Opinion: Plotting Bellator MMA’s Return

By Anthony Walker Apr 18, 2020

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Bellator MMA President Scott Coker was the recipient of a decent amount of praise for proactively shutting down Bellator 241 just hours before the event as the novel coronavirus began disrupting society. If the measured approach that led to the March 12 show closing shop—despite the willingness of the Mohegan Sun Arena to move ahead—is any indication, we can expect equally careful consideration when the promotion inevitably returns. Additionally, without its own version of the UFC Apex, an entirely in-house production seems unlikely.

The combination of those two factors will probably lead to a more standard event. That means waiting a bit longer when international travel is less restrictive and actually having some level of public access. The idea of a packed Madison Square Garden might be too risky from a financial standpoint, so returning to Mohegan Sun Arena with a stacked card seems like a good compromise. As tempting as it is to load this card with featherweight grand prix bouts, especially since several of the fights were part of cancelled events, it might be better to book them all together to ensure the tournament resumes with as much hype as possible. Without assigning any slots to the regional fighters for the plethora of prelim and postlim bouts, here is a proposed line up to ensure Bellator returns with a bang.

Aaron Pico vs. Cris Lencioni: After his devastating knockout of Daniel Carey in January, it seems so tempting to throw Pico back into the deep end of the pool. This holds especially true as the featherweight grand prix throws some notable names out of title contention. However, cooler heads should prevail as he continues developing. A bout with a similarly experienced submission artist like Lencioni makes sense here.

Leslie Smith vs. Cat Zingano: Smith was ready to go against Jessy Miele at Bellator 241. Instead of rebooking their match, putting Zingano on the other side of the cage would let the promotion take advantage of having two longtime women’s MMA standouts finally meet. Smith and Zingano have had their fair share of action-packed fights and would likely deliver when combined.

Matt Mitrione vs. Ronny Markes: Mitrione stepped up in the suspicious absence of Josh Barnett for 241. Markes has been left at the altar twice by the veteran, and his Bellator debut should not be delayed any further. Markes’ ability on the floor should balance the scales for the career light heavyweight against the heavy-handed bigger man.

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Michael Page vs. Raymond Daniels: When Page was violently booted out of the welterweight grand prix by Douglas Lima, Bellator dialed back the level of competition to nearly non-existent. Similarly, Daniels has benefitted from favorable matchmaking to ensure highlight reel-worthy content from the decorated kickboxer. No need for a facade in this one. We want spin kicks; we want a show; we want the closest thing we can get to a live-action Shaw Brothers film.

Michael Chandler vs. Benson Henderson: How can we have the glorious return of Bellator without the longtime face of the organization? Chandler could not just sit idle for this card. His original contest with Henderson was a back-and-forth five-round encounter worth remembering. Let us condense the action to three rounds and keep our fingers crossed for another epic showdown.

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Roy Nelson: Maybe this is too ambitious. Arguably the greatest heavyweight of all-time, Emelianenko is clearly near the end of his storied career and his appearances should hold some sort of value beyond filling up a spot on a card. However, Bellator has a tremendous ace in the hole with the Russian. Nelson is another veteran with a lot of miles on the odometer. The two knockout artists with underappreciated ground skills would be great dance partners.

Ryan Bader vs. Vadim Nemkov: Instead of Bader returning to light heavyweight to defend his title for the first time since 2017, we were given the unfortunate no contest with Cheick Kongo for the heavyweight crown. No need to run that back, so make good on the fight scheduled for Bellator 242. The 205-pound championship has collected enough dust, and there are no good reasons to delay movement any further.

Gegard Mousasi vs. Douglas Lima: This is the fight we did not know we needed until it was announced. The COVID-19 pandemic rendered its original date null and void. It would be unfortunate to lose this surefire banger. Make this the headliner to celebrate the return of some degree of normalcy. A tentpole event deserves a superfight of this caliber.

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