Coker: 2018 May See Heavyweight Champ In Bellator
The last time Bellator MMA held a heavyweight championship fight was 2014 when Vitaly Minakov defeated Cheick Kongo. Company president Scott Coker hopes to change that.
Following his victory at Bellator 115 in Reno, Nev., Minakov decided to continue his career in Russia, and no longer fight in the United States. Coker made the call to strip Minakov of the belt in May 2016, while Minakov was still under contract to the company as early as February of 2017.
Since then, despite a division that features Roy Nelson, Matt Mitrione, and Fedor Emelianeko, the company has been without an official heavyweight champion. 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… 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…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.
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 out Fedor at the Bellator NYC pay per view this past June, scored KOs in each of his three appearances for the promotion after coming over from the UFC last year.
Kongo is 9-2 during his Bellator tenure, 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.
Coker was asked if he might form a tournament in the vein of a 2011 heavyweight Grand Prix that he once put together while operating Strikeforce. The 2011 tournament saw Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva defeat Emelianenko just his third-ever loss, Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum renew their rivalry, and future UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier go from alternate to beating Josh Barnett in the finals.
“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.”