By: Albert Miller – At Bellator 186 in State College, PA, Ryan Bader (current Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight Champion) was fielding questions about what opportunities that Bellator could afford him. One person (it was yours, truly) asked Bader if he’d be willing to compete in the Rizin Fighting Federation’s grand prix, Bader was open to the idea. Another question was closer to the mark: would Ryan Bader be willing to move up to Heavyweight and contend for the vacant Bellator MMA Heavyweight championship? Bader affirmed that he would explore opportunities available to him. According to reports from Sherdog.Com and MMAJunkie.Com, Bader is in contention for the vacant strap.
Eight names were released to compete in the 2018 Heavyweight Grand Prix:
- Chael Sonnen
- “King Mo” Muhammed Lawal
- Ryan “Darth” Bader
- Frank Mir
- “Big Country” Roy Nelson
- “The Last Emporer” Fedor Emelianenko
- Matt Mitrione
- Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
The first thing that struck me about the Heavyweight bracket is that only four of the contenders are natural Heavyweights: Nelson, Mir, Emelianenko, and Mitrione; the other four are Light Heavyweights (Chael Sonnen is an asterisk, being that he’s competed at middleweight for the majority of his career). Be sure to tune in to this week’s Prizefight Podcast for our thoughts on this predicament.
Before we get into Cage Nation TV’s unofficial seeding of the Heavyweight Grand Prix, I want to put a few of our questions and concerns out there:
- If the tournament is struggling for Heavyweights, wouldn’t Bobby Lashley, a Bellator MMA Heavyweight, be a viable competitor? Based on what we’re seeing, he would have had an excellent shot at taking the whole tournament.
- Now that Bellator MMA has a relationship with the Rizin Fighting Federation, wouldn’t Rizin Heavyweights be willing to compete? At current, Mirko CroCop, “the Texas Crazy Horse” Heath Herring, Kazuyuki “Ironhead” Fujita, and Peter Aerts are all viable Heavyweights to compete.
Let’s start with the raw data. Here is the list of competitors, with their records, and current fight streak. To develop our seeds, we started out with a spreadsheet of this basic information. Note: records were verified from MixedMartialArts.Com.
Note: This seed chart was developed for entertainment and conversation purposes only. This bracket or rankings has not been sanctioned or verified by Bellator MMA or their parent company Viacom. Please proceed with reading with this in mind.
Methodology: I struggled with my seed positions; the intermingling of weight classes did add a layer of complexity that may not exist otherwise. Three criteria came in to play when choosing the seeds:
- Quality of wins / decisive finishes
- Experience in the Heavyweight division
- Current win/loss momentum
The seed positions that I struggled with the most were 1 & 2, and then 7 & 8. If we weighed experience in the division over quality of wins, Matt Mitrione would have been seeded first; but Ryan Bader’s string of finishes and momentum made a heavier impression than the experience. While Chael Sonnen does have a one win streak, Frank Mir is a former heavyweight champion with heavyweight wins over other quality champions; Sonnen is primarily a Middleweight with Light Heavyweight inclinations, so it seemed impossible to seed him over a former champ. With my struggles considered, here is our seeds:
Now, based on the seed tournament rankings, here is how our Bellator MMA 2018 Heavyweight Grand Prix would shape up:
Now, I’m not one to pat myself on the back, but I think our bracket makes for a very interesting opening round. Chael Sonnen being matched up with another Light Heavyweight makes the playing field a little more even, despite being paired up with the number one seed in Ryan Bader. The same logic applies to Frank Mir and Matt Mitrione; if Mir wins, he’s a former Heavyweight Champion and it should be something of a comeback to title contention for him. If Mitrione were to win the match up over Mir, it would be a more complete victory, having defeated a former Heavyweight champion en route to a title of his own.
Rampage vs. Nelson is a fight that I think would bring out the best in both men. Rampage is a man who is adept at letting the dynamite in his hands fly, but he also knows enough wrestling and grappling to steer a fight to where it benefits him the most. Roy Nelson, while having tremendous grappling acumen of his own, has also built himself a reputation of separating large men (much heavier than Jackson) form consciousness with his fists. What it could come down to would be Jackson being able to nullify Nelson’s ground game just enough to force Nelson into putting “Rampage” in direct danger of being knocked out.
According to our bracket, the wild card fight would be Fedor Emelianenko vs. Muhammed Lawal. After dropping threepeat losses to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio “Big Foot” Silva, and Dan “Hendo” Henderson, Emelianenko retreated to the Eurasian fight circuits and racked up five big wins (four by knock-out). When it seemed like it was time to make another trek into North American combat sports, he was stopped short by Matt Mitrione. Losing to Matt Mitrione is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of; it’s a barometer of needing to adjust your game and realizing that the North American competition had changed while competing overseas. “King Mo,” on the other hand, has been on the mind of every Light Heavyweight that is looking to make a move in the division. At Bellator 186, both “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis and Ryan Bader had indicated that they’d be open to fighting Lawal. I call a potential bout between Fedor and King Mo a wild card fight, because of my inability to prognosticate such an encounter. Surely, the fight would be a nail biter, but who would get the upper hand is anyone’s guess.
Whether or not I’ve hit the nail on the head or completely missed the mark, we’re still talking about it. Such a Light Heavyweight / Heavyweight Grand Prix hybrid might be the answer; a traditional Heavyweight Grand Prix might prove ineffective, considering the current lack of Heavyweight contenders in North America. This tournament has everything you could hope for: former champions fighting for a title that they haven’t held before, contenders trying to make their mark, and athletes looking to earn their shot. I think Bellator has really changed its course under Scott Coker’s leadership, and I’m looking forward to see how this Grand Prix shapes up.
Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!
- Only Roy Nelson, Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Mitrione, & Frank Mir are natural heavyweights
- Former champions from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Pride Fighting Championships (PRIDE FC), Strikeforce, the International Fight League (IFL), and Bellator MMA are competing in the 2018 Heavyweight Grand Prix
- Chael Sonnen and Matt Mitrione are the only non-champions to be competing in the Tournament
- Fedor Emelianenko, Frank Mir, and Roy Nelson are the only former Heavyweight champions to compete in this Grand Prix
- The last Bellator MMA Heavyweight champion was Vitaly Minakov; the title was vacated on May 14th, 2016 due to lack of title defenses