5 UFC Fighters Who Should Consider Jumping to Bellator
With the UFC under uncertain new leadership and evidently looking to offload perceived ballast, suddenly the fields of Bellator look a lot greener. A little bouncier and more lush, well nourished, yawning from Thackerville to the Mohegan Sun.
Big names like Rory MacDonald, Benson Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko turned to the Bellator side rather than re-sign (or sign) with the UFC, lured by the promise of free-flowing sponsors and generally greater autonomy.
To the UFC and its army of devotees, it's nothing but blasphemy. To claim Bellator is a worthy landing spot for anyone who once carried the mark of those three letters is to bare your hapless backside to the gods themselves.
Oddly, some fighters are still doing it. Who else on the current UFC roster could follow suit? Let's take a look at the five most likely candidates.
Let there be no uncertainty: Bellator loves itself some spectacle.
The knockout artist with the Wisconsin drawl is winning in the cage and in life. A suddenly more well-rounded game led to a four-fight win streak and a new home in the contender's ring of the heavyweight division.
At the same time, newfound microphone confidence led to a lot of new traction on social media.
Imagine what kind of walk Rothwell would make to the ring should he find himself unbound from the UFC's buttoned-down expectations in that area.
Imagine him as a mystery challenger to Fedor Emelianenko, mask suddenly lifted to reveal it's Rothwell! That's Big Ben Rothwell's music!
There's no limit to the amount of fun Rothwell, Bellator and fans could have with one another. And he'd probably get to a title shot a lot faster, too.
All the 29-year-old Misha Cirkunov has done since entering the UFC is go 4-0 with four stoppages, tearing through the light heavyweight rankings with heavy hands and judo-based grappling.
The Latvian-Canadian also proved himself affable on the mic—that will never hurt.
Then it came time to negotiate a new deal with the UFC, and it seems he asked for more than the UFC was willing to pay him. In response, UFC president Dana White turned to his good friends the news media and told everyone Cirkunov was "flaking out" and that White was "done" with negotiating, per TSN (h/t MMAJunkie's Mike Bohn).
Time was, the UFC could tell fighters to accept what they were offered or go pound sand. They still can, to an extent, but Bellator can mitigate that. Sometimes, it appears UFC brass make these kinds of decisions based on emotion, playing out their Vegas fantasies where cojones are the true name of the game.
In the case of Cirkunov, that may come back to haunt them, especially given the bareness of the current light heavyweight cupboard. With guys like Corey Anderson, the shopworn Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Ryan Bader (all but departed for Bellator himself) ahead of Cirkunov on the UFC's official 205-pound rankings, it's not like the UFC has a deep lake of talent to fish from in this division.
It's a simple matter of logistics.
Joanne Calderwood, the charismatic Scottish striker, made her UFC bones at strawweight, in part through The Ultimate Fighter.
But here's the rub: She's far more comfortable as a flyweight, particularly when fights come up on short notice, as they often do.
"Obviously I want to walk around healthy and happy, so it's been hard," Calderwood told Shaun Al-Shatti of MMA Fighting of the cut to 115 pounds. "Usually when I make 115, I usually need like 10 weeks' notice and just bring it down gradually. But the fights that were coming up were like short notice. If it's 125, I could easily make these fights and I could take them on short notice. But 115, it'd kill me."
Bellator, as you may know, has a women's flyweight division.
Calderwood's not the only one in that boat. Jessica Andrade and Bec Rawlings, to name just two, could make this leap as well.
B.J. Penn is 38 years old. He hasn't won a fight since 2010. Just last month, he got smoked and humiliated by young buck Yair Rodriguez at UFC Fight Night 103.
And yet, he refuses to retire.
Not a shocker from the old warrior, perhaps, but it's hard to see a home for him in the UFC's ultra-competitive featherweight division. Or lightweight division, for that matter. Or welterweight.
Hey, just calling it like I see it.
Now let's look at the Bellator end of the equation, where "legends" fights are in the DNA. Plug Penn in with anybody on the roster and you have a readymade Bellator main or co-main event. Simple as that.
Is it the best idea for Penn? Probably not. But if he's going to insist on continuing to fight, a matchup with Nam Phan is probably a lot safer, and at least enrobed in some veneer of competitiveness, than whatever he'd get in the UFC Octagon.
Frankie Edgar has a Conor McGregor problem.
By extension, the indomitable Edgar has a bone to pick with the UFC.
The ex-lightweight champ could only watch as UFC brass passed him over for a 2016 shot at Conor McGregor.
Months before that, McGregor opted to move up to lightweight to face then-champ Rafael dos Anjos for the strap—leaving Edgar back in a holding pattern at featherweight.
"I do think I'm a company man," Edgar told The MMA Hour at the time (h/t MMA Mania's Adam Guillen Jr.). "But it's not really panning out for me being that way. I'm there already (losing patience)."
Earlier this month, Edgar lamented the UFC's new fascination with interim titles on The MMA Hour (h/t MMA Fighting's Marc Raimondi)—something catalyzed in large part by, you guessed it, McGregor.
As the logjam slowly edges downstream, Edgar keeps fighting his usual two times a year, but that trend may not hold up. At 35 years old, Edgar knows his clock is ticking.
Now imagine, if you will, Edgar entering Bellator's featherweight division. He'd instantly main-event every card in which he participated, probably with his choice of opponent. That could include current 145-pound champ Daniel Straus, or it could include any number of other interesting names, from UFC veterans like Noad Lahat and Nam Phan to young guns like A.J. McKee or the soon-to-debut Aaron Pico.
Then there's the sponsorship thing. Established names like Edgar, who are attractive to companies because of the high visibility they can offer a brand, stand to lose the most from the UFC's restrictive sponsorship deal with Reebok.
The final cut: Edgar reportedly has only one fight left on his UFC contract. Could he make a better deal at Bellator? We may soon find out.