With three shows remaining and as many new champions still to be crowned in Bellator Fighting Championships’ third season, planning is already well underway for the promotion’s future.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney told Sherdog.com on Wednesday that the company is “highly likely” to return to its original four-tournament configuration for its upcoming fourth season.
“I would prefer to do four tournaments,” says Rebney. “There was a traction element in seasons one and two, in terms of flow and sequencing. I think there’s a certain cup-boiling-over fullness that you get with four tournaments running simultaneously.”
If Rebney has his way, those four tourneys will be held in the same weight classes with which Bellator started in April 2009: featherweight, lightweight, welterweight and middleweight.
In late August, Bellator began holding tournament qualifier bouts, allowing four fighters to reserve early spots in next season’s fields:
- Steve Carl, a season two welterweight semifinalist who became the first to qualify for season four when he choked out Tyler Stinson on Aug. 25.
- Chris Lozano, an unbeaten welterweight with six TKO’s in six contests, including a Sept. 30 doctor stoppage of Yoshiyuki Yoshida in his Bellator debut.
- Carey Vanier, a season two lightweight semifinalist who eked out a split decision over veteran Rich Clementi on Sept. 9.
- Brent Weedman, a Kentucky-based welterweight who won his third straight for Bellator (and ninth straight overall) on Sept. 23 with a first-round thumping of touted prospect Jacob McClintock.
Other potential competitors at 170 lbs. include season two finalist Dan Hornbuckle, England’s “Judo” Jim Wallhead (who makes his long-delayed debut for the promotion against Ryan Thomas on Oct. 14) and the loser of the upcoming Lyman Good-Ben Askren title bout.
At lightweight, two-time tournament runner-up Toby Imada will likely try his luck again, along with French Olympian judoka Ferrid Kheder. Rebney says the promotion is also high on undefeated Missouri wrestling convert Michael Chandler, who will “have a chance to make some progress over his next few fights.”
While no fighters have been made official for the remaining two brackets, Rebney mentioned several strong possibilities at 145 lbs., including new signing Zac George, plus returning names such as Patricio Freire, Wilson Reis and Georgi Karakhanyan.
However, one prospect in particular seems to have nabbed the CEO’s attention.
“I flipped when we finally got the paperwork done and signed Eric Larkin,” Rebney says. “He’s just a freak. I love what Ben Askren has been able to do in terms of taking his wrestling skill and applying it to his MMA game, but Larkin is just another kind of beast.”
A four-time Division I All-American wrestler with Arizona State University and recipient of the prestigious Dan Hodge Trophy in 2003, Larkin made his Bellator debut on Sept. 9, where he recorded his third first-round stoppage in as many MMA bouts. Despite competing at 155 lbs., Larkin is expected to make the cut to featherweight in the near future.
“We also have a list of about 10 guys that we’ve been recruiting, and four or five guys are at the very top of that list,” Rebney adds. “We’re hoping to make two more announcements before the last event of this season.”
Rebney also says a starting date and location for season four should be announced sometime during October, and that Bellator is currently “looking to find two or three additional markets that can complement what we’re already doing” in cities such as Kansas City, Mo., Louisville, Ky., Lake Charles, La., and Hollywood, Fla.
But, what of finding challengers for season three’s impending champions in the heavyweight, bantamweight and women’s divisions? Rebney says the groundwork is already being laid for reiterations of those tournaments -- plus the as-yet-untouched 205-pound class -- in season five.