Bellator heavyweight grand prix opening-round matchups set; 'Rampage'-Sonnen first up Jan. 20

The bracket is set for the Bellator MMA World Grand Prix 2018.

The four opening-round matchups for the eight-man tournament to crown a new heavyweight champion were announced tonight on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

They are as follows:

The Jackson (37-12 MMA, 4-1 BMMA) vs. Sonnen (29-15-1 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) winner will face the winner of Emelianenko (36-5 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) vs. Mir (18-11 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) in one semifinal.

In the other semifinal, the winner of Mitrione (12-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) vs. Nelson (23-14 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) will face the Bader (24-5 MMA, 2-0 BMMA) vs. Lawal (21-6 MMA, 10-4 BMMA) winner.

“Rampage”-Sonnen will kick things off at Bellator 192, which takes place Jan. 20 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The main card airs on Spike following prelims on MMAjunkie.

Mitrione-Nelson is slated for a Bellator event scheduled Feb. 16 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Fedor-Mir and Bader-King Mo are scheduled for April and May events, respectively.

Bellator has yet to determine any alternates for the tournament, though president Scott Coker told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto the promotion is considering several names, including Shane Carwin, Cheick Kongo and Bobby Lashley.

Bellator’s heavyweight championship has been vacant since May 2016, when the promotion stripped then-champ Vitaly Minakov of the belt for failing to defend the title.

The tentative plan is to hold the title fight in December.

For more on Bellator 192 and Bellator’s upcoming schedule, visit the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News
Source: MMA Junkie

Why Matt Mitrione was initially bummed by Bellator heavyweight grand prix

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Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News, Radio Highlight

He’s the odds-on favorite to win the thing, but Matt Mitrione initially wasn’t very excited about Bellator’s upcoming heavyweight tournament.

As recently announced, the Bellator MMA World Grand Prix 2018 will kick off in early 2018, with eight fighters – four heavyweights and four light heavyweights – fighting for the organization’s vacant heavyweight title.

Mitrione is a 2-1 (+200) favorite to win the grand prix and has the best odds to merge victorious at the end. So, why was he initially bummed when officials approached him about the tourney, which will be held throughout the year over multiple events?

“I’m not good at giving political answers, so I’ll give you an honest answer: I wasn’t really excited, to be honest,” Mitrione told MMAjunkie Rado. ” … I think it would have been a true heavyweight grand prix to fill it with heavyweights. I think it would have been even better to do it in the same night. I think that would have been a lot of fun.

“But that’s not how it went. I think they chose the most athletic, most exciting guys they have, and I think that’s what the draw of the tournament is.”

Mitrione (12-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) is coming off a signature career victory – over famed heavyweight, former PRIDE champion and fellow Bellator tourney participant Fedor Emelianenko (36-5 MMA, 0-1 BMMA). Mitrione, an NFL and UFC vet, thought it might’ve given him a fast-track for a shot at the vacant Bellator heavyweight belt.

“I would have originally wanted just a title fight, and then have the winner of the tournament fight me for the title – and I would defend it hopefully once during the middle of the year,” he said.

Instead, he’ll need at least three victories to win the tourney and claim the belt. Currently, the sports books (and MMAjunkie readers) feel he’s the favorite to do so.

Does he think those odds are right?

“Yeah, I think I expected it, to be honest,” he said. “I feel like I’m the best heavyweight Bellator has to offer, and I say rather readily that on any given day, I’m the best heavyweight in the world. I had just a couple of missteps (during my UFC career), and it cost me a pretty substantial amount in my name value, but I feel like when it comes down to scrapping, I’m one of the best in the world. So I’m not surprised I’m the favorite.

“Then again, in that same breath, we have three light heavyweights and a bloated middleweight. If it was a full-fledged heavyweight grand prix or heavyweight tournament, then I think it might possibly be a little different.”

Mitrione specifically mentioned Cheick Kongo (27-10-2 MMA, 9-2 BMMA) and Sergei Kharitonov (26-6 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) as true heavyweights he would’ve liked to see in the field.

However, those three light heavyweights – reigning 205-pound champ Ryan Bader (24-5 MMA, 2-0 BMMA), former UFC titleholder Quinton Jackson (37-12 MMA, 4-1 BMMA) and ex-Strikeforce champ Muhammed Lawal (21-6 MMA, 10-4 BMMA), as well the “bloated middleweight,” multi-time UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen (29-15-1 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) – add an interesting wrinkle to the grand-prix field, he said.

“I think the smaller bodies make it a much more interesting tournament, for sure,” Mitrione said.

For more on the upcoming Bellator schedule, visit the MMA Rumors section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

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Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News, Radio Highlight
Source: MMA Junkie

Nelson, Lashley, Kongo, Mir, Fedor, Minakov? What's up with Bellator's heavyweight title?

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Filed under: Bellator, News

Despite some established veterans and recent additions, Bellator still doesn’t have a heavyweight champion. Could that soon change?

On Friday at Bellator 185, Bellator President Scott Coker was asked about the title, which was left vacant after Vitaly Minakov was stripped of the belt in May 2016 due to inactivity.

However, Minakov (20-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA), a 32-year-old Russian, remains under contract with Bellator, though his past six fights have come outside of the organization. Still, he could be in the mix when the organization finally crowns a new titleholder.

“Minakov is not our champion anymore,” Coker said. “Minakov, as far as I’m concerned, is a fighter that’s under contract for Bellator, but to me, it’s almost irrelevant at this point because we have so many great heavyweight fights now, that when we put this heavyweight title fight together it’s going to be something really special.”

Minakov, though, isn’t the only candidate. The organization has some signed some notable recent additions, including former UFC champion Frank Mir (18-11 MMA, 0-0 BMMA), former UFC contender Roy Nelson (23-14 MMA, 1-0 BMMA), surging Matt Mitrione (12-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) and Cheick Kongo (27-10-2 MMA, 9-2 BMMA), who’s been a Bellator staple since moving over from the UFC in 2013.

You’ve got also got MMA great Fedor Emelianenko (36-5 MMA, 0-1 BMMA), who recently made his promotional debut, and an assortment of others, including fan favorite Justin Wren (13-2 MMA, 3-0 BMMA), upstart Tyrell Fortune (3-0 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) and Augusto Sakai (9-1-1 MMA, 4-1-1 BMMA). There’s also former WWE star and amateur-wrestling standout Bobby Lashley (15-2 MMA, 5-0 BMMA).

“Bobby, we’ve been talking to him,” Coker said. “I know he’s been very busy with his pro wrestling and his kids, so I’m not sure what his status is. But I think he’s not going o be fighting anytime before the end of the year.”

So, what’s the next move, with or without Lashley? Could a champ be crowned soon?

“The heavyweight title, I think first quarter (of 2018), going into the second quarter, we’ll do something big as far as having a heavyweight championship fight,” he said. “I think crowning a champion, it’s kind of becoming clearer who we’re probably going to have fight.

“That’s something I don’t want to talk about that much now, but we’ll talk about and in the upcoming weeks we’ll have something for you guys.”

For more on the Bellator’s upcoming schedule, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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Filed under: Bellator, News
Source: MMA Junkie

Scott Coker open to Bellator heavyweight tournament but wants to crown champion first

With a new influx of talent, and an unclaimed championship belt, Bellator’s heavyweight division is ripe for a tournament.

Bellator President Scott Coker, no stranger to the format, likes the idea of pairing the division’s baddest big guys against each other. But he said a new champion will be crowned before that happens.

“I think we will have some more fights, see how these guys fare, and then we can talk about something like that,” Coker today told MMAjunkie.

Coker said a matchup between Roy Nelson (23-14 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) and Matt Mitrione (12-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) “makes a lot of sense” as a fight for the title, though he also mentioned the surging Cheick Kongo (27-10-2 MMA, 9-2 BMMA) as a potential contender.

“I’d like to crown a heavyweight champ in the first part of (2018),” Coker said.

As UFC heavyweights, the trio are very familiar with each other. Nelson beat Mitrione and Kongo in succession, while Mitrione outpointed Kongo.

Kongo is the most experienced in the Bellator cage with 11 appearances, including a failed bid for the title against Vitaly Minakov, who left a void in the division when the promotion stripped him for inactivity.

Mitrione, meanwhile, joined the fold in March 2016 and has won three straight, with a June knockout of Fedor Emelianenko marking his most recent appearance.

This past Saturday, Nelson made a successful debut with a decision over Jay Ayala at Bellator 183. Before stepping into the cage, Nelson suggested a tournament would be the best way to establish a pecking order.

Coker has held several high-profile tournaments as the head of the now-defunct Strikeforce, including a one-night middleweight tournament in 2007 and the highly hyped Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight tournament in 2011. But he shifted away from the format after taking the reigns at Bellator in 2014, emphasizing super fights and “tentpole” events over the tournament format favored by previous Bellator chief Bjorn Rebney.

Coker isn’t opposed to the idea of crowning a heavyweight tournament champ, as he did for the Strikeforce grand prix. But in Bellator, he first wants to establish a champion to challenge a tournament winner.

For more on Bellator’s upcoming schedule, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News
Source: MMA Junkie