MMA Gospel concludes the Bellator: The Draft series by covering a few much needed additions to the promotion’s heavier weight divisions. The Bellator Fighting Championship (BFC) roster thins a bit at the top and new talent is severely needed to maintain the interest of the promotion’s divisional champions. The middleweight division relies almost solely on champion “Shango” Hector Lombard (25-2-1) to bring in viewers, the promotion currently has no light heavyweight division to speak of, and its heavyweight roster consists of “The Polar Bear” Cole Konrad (7-0), “Goliath” Neil Grove (10-3), and the one-and-done fighters who essentially utilize the organization to pad their records. These heavier classes are the divisions where Bellator needs the most work. Here are a few key players that could help bulk up the heavier weight classes to help Bellator more closely compete with rival MMA organizations.
MIDDLEWEIGHT: Bellator’s middleweight division is ruled by the promotion’s most dominant champion: Hector Lombard. The champion himself has stated that he has wants bigger names to add to his resume, and adding the following fighters could do just that.
“Ninja” Murilo Rua (17-11-1): The older brother of UFC Light Heavyweight Champion “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (19-4) and first and former Elite XC Middleweight Champion has looked like his old self recently, going 6-4 in his last ten fights. “Ninja” had 13 fights with the now defunct PRIDE organization in which he went 6-7. Rua has world class experience and needs a solid home in a well known organization instead of the small hometown shows spotted along the map that he has competed in as of lately. “Ninja” additionally has several fights at light heavyweight but in sticking to his more natural 185lb. weight class, he could be a fan favorite to fight Lombard at the end of the tournament. The acquisition of “Ninja” would not only improve the middleweight roster in terms of talent, but also star power.
“Eli” Paulo Filho (17-2): The former WEC Middleweight Champion was slated to fight Hector Lombard at Bellator 18 in a superfight that sadly was canceled due to visa issues on Filho’s part. A lot of controversy has surrounded the former top five middleweight during his career with many questioning his training ethic due to his difficulty making weight – he did not make the cut in his bout with Denis Kang (35-12-1) at Impact FC in Australia this summer. In his last few bouts he fought at 205lbs. and even at heavyweight at 218lbs. If Filho can pick himself up from the upset loss against “Pezao” Marcos Rogerio de Lima (8-0) and get his training and personal life in order he could return to the form that saw him stay undefeated for 15 fights. With a well known name like Filho’s, BFC would only benefit from adding him to its line-up.
Marcos Rogerio de Lima: Who is de Lima? Only the guy who just a month-and-a-half ago beat middleweight juggernaut Paulo Filho by Unanimous Decision. The undefeated young gun “Pezao” has won seven fights by TKO, and, like many top contenders with untarnished records, is just waiting for his shot at the big time to make his mark on the MMA world. Not much is known about the fighter who turned pro in early 2009 and has been very active in just one year. A chance in the Bellator Middleweight Tournament would give him the access to fans worldwide, fighting against experienced fighters from all over, and the right to take a shot at the gold. Plus a man of de Lima’s caliber that halted middleweight king Filho’s terror through the division may draw in the masses wondering who else he will conquer.
“The Rhino” Doug Marshall (11-4): The former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion dropped down to middleweight after losing his belt to Brian Stann (9-3) in early 2008. Since arriving in his new 185lb. weight class Marshall has shown no signs of slipping, finishing three of his opponents by strikes and one by submission before being defeated by Kyacey Uscola (19-13) in September. Marshall started his career at heavyweight then dropped to 205lbs. for a spell before establishing what likely will be his permanent, stable home at 185lbs. Not even one of Marshall’s fights have gone to the judges, and “The Rhino” has seen the third round only once in his entire career. With eight wins by TKO and three by submission, its knockout or be knocked out, tap out or nap time. With his tendency to ensure exciting fights – on the feet or on the ground – that never make it into the judges’ hands, Marshall would be a solid addition to the Bellator ranks.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: For the first time in Bellator history, the promotion is holding a Light Heavyweight Tournament starting in March. Thus far, only one fighter, Daniel Gracie (4-2-1), has been confirmed as a participant, leaving Bellator with an entire divisional roster to fill. Luckily for Bellator, this division is the most competitive in the UFC, leaving tons of well known, high caliber fighters who couldn’t quite make it in the UFC and even more new blood needing a home while they wait in line for a chance at the big show.
“The Dean of Mean” Keith Jardine (14-9-1): It’s been a rough 2010 for “The Dean of Mean”. He added two fresh losses to the streak he started in 2009 to get drummed out of the UFC, then dropped a Split Decision to Trevor Prangley (22-6-1) before picking up a win that didn’t count and a paycheck that didn’t cash at Nemesis Fighting: MMA Global Invasion. Jardine is still very much a threat at the lower levels and is a big name that could seriously increase Bellator’s drawing power with the casual fans.
“Fire” Eliot Marshall (9-2): Eliot Marshall was cut from the UFC following just one defeat after a stint on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter. Many fans felt that his being cut from the UFC was premature considering his 3-1 record with the organization. “Fire” has spent his time since then proving them correct by scoring three more victories in 2010 following his dismissal. Eliot is a proven top level talent that would be yet another Zuffa-hyped name to add to the roster and the ratings.
“The Professional” Chris Davis (10-2): Aside from being an MMA Gospel Young Gun alongside Bellator welterweight “The Assassin” Chris Lozano (6-0), Chris Davis is a very solid kickboxer coming off a KO win over highly regarded Jiu-Jitsu fighter “Kiko” Francisco France (6-1). Davis has done his time in the trenches and is ready and looking for his ticket into the big leagues. In exchange for giving him the opportunity to fight on the national stage, Bellator would pick up a skilled and exciting fighter who goes in looking to finish early every fight.
“Pezao” Vinicius Magalhaes (6-6): Magalhaes is yet another product of the hype machine that is TUF. He was a finalist in Season 8 who eliminated current UFC light heavyweight “The Polish Experiment” Krzysztof Soszynski (21-10-1) only to lose the competition and follow it with a one-and-done career in the UFC. Since then, Vinicius has gone 2-1 and needs a place where he can face a steady diet of mid-level competition and Bellator is just the place.
“The Assassin” Houston Alexander (11-6): Alexander has had an up-and-down career since he burst onto the MMA scene by obliterating Keith Jardine at UFC 71. After KO’ing Jardine, Alexander has gone 4-5 with one No Contest with fights that include a win over once feared Judoka Thierry Sokoudjou (6-6) and an embarrassing loss to YouTube street brawler “Kimbo Slice” Kevin Ferguson (4-2). Alexander has always been a stand-up fighter with a highly entertaining and aggressive style that plays strongly into Bellator’s favor.
HEAVYWEIGHT: Bellator signed many hopefuls for the title, including fan favorite Neil Grove who went the distance only to be submitted by Cole Konrad in the championship final match-up. Adding some of the previous season’s talent couldn’t hurt but with some new blood, BFC promises new match-ups with new fans from the fighters they follow.
“The Hurricane” Gilbert Yvel (33-16-1): The Dutch striker came up short in his past three bouts in the UFC and consequently was released but the bulk of his history and success reign from Japan in PRIDE and other Japanese promotions. Always exciting to watch win or lose, “The Hurricane” brings force and an aggressive pace, as indicative by his nickname. Yvel is now seeking a more permanent home for his talents, and Bellator would be a good way to start the run back to the UFC should he choose to remain stateside. “The Hurricane” has earned wins over former UFC Heavyweight Champion “The Rock” Pedro Rizzo (18-9), “The Python” Valentijn Overeem (26-21), and Cheick Kongo (15-6-2), to name just a few. The list of who’s who that Yvel has faced along with his history of poor conduct may simultaneously provide Bellator with an intimidating heavyweight contender and a built-in fan base.
Pedro Rizzo: The former UFC Heavyweight Champion has gone 4-2 in the last three years including two wins over “The Snowman” Jeff Monson (33-10). Rizzo has been active recently and seems to be looking better. “The Rock” is a specialist in Muay Thai, kickboxing, and Vale Tudo, and has earned more than half of his total wins via KO or TKO. Bellator gives him several good reasons to jump aboard a promotion that will provide him a steady home as well as a chance to return to his glory days should he make it through the tournament and earn the chance to face Cole Konrad. Rizzo’s status as an early UFC great may make him an early favorite in BFC’s heavyweight division.
Justin Eilers (19-7-1): The Idaho country boy and Pat Miletich trained heavyweight has not stepped foot in the cage since his July 2008 loss to former Elite XC champion “Big Foot” Antonio Silva (14-2) for the heavyweight strap. Eilers is a fighter who loves to stand and trade strikes with his opponents. He undoubtedly has a lot of power in his fists but his insistence on keeping the fight on its feet has cost him several times. An impressive 17 of his total 19 victories have come by way of TKO, KO, or Submission (Strikes). Bellator would give Eilers a chance to shake off the ring rust and get back in his groove while also providing the promotion with a heavy duty brawler.
“Napao” Gabriel Gonzaga (11-6): The former UFC title challenger and BJJ black belt just recieved his walking papers from the UFC after a loss to Brendan Schaub (6-1) at UFC 121. “Napao” is probably best remembered for his headkick knockout of “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-9-2) and breaking UFC Hall of Famer “The Natural” Randy Couture’s (19-10) arm in their 2007 title bout. Gonzaga has world class talent and could be a betting favorite to win the Heavyweight Tournament. “Napao” may use Bellator as a springboard to gain some solid wins and perhaps get a second chance in the UFC or even Strikeforce, while the mutually advantageous acquisition may be accompanied by the draw of Gonzaga’s brutal style. Adding him to the Bellator roster would likely result in a winning situation for both Gonzaga and the promotion.