runner-up: Richard Hale

Bellator's Light Heavyweight Division

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    Champion: Christian M'Pumbu

    Christian M'Pumbu is the current Bellator light heavyweight champ but...well...remember how I discussed the pitfalls of Bellator's “rigid tournament format”, and those “non-title super-fights”? M'Pumbu hasn't fought since Oct. 22, 2011, where he lost to UFC alumnus Travis Wiuff.

    Regardless, he is a fearsome finisher, with 18 career victories (seven via knockout, eight via submission) and a notable win over Stefan Struve. Yes, that Stefan Struve.

    Other Notable Fighters

    Atilla Vegh is the current top contender in Bellator's light heavyweight division after winning the 2012 Summer Series. He secured that top spot by beating Wiuff, and he has an impressive 28-4-2 MMA record (4-0 in Bellator).

    Wiuff is obviously worth mentioning. Having fought for the UFC, Pride and IFL, he has been around the block a few times now. He is 4-1 in Bellator, but is currently on a two-fight losing streak (he most recently lost to Croatian journeyman Maro Parek).

    While both Vegh and Wiuff are solid fighters, the biggest name in Bellator's light heavyweight division, even more so than M'Pumbu, is former Strikeforce champion “King” Mo Lawal. Lawal is, arguably, a top ten light heavyweight and is currently participating in the Season Eight Light Heavyweight Tournament. With his heavy hands and Olympic-caliber wrestling, many are expecting him to cruise effortlessly to the Bellator belt.

    Previous Tournament Results

    Season 4: Winner: Christian M'Pumbu (Became Inaugural Champion), Runner-up: Richard Hale

    2012 Summer Series: Winner: Attila Vegh, Runner-up: Travis Wiuff

Bellator's Middleweight Division

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    Champion: Alexander Shlemenko

    Alexander Shlemenko became the newest Bellator middleweight champion just a few days ago by scoring a merciless knockout of Maiquel Falcao. Much is made of Shlemenko's ability to finish fights, and for good reason. In 47 career wins, he has 28 knockouts and seven submissions.

    The top spot in Bellator's middleweight division was held previously by Hector Lombard, but the belt was vacated after he joined the UFC.

    Other Notable Fighters

    Maiquel Falcao, in spite of his harsh loss to Shlemenko, is the only other especially noteworthy fighter on Bellator's 185-pound roster. Training with the fabled Chute Boxe Academy, he beat Gerald Harris at UFC 123 in his lone fight with the UFC.

    He was unceremoniously released several months after an arrest in connection with a 2002 assault on a woman. He would join Bellator a year and a half later, and won the Season 6 Middleweight Tournament.

    Outside Shlemenko and Falcao, the middleweight crop is very thin for Bellator. Watch this season's middleweight tournament to produce a star for the promotion.

    Previous Tournament Results

    Season 1: Winner: Hector Lombard (Became Inaugural Champion), Runner-up: Jared Hess

    Season 2: Winner: Alexander Shlemenko, Runner-up: Bryan Baker

    Season 5: Winner: Alexander Shlemenko (Filled vacant title after defeating Season 6 winner), Runner-up: Vitor Vianna

    Season 6: Winner: Maiquel Falcao, Runner-up: Andreas Spang

Bellator's Welterweight Division

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    Champion: Ben Askren

    Possibly the single best fighter on Bellator's roster right now is Ben Askren. He ranks among the most accomplished NCAA wrestlers of all time, and competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

    He has used this ground savvy to consistently dominate opponents and owns a perfect 11-0 MMA record. Because of this, Askren ranks as one of the best fighters in what is possibly MMA's most thoroughly stacked division.

    Other Notable Fighters

    Askren is a pretty big step above all the other welterweights on Bellator's roster. Still, they are certainly not without talent, both young and old. The resident savvy veterans of the promotion are former UFC fighter Ben Saunders, and long-time Bellator mainstay Bryan Baker.

    Saunders was cut from the UFC with a 4-3 record amidst the scramble surrounding the promotion's absorption of the WEC. He beat Dan Barrera, Ryan Thomas, Brandon Wolff and Marcus Davis, while losing to Mike Swick, Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman.

    Bryan Baker is a former WEC middleweight, and has been with the promotion since Bellator 10. He has beaten the likes of Jeremy Horn, Joe Riggs and Saunders.

    Recent tournament winners include Karl Amoussou (who recently lost to Askren) and the current top title contender, undefeated 22-year-old Russian Andrey Koreshkov. Koreshkov is 13-0 in his career and owns some heavy hands, winning three of his five fights with Bellator by knockout.

    Previous Tournament Results

    Season 1: Winner: Lyman Good (Became Inaugural Champion), Runner-up: Omar de la Cruz

    Season 2: Winner: Ben Askren (Defeated Good to become Champion), Runner-up: Dan Hornbuckle

    Season 4: Winner: Jay Hieron, Runner-up: Rick Hawn

    Season 5: Winner: Douglas Lima, Runner-up: Ben Saunders

    Season 6: Winner: Karl Amoussou, Runner-up: Bryan Baker

    Season 7: Winner- Andrey Koreshkov, Runner-up: Lyman Good

Bellator's Lightweight Division

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    Champion: Michael Chandler

    Michael Chandler is neck and neck with Ben Askren as Bellator's top dog, and for good reason. As with Askren, Chandler was an accomplished NCAA Division I wrestler, and currently sports an undefeated record (11-0).

    Over the last few years, he has run through many of their top fighters, most notably Eddie Alvarez. Outside Alvarez, he has beaten a who's who of Bellator lightweights, including Marcin Held, Rick Hawn and Patricky Freire.

    Other Notable Fighters

    Obviously, Eddie Alvarez remains the highest-profile personality associated with Bellator, though his future with the promotion is up in the air.

    Behind Alvarez, Rick Hawn has made a big splash in Bellator's lightweight division. A former Olympic Judoka, Hawn initially debuted in Bellator as a welterweight, but entered the Season 6 Lightweight Tournament and won in convincing fashion.

    In addition to Hawn, there is a pair of solid lightweights pairing off in March to determine the Season 7 Lightweight Tournament winner in Marcin Held and Dave Jansen. Jansen is a WEC veteran who owns some legitimate submission skills, while Held is a 21-year-old Polish grappling prodigy.

    Other names to remember include veteran David Rickels and prospect Will Brooks.

    Previous Tournament Results

    Season 1: Winner: Eddie Alvarez (Became Inaugural Champion), Runner-up: Toby Imada

    Season 2: Winner: Pat Curran, Runner-up: Toby Imada

    Season 4: Winner: Michael Chandler (Defeated Alvarez to become Champion), Runner-up: Patricky Freire

Bellator's Featherweight Division

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    Champion: Pat Curran

    Pat Curran is a very good featherweight by any standard. He actually won Bellator's Season 2 Lightweight Tournament, but would lose a hard-fought title bout with Eddie Alvarez. In 2011, however, he dropped to featherweight, won the 2011 Summer Series, and knocked out then-champion Joe Warren.

    He is now 5-0 at featherweight, and has fought some really strong competition over the years. In Bellator, he has beaten Roger Huerta, Marlon Sandro, Joe Warren, Patricio Freire and TUF 16 runner-up Mike Ricci.

    Other Notable Fighters

    This is, in all likelihood, is Bellator's deepest division.

    Patricio Freire is another young, talented fighter Bellator has at their disposal. The 25-year-old Brazilian made it to the Season 2 Featherweight Tournament final round at just 23, but lost a split decision to Joe Warren. He bounced back and won the Season 4 Featherweight Tournament, but came up short in a bout against Pat Curran after more than a year and a half removed from his last fight.

    Daniel Straus is the next to face Pat Curran for the belt, courtesy of winning the Season 6 Featherweight Tournament. He is actually 13-1 over the last three years, with his only loss coming to Freire. He actually fought Curran once before in 2009 under the Midwest XFO promotion, losing via second-round knockout.

    The elder statesman of the featherweight division is Marlon Sandro. He has been in the MMA business a long while now, and won both the Sengoku and Pancrase featherweight championships. The 35-year-old has twice made it to the final round of a tournament, but twice came up short. That said, he still ranks among Bellator's best featherweights, and recently earned an ugly majority decision victory over Akop Stepanyan.

    Previous Tournament Results

    Season 1: Winner: Joe Soto (Became Inaugural Champion), Runner-up: Yahir Reyes

    Season 2: Winner: Joe Warren (Defeated Soto to become Champion), Runner-up: Patricio Freire

    Season 4: Winner: Patricio Freire, Runner-up: Daniel Straus

    2011 Summer Series: Winner: Pat Curran (Defeated Warren to become Champion), Runner-up: Marlon Sandro

    Season 6: Winner: Daniel Straus, Runner-up: Marlon Sandro

Bellator's Bantamweight Division

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    Champion: Eduardo Dantas

    The notion of only being as good as your last game (or fight, in this case) is very unflattering for basically the entire Bellator bantamweight roster, including champion Eduardo Dantas. He looked solid at one point, winning the Season 5 Bantamweight Tournament and taking the belt from Zach Makovsky.

    Unfortunately, Dantas got knocked out by Tyson Nam in a fight for another promotion. Nam has since used that win to become one of the top fighters on the World Series of Fighting roster. This whole series of events has many questioning how good the Bellator bantamweight division is.

    Regardless, though, Dantas is the champion right now.

    Other Notable Fighters

    The most famous fighter of the bantamweight division, outside Dantas, would be former featherweight champion Joe Warren. How good Warren is at bantamweight remains a mystery, however, as the former Olympic hopeful is 2-2 at 135 pounds (though one of those fights was a 137-pound catchweight fight).

    Marcos Galvao is the most recent bantamweight tournament winner, coming out on top of Season 6. He will face off with Dantas at Bellator 89. Past Galvao and Warren is a pileup of young, but unproven, talent including Luis Nogueira, Anthony Leone and Jimmie Rivera.

    Previous Tournament Results

    Season 3: Winner: Zach Makovsky (Became Inaugural Champion), Runner-up: Ed West

    Season 5: Winner: Eduardo Dantas (Defeated Makovsky to become Champion), Runner-up: Alexis Vila

    Season 6: Winner: Marcos Galvao, Runner-up: Luis Nogueira

Bellator's Women's Division

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    Champion: Zoila Gurgel

    The situation with women in Bellator is a bit muddled right now. Zoila Gurgel became the women's strawweight champion in 2010. However, since winning the belt, she has not fought at 115 pounds, taking numerous flyweight bouts instead.

    Other women's bouts have taken place at a variety of weights under the Bellator banner. However, with no tournaments since Gurgel's victory, she is yet to defend her belt, and whether or not she intends to return to 115 pounds is unknown.

    Other Notable Fighters

    Gurgel's most recent fight was a loss to Jessica “Evil” Eye, whose inspirational story has made her a popular figure among women's MMA fans. Her well-rounded game, and the fact she choked out Gurgel less than a minute into their fight, have both helped her cause.

    Even though Gurgel is the champion, Jessica Aguilar is regarded by many as the best female fighter in Bellator right now, and most rank her among the top five pound-for-pound women's fighters in the world. Past that, Michelle Ould is likely Bellator's top lady.

    Previous Tournament Results

    Season 3: Winner: Zoila Gurgel (Became Inaugural Champion), Runner-up: Megumi Fujii

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