Bellator MMA has made significant strides this past year, signing highly-rated fighters, crowning new champions and staging some noteworthy events. But one issue it has yet to sort is the apparent extinction of the Bellator heavyweight title.

The belt, last held by by Vitaly Minakov, has been vacant and left for dead since May 2016, with no heavyweight on the Bellator roster seemingly capable of stepping up and filling the void. There have been heavyweights, and heavyweight fights, but none deemed special enough to warrant the reward of the Bellator heavyweight championship.

That, however, is soon to change, as Bellator MMA yesterday announced plans to host an eight-man heavyweight tournament, the climax of which will be the crowning of a new Bellator heavyweight champion.

At last.



The tournament, which takes place next year and spans multiple events and locations, will feature the following Bellator fighters:

  • Current Bellator light-heavyweight champion Ryan Bader (24-5)
  • Former PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko (36-5, 1 NC)
  • Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (37-12)
  • Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir (18-11)
  • Former UFC middleweight and light-heavyweight title challenger Chael Sonnen (30-15-1)
  • Former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion “King Mo” Lawal (21-6, 1 NC)
  • Former TUF 10 winner Roy Nelson (23-14)
  • Matt Mitrione (12-5)

You might have noticed a lot of formers in among that lot; a lot of guys in their mid to late thirties and even early forties (Bader, at 34, is the baby of the group). Plenty of light-heavyweights and even middleweights, too. But beggars can’t be choosers. Bellator need heavyweights. They need a heavyweight champion.

So, rather than knocking the appeal of what’s on the menu, let’s instead credit the promotion for making the best out of a bad situation – let’s face it, the UFC’s heavyweight division is hardly awash with young, exciting talent – and sorting out the mess, getting around the dearth of talent, in a way that is, if nothing else, easily understood (the old-school tournament style).

Give it time, three rounds of fights to be exact, and we should know which of these eight men – heavyweights, light-heavyweights and even a former middleweight – is the best competitor at a weight between 206 and 265 pounds. It won’t reveal the name of the best heavyweight in the world. It won’t even give us a glimpse of a name for the future – someone who could one day be considered the best. But it will clear up a mess, one that has gone on too long, and throw up some interesting and bizarre matchups along the way.

For that, we should consider ourselves lucky.