Bellator president Scott Coker went on Ariel Helwani’s ESPN MMA Show on Monday and revealed the news that his promotion is planning on running a 16-man featherweight grand prix tournament. According to Coker, the tournament will begin running in October and will feature 16 of the best featherweights in Bellator, including fighters already in the division as well as bantamweights moving up and potentially even lightweights moving down. The featherweight tournament follows in the footsteps of the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix, which just saw Ryan Bader crowned champion, and the welterweight tournament, which is still ongoing.
Coker told Helwani he wants the first round of eight fights in the tournament to take place on one night or on back-to-back nights in the fall. He also said he wants the tournament to conclude within a year, which practically mirrors the heavyweight and welterweight tournament timelines.
As far as who will be among the 16 fighters in the tournament, so far no one has been announced, but Coker did say he wants Bellator featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire to be a part of the tournament. Pitbull is taking on Michael Chandler in May for the Bellator lightweight title, so if he does take part in the tournament he will still be the champion, meaning his belt will be on the line in each round of the tournament just like Rory MacDonald’s welterweight title is on the line every time he fights.
As far as other featherweights who are expected to be in the tournament, here are some who seem to be near locks: Rising prospect AJ McKee; top contender Henry Corrales; former champ Daniel Straus; former champ Pat Curran; former top prospect Aaron Pico; former title contender Emmanuel Sanchez; and former UFC fighter Sam Sicilia.
The fact there aren’t 16 featherweights means that bantamweights will also be invited to move up, and Coker already said that James Gallagher and Darrion Caldwell will be asked to take part in the tournament. I’d also expect Ricky Bandejas and Juan Archuleta to be asked, as well. As far as lightweights go, there could potentially be a couple of fighters who could make the cut down a weight class including Derek Campos, who just fought at featherweight in his last fight, and Ryan Scope, who just lost a close fight against Patricky “Pitbull” Freire.
It’s exciting to see Bellator continue to hold these tournaments as the sport of MMA was build on the tournament format. The promotion’s bedrock back in the Bjorn Rebney days was the tournaments but when Coker first came in they started to go away in exchange for superfights and legends fights. But it seems like Coker, Bellator, Paramount and DAZN love the tournaments as this is the third one the promotion will be running within the last two years. At this point, you have to wonder what the next tournament for Bellator will be, and if I had to guess it would be something in the women’s divisions. For now, though, featherweight is getting a great set of fights.