Bellator MMA hasn’t hosted a heavyweight championship fight in three-and-a-half years, a situation that company president Scott Coker hopes to remedy soon.
The last big man to have gold around his waist in Bellator was Russian fighter Vitaly Minakov. It was back in April 2014 that Minakov authored his only successful title defense against Cheick Kongo at Bellator 115 in Reno, Nev., before leaving to continue his career in his home country. That was the last time Minakov would compete in North America, and Coker made the call to strip Minakov of the belt in May 2016 — though as of this past February, Minakov was reportedly still under contract with Bellator.
Since then, the company has been without an official heavyweight king, despite having names like Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Mitrione, and Roy Nelson on the roster. Coker plans to give his fighters an opportunity to contend for that title in early 2018.
“I think that we’ll probably crown a new champion first quarter of next year and then we’ll start having a lot more fights in the heavyweight division,” Coker said. “We’ve got some great heavyweights now, there’s a lot of matchups that I can’t wait to see and I’m excited about 2018. I think 2018 is going to be a very busy year, a big growth year for Bellator, and the heavyweight division will be a big part of it.”
“I think you can kind of put the names in the mix. I think of Mitrione, who has a victory over Fedor; I think of Roy Nelson; I think of Cheick Kongo; there’s a lot of guys that I think,” Coker continued. “Even ‘King Mo,’ [he lost to Mirko Cro Cop last year], but he’s beaten Kongo and he wants to stay at heavyweight.”
Coker did not elaborate on who will actually battle for the vacant title, though he has no shortage of options.
While past his prime, Emelianenko still carries the reputation of being arguably the greatest heavyweight fighter in MMA history, having gone on a legendary 28-fight unbeaten run from 2001-2010 that included wins over Cro Cop, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Kevin Randleman.
Mitrione, the man who knocked Emelianenko out at Bellator NYC this past June, has scored KOs in each of his three appearances for the promotion after coming over from the UFC last year.
Kongo is 9-2 in the Bellator cage, Nelson was victorious in his debut against Javy Ayala, and heavyweights Justin Wren, Tyrell Fortune, and Bobby Lashley have yet to taste defeat fighting for Bellator.
There’s enough talent available that Coker was asked if he might form a tournament in the vein of a 2011 heavyweight Grand Prix that he once put together as the president of the Strikeforce promotion. That field saw Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva hand Emelianenko just his third-ever loss, Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum renew their rivalry, and future UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier go from tournament alternate to beating Josh Barnett in the finals.
As much as Coker would like to revisit those days, he’s taking things one step at a time.
“It was an amazing tournament, that’s when we had a young Alistair Overeem, a young Fabricio Werdum, Fedor was in his prime. It was just great, great stuff,” Coker said. “We always like doing a lot of fun stuff like that, and who knows? But let’s go crown a champion first and then we’ll go from there.”