Bellator’s light heavyweight grand prix may bring a sense of order to the promotion’s stacked 205-pound division, but it could also cause potential issues at heavyweight.
That’s because the reigning heavyweight champion, Ryan Bader, is set to compete as part of the eight-man grand prix, and if he’s successful in the early stages of the tournament, it could effectively place the heavyweight division on hold.
Bader (27-6 MMA, 5-1 BMMA) will headline Bellator 256, where he’ll take on former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida (26-10 MMA, 2-2 BMMA) in a quarterfinal clash. The event takes place on April 9 in Uncasville, Conn. and will air on Showtime.
Speaking with reporters, including MMA Junkie, during a virtual media session, Bellator president Scott Coker said he’s aware of the potential logjam if Bader progresses in the grand prix, and said that discussions are already being had behind the scenes to keep the heavyweight division moving if Bader’s tournament commitments continue.
“We’re going to wait to see how he does on the ninth,” Coker told reporters. “If he wins and he’s continuing on into the tournament, we might consider having an interim belt, but we’re going to wait to see how the ninth goes first.”
Bader captured the light heavyweight title in his promotional debut at Bellator NYC in June 2017 then, after registering one title defense against Linton Vassell, competed in the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix, where he defeated Muhammed Lawal, Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko to win the tournament and claim the heavyweight title.
His return to 205 pounds ended in defeat, however, as he was dethroned by Russian challenger Vadim Nemkov at Bellator 244 last August.
But, rather than return to heavyweight to defend his one remaining title, Bader is diving straight back into the 205-pound shark tank. Coker said he’ll assess the landscape after Bader’s rematch with Machida and, if “Darth” is successful, he’d look at taking the heavyweight division in a new direction in the champion’s absence.
“If he does win, we can’t just leave the heavyweight division out there like that,” Coker said. “So we’re going to give other fighters opportunities. But, for right now, because the fight is a couple of months away, we’re going to see how it goes from there, and then we’ll decide what to do from there.”