Matchmaking the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix
Since the announcement of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix was made, the particulars have been discussed in great detail. And the most hotly debated topic surrounding the tournament is, of course, the match-ups for the first round. Rumors have been bandied about but no solid reports have been made. But, with the end of the year coming, we should see some fight announcements soon. So which match-ups should Bellator make? Here’s my take.
Rampage vs Matt Mitrione
The most commonly heard rumor surrounding the grand prix has been that Rampage will be facing Chael Sonnen in January. On the MMA Hour, Ariel Helwani asked him about his thoughts on the proposed match-up and Rampage didn’t seem too enthused. “I told my manager that I’m not looking forward to fight Chael Sonnen”. “Why would I want to fight another another fighter who is strictly known for wrestling?” It’s a fair question. And personally, I’m inclined to agree with him. Chael Sonnen is one of the greatest characters in the history of the game, but not an exciting fighter to watch.
The main draw behind watching Rampage fight is to see a real knockdown-dragout war. He comes forawrd and you want to match that with another fighter who is willing to stand and throw. Matt Mitrione is that guy. 11 of Mitrione’s 12 wins have come by way of knockout and after his win over Fedor, he’s never been bigger. His newly found stardom matched with the big name of Rampage Jackson, would make for a significant draw and a terrific fight. There are arguably 4-5 fighters with a grappling base. Let them fight each other, and let the strikers fight the strikers in the first round. From there, we’ll see what happens. But as for Rampage vs Mitrione. Make the call Bellator. Make the call.
Fedor Emelianenko vs Chael Sonnen
This one was a difficult match to make. I considered placing Fedor in there with Roy Nelson. Mostly because I felt that it would be a relatively even match-up and honestly Roy Nelson has looked terrible lately, so maybe Fedor can get by. But there isn’t a much easier fight in this tournament than Chael Sonnen. Respect to a great, but he is essentially a pure grappler at this point who lost to a now retired and washed, Tito Ortiz earlier this year. So put him in the first round, against a legend so Chael can hype the fight and use the mic to build the “legend narrative” around Fedor. Chael has shown enormous respect for him and if you get someone like Chael on the mic being forced to talk about Fedor, it’s money. Let him talk up Fedor, let him talk up the tournament and the fight, then he can lose and we’ll move on to more compelling matches.
As for Fedor, he hasn’t been his typical dominant self. For obvious reasons, Fedor has declined significantly since his days in Pride. But people still love watching him fight, and it’s important to get him into the semi-finals at the very least. This is a very winnable fight for him and it will allow the aura of Fedor to eminate around the tournament for a while longer. It likely won’t be the most exciting fight in the world however, no Chael Sonnen fight is. He’ll build an enormous amount attention around the fight which will help draw viewers to the least exciting first round match-up. It’s perfect. Make it happen.
Ryan Bader vs King Mo
I actually like this fight quite a bit. Ryan Bader stepped over from the UFC and captured the light heavyweight title in his first fight in the promotion. And after defending his belt a couple of weeks ago, he now steps into the heavyweight grand prix for a chance to win dual-titles. But with other contenders in the light heavyweight division, the belt should not go undefended for, what could be, the entirety of the year-long tournament. So, let’s remedy this situation. King Mo could be considered the top contender in the division. It just so happens he finds himself in this tournament with the champ. So, let’s turn this into an unofficial title defense.
It would be at heavyweight however, these two would essentially weigh the same come fight night and the only real difference between this scenario and an official title defense would be the elimination of a weight cut. And ultimately, whoever walks away from this fight the victor, would be considered the champion, regardless of where the belt lies after the fight. This is an excellent match-up in regards to styles and would have the potential for excellent exchanges on the feet assuming their wrestling backgrounds would negate each other. It’s a perfect match-up. It’s a perfect situation. And the winner can then pursue a second title later in the year. It’s never been more obvious. Just do it.
Winner of Rampage vs Mitrione faces the Winner of Bader vs Mo
Frank Mir vs Roy Nelson
Frank Mir made headlines last year after falling victim to the ultimate opponent, USADA. It was a turinabol metabolite that rendered a positive result and ultimately almost forced him into an early retirement. But after pleading with the UFC for his release, it was granted and he moved on to another promotion. Now he finds himself in the heavyweight grand prix with a shot at redemption.
In front of him stands another UFC converted vet, Roy Nelson. Lately, Nelson has not been his typical “Big Country” self. Since complaining about his fight with Jared Rosholt and calling him an “athlete” rather than a fighter after Rosholt’s grappling heavy gameplan, Nelson has adopted a similar ideology. In fact, in his 4 fights since the complaint was made, the only opponent he went out and threw hands with was “Bigfoot” Silva, a heavyweight whose chin deterioration has been talked about at great length. This sudden shift from his good-old hands down, bomb-slinging style to an often grappling heavy approach has made him, in my eyes, unwatchable. Which makes this fight perfect.
Frank Mir matches wits with every one of Roy Nelson’s skills. Unlike 4 others in the tournament, he’s a natural heavyweight who knows how to avoid the big shots. And on the mat, he’ll have a marked advantage in essentially every facet. Of course, this is not a gimme. Roy Nelson is always a threat with his hands. But with that over-hand right landing with less and less frequency, it seems as though this is a solid option for Bellator. And it sets up a potential fight with THE legend of the sport, Fedor.
Winner of Fedor vs Sonnen faces Winner of Frank Mir vs Roy Nelson
Overview of the Bracket
Ok, since we’ve got the match-ups made, let’s talk about the implications. Rampage doesn’t want to fight a wrestler or Fedor. Well, if he comes out of the Mitrione fight he’ll have to fight one of them. And i’ll give him the wrestler. Plus, Mitrione, being a heavyweight, would be a good test for either Bader or King Mo. On the other side of the octagon, would stand the official or unofficial light heavyweight champion. The winner of Bader vs Mo faces their first real test at heavyweight regardless of the results in the contest between Rampage and Mitrione. This side of the bracket would, in my eyes, represent the legitimate contenders for the heavyweight belt. Which makes the particulars of this format all the better. In the end, we’ll likely get a legend against a current contender/champion. Perfection.
Prediction for the second round:
Matt Mitrione vs Ryan Bader
Now let’s look at the other side of the bracket.
I call this the legends division. Of course, Rampage and Roy Nelson should really flip sides if it’s being divided this way but for the sake of good fights, roll with it. The most polarizing fight on this side of the tournament is obviously, Fedor vs Chael. As I said earlier, this bit of match-making mostly served to get Fedor to the second round of the grand prix. There is an excellent match being set-up with this choice and hopefully, it will come to fruition. And for Chael, his job is to market this fight. That’s it. The other fight is Frank Mir vs Roy Nelson. Once again, I explained earlier that I felt this was the best way to make Fedor vs Mir without eliminating all of the exciting fights in the first round. Two mount rushmore heavyweights, with debate of course, facing off in the second round and guaranteeing one in the final is obviously an ideal scenario for the fans and the promotion. So you see, it’s very simple. I’m laying it out for you Bellator. You don’t have to hire me, just listen.
Prediction for the second round:
Fedor Emelianenko vs Frank Mir
The Bellator heavyweight grand prix is the most exciting product they have created it their history. For the first time in a while, I’m actually very excited for the events to come. Tournaments in general, are an incredibly under-utilized component of fighting. It’s not a one night thing however, it’s all the same to me. Watching a fighter compete multiple times on the same night is great but for the most part unnecessary. Every major sport has tournaments. Why should MMA be any different. The UFC refuses to embrace it. But Bellator dove straight in with this development.
I’m very intrigued with the potential match-ups and pre-fight build we’ll get once this thing gets underway. The field is perfectly set. An even distribution of grapplers and strikers, legends and current contenders. The end of the year is coming which means the tournament will be under-way in a matter of a couple months. And good-lord will it be fun. Regardless of the outcome of the fights this will be Oh-so-Bellator.