Bellator MMA is finally going to crown its new heavyweight champion. This has been expected for some time. However, instead of booking two top contenders, the promotion is bringing back a tournament to find their heavyweight champion in 2018.
This tournament will feature some of the biggest names in the history of MMA. Bellator President Scott Coker confirmed to MMAjunkie and USA TODAY Sports that the company would host an eight-man heavyweight tournament known as the Bellator MMA World Grand Prix 2018. The winner of this tournament will earn the vacant Bellator title.
“This is going to be something that’s iconic for us,” Coker said. “Tournaments, traditionally, are kind of the way martial arts contests happen. Now we get to put eight iconic brand names in our sport together over a year, and then whoever wins will be crowned the heavyweight champion.”
Several fighters for the tournament have already been revealed. Those fighters include former PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko, two-time former UFC titleholder Frank Mir, Matt Mitrione, and Roy Nelson. There will also be some light heavyweights competing in this tournament including current 205-pound champ Ryan Bader, former UFC champ Quinton Jackson, ex-Strikeforce titleholder Muhammed Lawal and multi-time UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen.
The tournament bouts will take place throughout next year with the plan being for one tournament fight per night at seven yet-to-be-decided Bellator events. The final is tentatively scheduled for December 2018. The promotion will be announcing the bout order shortly.
“I think there are certain fights that people want to see,” Coker said. “Believe me, we’re going to have some amazing matchups in this tournament. These fights that we’re going to put together are something that the fans want to see. These are iconic names, big brands.”
The promotion has been without a heavyweight champion since the title was vacated by then-champ Vitaly Minakov after Bellator decided to stripped him of it in May of 2016 for failing to defend the title.
The expectation is that the first date of the Bellator MMA World Grand Prix 2018 will be announced soon and air on the Paramount Network, which launches in January as a rebranding of Spike.
“When Scott Coker signed on with Bellator in 2014, we knew that he would constantly innovate and bring new and creative ideas to the promotion,” Spike Senior Vice President of Sports and Specials Jon Slusser said. “The heavyweight grand prix is a perfect example of that. The tournament will provide outstanding sports content for the soon-to-launch Paramount Network in 2018, and we’re excited about delivering this type of entertainment to our viewers.”