Bellator—as much as Dana White would probably hate to admit it—has some excellent fighters under contract. Although the promotion’s roster is still rather small, there’s some serious depth on display in the Bellator cage.
The following list is comprised of the best the promotion has to offer, all of whom I feel could successfully compete inside of the Octagon. But what’s amazing is that beyond these 10 men, there are others already showcasing the talent required to compete on the biggest stage the sport knows.
Whether you’re pro-Bellator, anti-Bellator or completely indifferent, it needs to be understood that this is a company driven by talent, first and foremost.
The best guys in the sport not competing under the Zuffa-owned UFC banner? Most of them are fighting for Bellator.
With the Spike deal moving forward successfully, expect to see more talent board ship in the future. Right now, there may only be a handful of marquee names that call Bellator home, but the chances of that changing inside the next year look good.
To be completely honest, my verdict on Alexander Volkov is still out. The kid obviously has size on his side, and he’s showcased some skill as well. But how far can he go, and how much more improvement can we expect from the youngster?
Volkov looks to have some pretty imposing power, and he’s got a frame that ensures he’s dangerous anywhere and everywhere the fight takes place. At just 24 years old he’s already got 22 fights on his ledger, having dropped just a trio of them.
He’s young, he’s big, he’s rangy and can put guys away.
With time, I think Volkov grows into his frame a bit better and further polishes his offensive arsenal. That’s a frightening thought.
We could be seeing the emergence of a serious future force at heavyweight.
There’s a little bit of Alexander Gustafsson in there; I can see it. Let’s see if Volkov can find the success north of 205 pounds that Gustafsson has earned competing in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.
Emanuel Newton has always been a good, solid fighter. He’s just flown under the radar… for years. That all changed on Feb. 21, when he handily out-hustled Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal for two-and-a-half minutes before uncorking a perfectly placed spinning back-fist on Lawal’s chin.
“King Mo” went stiff as the lights went out in Utah. Newton attempted to move in for a finish, but a crumbling Lawal was well beyond finished.
It was a breakout moment for Newton, whose career trajectory looks dramatically different today than it did just a few short months ago.
Newton’s 8-2 in his last 10 bouts, and is on the cusp of a rematch with divisional champion Attila Vegh, who took a hotly contested split-decision nod over Newton at Bellator 72.
All that stands between Newton and Vegh is a dangerous Russian who goes by the name of Mikhail Zayats. We’ll see if Zayats can stifle Newton’s momentum next Thursday when they meet in the light heavyweight tournament finals.
Patricio “Pitbull” Freire is one of the greatest featherweights competing outside of the Octagon. He’s fast, he’s explosive, and he’s very diverse in his skill set. At 25 years old, he’s also still a handful of years distanced from his physical prime.
This kid is a true talent. He’s also a colorful and energetic enough character to draw interest. When “Pitbull” fights, you pay attention. You just never know when the fight might suddenly end.
This guy is at the very top of the Bellator 145-pound heap. The only man in the division superior is the champion, Pat Curran.
By the way, Curran and Freire fought to a near standstill at Bellator 85. Anyone who can take it to Curran is damn impressive.
The best Bellator welterweight not named Ben Askren, Douglas Lima is a lethal counterstriker with a wealth of experience and a measure of maturity that speaks far beyond his 25 years of existence.
This is a man who is completely comfortable in the cage, and a guy who understands his strengths and how to capitalize on them. Lima’s striking is highly refined, and his ability to time counters as opponents wade into the trenches is a gift you’re born with before you begin to hone it inside the gym.
Amazingly, Lima’s submission game is just about as potent as his striking, although he clearly prefers to fight from a vertical stance.
Lima is hands down the best welterweight in Bellator without a championship belt around his waist.
Eddie Alvarez’s stock took a hit after he was surprisingly stopped by current champion Michael Chandler at Bellator 58, but he’s done a stellar job of regaining his foothold on the division.
Since the defeat, Alvarez has stopped both Shinya Aoki (who defeated Alvarez earlier in his career) and Patricky Freire inside of a single round. You can’t ask for a much better rebound than that.
As of now, the most logical fight for Alvarez is a rematch with Chandler. The classic wrestler-versus-striker collision is always appealing, and the first encounter between these two was a thrilling affair that deserved a significantly larger platform. We’re talking main or co-main event pay-per-view status.
There’s a possibility we see that rematch happen, and according to Bellator’s voice, Bjorn Rebney, it’s a possibility (h/t MMA Junkie).
What becomes of Alvarez’s career with Bellator, however, remains to be seen. The two have battled back and forth in court over Alvarez’s contract, and while it seems Bellator has a firm grip on Alvarez’s future, one never knows how these situations will play out.
If Alvarez is stuck inside the Bellator cage, the Chandler rematch may mark the promotion’s first trek into the world of PPV.
I’d buy that.
At this point Alexander Shlemenko may be getting bored with Bellator. “Storm” sports one of the promotion’s most impressive records at 8-1, and outside of Hector Lombard, who now calls the UFC home, no one’s been able to put this man in any serious danger.
His striking is wildly versatile and unpredictable, and his tenacity in the cage is a thing to behold. He fights hard, constantly, and (it seems) he cannot be broken mentally.
Shlemenko has cleaned up around Bellator, and it’s time for him to make the leap to the UFC where he’ll find himself challenged for the first time since 2010.
Until the day when the Russian makes the move, he’s prone to continue beating up the 185-pound division of Bellator.
Like Eddie Alvarez, a recent loss by Eduardo Dantas led to many questioning his legitimacy as a Bellator champion. Unlike Alvarez, Dantas didn’t lose inside the Bellator cage, he took a fight at Shooto Brazil 33 and got caught early by Tyson Nam, who turned the lights out in less than 90 seconds.
Dantas has since returned to the Bellator cage and defended his strap by knocking Marcos Galvao unconscious at Bellator 89.
I firmly believe Dantas completely underestimated Nam, and while we aren’t likely to see a rematch anytime soon given Nam’s attachment to the World Series of Fighting, I think Dantas stands a fantastic chance of claiming redemption.
None of that, however, matters. At the end of the day, Dantas is an animal still, nearly a decade separated from his physical prime. He’s an impressive striker who moves fluidly, and he’s got a proficient submission game to fall back on should his rangy striking fail him.
Under the Bellator banner, this young man sports an unbeaten record of 5-0. He’s finished three of those five fights, and he’s disposed of respectable talent in the process. Bullying Wilson Reis, Alexis Vila, Zach Makovsky and the aforementioned Galvao is an impressive feat.
Ben Askren would rule this list with an iron fist if he developed his striking. Rather, he’s content to lean on his wrestling abilities, which at this point have not failed him.
In a sense, Askren is a dying breed: the successful one-dimensional fighter.
The fact that “Funky” is able to compete successfully and stifle the offense of men like Douglas Lima, Jay Hieron, Lyman Good and Dan Hornbuckle is nothing short of baffling. The man’s résumé speaks for itself, and his unique brand of wrestling is fascinating.
If you think all wrestlers “look” the same shooting the doubles or singles, think again. Askren lives up to his nickname of “Funky” by using some unorthodox trips and takedowns from the body-lock position.
We’re talking about maneuvers that don’t appear as though they should even work inside a cage. But they do work, and they work well. Askren is 8-0 inside the Bellator cage, and no one has come remotely near close to nullifying his suffocating control and crafty wrestling.
Where did Michael Chandler come from?
This man quietly bashed his way through the Bellator lightweight ranks until a submission victory over former champion Eddie Alvarez left him with gold around his waist and an entirely new level of celebrity attached to his name.
The world may not have known who Chandler was three years ago, but they know now.
This dude possesses some savage wrestling, rapidly improving striking, a great gas tank and an unbridled will to win. He refuses to lose, that’s all there is to it.
At 8-0 in the Bellator cage, the question is beginning to run amok in everyone’s mind: Who can beat this guy?
A rematch with Alvarez is just about the only fight for Chandler that holds appeal. He’s already smashed a large chunk of the roster, and I don’t see anyone aside from the man he wrangled the belt from standing a chance of dethroning the Alliance MMA standout. He’s just too damn good.
Pat Curran can do it all. He’s a fantastic striker, he’s slick with submissions, and he uses defensive wrestling wonderfully. He—from time to time—reminds me of a prime Chuck Liddell, constantly stuffing shots in order to unleash a few gruesome power punches. His composure inside the cage is also eerily similar to a much younger Liddell.
And let’s be honest here, he’s got the kind of pop on his strikes that leave men looking up at the lights in confusion.
If he can’t put an opponent away with a single strike, he’s happy to throw the kitchen sink right in their face, as he proved against former champion Joe Warren at Bellator 60. The dude has the killer instinct of a lion, and if that fight (which was almost nauseating, the finish was so brutal) didn’t prove it, I don’t know what it will take.
In a fairly stacked roster, Pat Curran is the top dog of Bellator. He’d better watch out, however; a few more explosive wins from Chandler could see Curran fall a single slot.
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