When the dust settles on the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix, there could be an intriguing challenger waiting for the tournament winner.
MMA Fighting confirmed with Bellator officials that former champion Vitaly Minakov has re-signed with the promotion and is expected to fight soon with a victory putting him in line for a title shot against whoever walks out of the Grand Prix will gold around their waist.
ESPN was first to report the news.
Should Minakov become the No. 1 contender at heavyweight, it would be fitting given that the belt was only vacated and a tournament arranged to claim it because of Minakov deciding to compete for Fight Nights Global in his home country of Russia back in 2014. At the time, Minakov was the Bellator heavyweight champion fresh off of his first title defense, a unanimous decision win over Cheick Kongo at Bellator 115.
Minakov won his next three fights competing for FNG, and with no return to Bellator in sight, the decision was made by Bellator president Scott Coker to strip him of the title in May 2016 — Minakov’s five-fight stretch with the company took place under previous president Bjorn Rebney. The 33-year-old continued to fight overseas, most recently defeating Tony Johnson by second-round TKO.
In February of last year, Minakov told MMA Fighting that it was his understanding that he was still under contract with Bellator, but it appears that he has signed a new deal to again compete for the promotion.