One thing about being the second-largest MMA company in the marketplace is more latitude to try new things.
Bellator often copies Japan’s glory days of fight promotion, and Scott Coker cut his teeth as a promoter with K-1 in that era. So it’s no surprise he tried a concept from that country as part of the Viacom-owned promotion’s Featherweight Grand Prix Tournament.
After the first round of the tournament ended at Bellator 228 with Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (30-4) defending his title over Juan Archuleta (23-2), the eight remaining fighters picked numbers and were given their choice of dates to fight next – or, after early fighters had picked dates, the choice of opponents.
It’s an idea that was used in Japan and worked there. It didn’t work out nearly as well here.
After A.J. McKee (15-0) scored an eight-second knockout of Georgi Karakhanyan (28-10-1), the match most wanted to see was a title shot against Freire. But when selections got underway, McKee pushed hard for a fight with Emmanuel Sanchez (19-4). A cageside commotion involving Darrion Caldwell (14-3) and Freire could have been an easy segue to a fight. And yet after the drawing and picks, that matchup went by the wayside.
McKee got the first pick, and he chose to fight in December, figuring he was unscathed and ready to fight as soon as possible.
While no cities have been announced, the belief is that the December show will be in Honolulu and the January show will be the Jan. 25 date at the Forum in Los Angeles. The other possible dates to choose could be in February or March.
During his pick, Adam Borics (14-0) said he had a small injury and wanted to fight in January. Caldwell chose March. Daniel Weichel (40-11) chose February.
Even with the goading by McKee, Sanchez wound up choosing Weichel, seemingly picking the fight he felt was the most favorable to him. Derek Campos (20-9), took the opposite approach and picked a fight with McKee, arguably the most impressive name on the board. Campos would be considered a substantial underdog, so it made sense to swing for the fences.
Pedro Carvalho (11-3) chose to face Caldwell in March, not knowing it wasn’t to be.
A change from the Japanese format was the idea of the champion’s choice. Freire was not out with the other fighters. At first, fans were told that since he had just fought, he would be coming out. But neither he, nor a representative, drew a number.
It appeared he’d face the undefeated Borics until fans and fighters were told about the champion’s choice. In an idea that Coker attributed to John McCarthy, the champion was told he could choose his opponent for his next title defense among the seven fighters who had also advanced. In doing so, he could knock off someone who had already chosen his date and opponent.
The people wanted him to choose McKee, but they would have accepted Caldwell or Sanchez.
Although he won handily, Freire fought five rounds and noted he wasn’t so young and needed time. That meant he wasn’t picking McKee, and probably not Borics. He wound up picking by date, in March, meaning the choice came down to Caldwell or Carvalho.
Keeping with the theme of unexpected twists, Freire chose Carvalho, meaning Caldwell would face Borics in January.
Still, it made for an intriguing show. But in the end, it didn’t lead to a quality title match, nor the most appealing second round.
It appears Bellator’s idea is to do annual yearlong tournaments. The idea for the second round in particular – and perhaps even the semifinals – is unique. But after this first experiment, it’s probably best to bracket them from here. The December winner should face the January winner, and February winner face the March winner, just so opponents have a more similar amount of time between fights.
They probably should try this once more for the final eight in the next tournament, just to see how it goes. But if it doesn’t work out a second time, the bracketing of the entire tournament at the start should be the way to go.
For UFC, let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five from Saturday’s show in Copenhagen, Denmark.
JARED CANNONIER - Cannonier (13-4) established himself as a major player in a wide-open middleweight division with a great stoppage win over Jack Hermansson.(20-5).
With Paulo Costa (13-0) as the likely opponent for the winner of this coming weekend’s middleweight title fight with Robert Whittaker (20-4) vs. Israel Adesanya (17-0), Cannonier should face the winner of the Nov. 2 Madison Square Garden fight with Kelvin Gastelum (15-4) vs. Darren Till (17-2-1), with the idea that winner gets a title shot after Costa.
JACK HERMANSSON - With the division in flux as longtime standouts Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza are now fighting at light heavyweight, Hermansson would’ve probably been one win away from a shot had he beaten Cannonier. Now it’s rebuilding time, with either Derek Brunson (20-7) or the inconsistent Uriah Hall (15-9) as good next possibilities.
GILBERT BURNS - Burns (18-3) took the third round to clinch a decision over crowd favorite Gunnar Nelson (17-5-1) in a welterweight fight. This was a battle of grapplers that ended up mostly standing. A good next opponent for Burns would be the winner of another battle of grapplers – the Oct. 26 fight with Ben Askren (19-1) vs. Demian Maia (27-9). If not, another good opponent would be Michael Chiesa (16-4).
OVINCE SAINT PREUX - The master of a submission move – that needs to be named after him – OSP (24-13) used the former Von Flue choke again to finish Michal Oleksiejczuk (14-3) in round two. Saint Preux should next face another winner on Saturday, Ion Cutelaba (15-4-1), who scored a devastating first-round finish.
NICOLAS DALBY - The Copenhagen crowd went crazy for the Denmark native, who took control in rounds two and three to win the decision over Alex Oliveira. Dalby (18-3-1) called out Mike Perry (13-5), a fight that would make sense provided the timing works out.
Dalby also said he wanted to fight on Dec. 14 in Las Vegas, and if Perry isn’t possible, Geoff Neal (12-2) also makes sense.