Bellator isn't getting away from their tournament model, but they are adjusting it. In short, Bellator tournament champions no longer have to re-enter the tournament system to earn subsequent title shots.
Bellator officials exclusively tell MMA Fighting the tournament still earns the winner a guaranteed title shot and $100,000 extra in earnings, but also something more now. Once a fighter wins a tournament, they'll forever belong to a pool of fighters who can win a series of fights outside of the tournament that also lead to a title shot.
For those fighters who've already won a tournament at any point in Bellator history, or for those who win any in the future, they move into a position where earning victories outside of the tournament structure enables them to claim a title shot at Bellator's discretion. Those bouts can be against other fighters in Bellator who belong to this pool, but defeating only them is not essential. Fighters in this pool can face recent acquisitions, and should those previous tournament winners look impressive enough in victory, they can earn a title shot.
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In other words, Michael Chandler could face David Rickels in a non-tournament bout at lightweight as both fighters have won previous lightweight tournaments. However, Chandler or Ricklels could also face any acquisitions who have not competed in a Bellator tournament. If either Chandler or Rickels earn enough victories in this space against other fighters who have won Bellator tournaments or other non-tournament participants, they can earn a title shot without having to re-enter a tournament.
The one caveat, however, is a fighter must win a tournament before they can enter this pool. Title shots can only be granted to those not actively in the tournament system, if and only if, they've already won a previous Bellator tournament.
In addition, a previous winner of a Bellator tournament is not precluded from entering another tournament if they choose.
The current pool of fighters who are eligible to fight for the world title are below as stated in Bellator's release:
Bantamweight: Eduardo Dantas*, Joe Warren*, Marcos Galvao, Rafael Silva
Featherweight: Pat Curran*, Patricio Pitbull, Daniel Straus, Shahbulat Shamhalaev, "Frodo" Khasbulaev, Daniel Weichel, Joe Warren.
Lightweight: Eddie Alvarez*, Will Brooks*, Michael Chandler, Pat Curran, Rick Hawn, Dave Jansen, David Rickels
Welterweight: Douglas Lima*, Karl Amoussou, Andrey Koreshkov, Rick Hawn
Middleweight: Alexander Shlemenko*, Brennan Ward, Doug Marshall
Light Heavyweight: Emanuel Newton*, Rampage Jackson, King Mo, Christian M’Pumbu, Atilla Vegh,
Heavyweight: Vitaly Minakov*, Alexander Volkov, Cheick Kongo
* Denotes Current Bellator Champion or Interim Champion