ARTICLE BY: DANIEL GUAJARDO
In May of 2016, many saw it as a funeral for the Bellator heavyweight division. The champion at the time, Vitaly Minakov, was stripped of his title due to inactivity. To most this was the end of the heavyweight era in Bellator. At the same time, Scott Coker was already developing a new heavyweight version I’ll call “The 2.0 Era”.
As the division stalled, Scott Coker went out and signed wrestling standout Tyrell Fortune in 2015 during his Olympic run. In March of 2016, Bellator signed free agent and former TUF fighter Matt Mitrione. As the division began to gain some traction, Chiek Kongo signed a contract extension with the promotion on September 2016, showing his confidence on the division’s future. A couple months later in November, heavyweight great Fedor Emelianenko made a big splash when he announced he had signed with Bellator MMA.
Molding the division slowly and signing the right names seemed to be the plan for the company. Building a legit heavyweight division is not an easy task and even harder to maintain. Even the UFC has had difficulties throughout the years and suffered from a lack of youth in its division. Things I’m sure Bellator noticed as well. The heavyweight division is one of the most popular and exciting in all of mixed martial arts. According to mmafighting.com the average fight time in the heavyweight division is 7:59. That’s the fastest average for any division.
On March 2017, Bellator continued its heavyweight process by signing fan favorite Roy Nelson. As if that wasn’t enough Frank Mir was also brought into the company in August that same year. More news was to come in November when Quinton “Rampage” Jackson announced that he resigned to the promotion and Former WWE wrestler Jake Hager inked a deal where he would make his MMA debut. The Rampage deal showed not only could Bellator MMA sign new free agents, but it could also retain its talent as well. A subject many wondered about.
The announcement of the Heavyweight Grand Prix in which the winner of the year-long tournament would be crowned the Heavyweight World Champion was announced and gave the division a clear direction. It also sparked lots of attention to many who were wondering about the division’s status as a whole. With all the emphasis on the big name fighters and the Grand Prix, Bellator was quietly developing and signing prospects. Since signing, Tyrell Fortune has built a 5-0 record, and Valentin Moldavsky has racked up 2 wins under the promotion, moving his record to 7-1. Steven Mowry (4-0) who was signed on June will make his promotional debut on September 21st at Bellator 205.
In April of this year, Bellator went after another established name when they signed Timothy Johnson. Just recently, Vitaly Minakov has patched up issues and resigned a deal with the promotion. As of now, the division is looking the best it has ever looked, mixing in exciting veteran talent, promising prospects, and fighters in their prime. With a champion to be crowned in the upcoming months, there are many fighters waiting for the first shot.
Where do you think the division will be headed?
Who do you see as champion at the end of 2019?