The Best of Bellator: Looking Back at 200 Events of Greatness

Bellator 200
Credit: Bellator MMA

Bellator will hold their 200th event this evening in London, a celebration of several years of notable action in the world of mixed martial arts.

Tonight, Bellator will celebrate their 200th event with a packed fight card from London, England.  The milestone celebrates the rise of the second biggest MMA promotion in America.  The organization has grown, changed management, and ultimately has carved out a significant place in the market.

When the promotion debuted in 2009, it was with a unique format for MMA in the United States at the time.  The early years were broken up into “seasons” that culminated with the crowning of its first champions.  It was in those days that fans were introduced to fighters like Eddie Alvarez, Ben Askren, and Hector Lombard.  While all of them went on to other promotions with varying levels of success, their time as the champions of Bellator will likely go down as the defining moments of their careers.

On the backs of iconic performances, the company grew.  Bellator originated on ESPN Deportes and later made their way to MTV2.  When the UFC went to FOX, Bellator filled the void on Spike TV; it is now a tentpole for the re-branded Paramount Network.  In later years, Bellator tried their hand at pay-per-view.  Their first attempt was a stacked card that featured Quinton “Rampage” Jackson facing Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal.  In their second venture, Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva headlined a card that featured the promotional debut of Fedor Emelianenko in the co-main event.  Along the way they experienced a change of leadership.  Bjorn Rebney headed the company in its formative years before parting ways with the promotion in 2014. Former Strikeforce head Scott Coker took charge subsequent to Rebney’s departure. The tournament format had already been dropped in favor of more standardized MMA match-making — but unlike its competition, the promotion has not been afraid to host the odd grand prix from time to time.

None of the progress would have been possible without the fights.  Without a doubt, the biggest fights in the history of Bellator have taken place in the lightweight division.  None more exciting than the pair of fights between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler.  Chandler shocked reigning champion Alvarez with a fourth round submission in their first meeting.  Alvarez would return the favor with a gut-wrenching five round war in which he needed to win the final round to seal the decision.  Chandler would go on to wage other memorable battles, including a pair of fights with then unknown Will Brooks, who pulled off the upset twice to become champion himself.

Outside of the lightweight division, the featherweight division also saw an exciting contest waged between Pat Curran and Patricio Freire where Curran triumphed in a five round collision.  A little before that, in what is one of the most memorable comebacks in MMA history, Joe Warren survived a beating by Joe Soto before rallying back in the second round to finish the fight and retain the title. Warren would go on to become a two-division champion, winning the bantamweight title a few years later.

Over at middleweight, Hector Lombard was known for his finishing abilities, but his lone decision in Bellator saw him overcome the tough veteran Alexander Shlemenko.

Bellator’s run has not been without some eyebrow raising moves.  Events headlined by Kimbo Slice and Royce Gracie stand-out as some of the more unique events in their history.  But in recent years, Bellator has become a landing point for notable free agents.  Chael Sonnen, Fedor Emelianenko, Ryan Bader, and Gegard Mousasi all signed with the company at a time when they fielded offers from other promotions. Benson Henderson showed that not every UFC star was going to walk through Bellator’s home grown talent, while Rory MacDonald did just that, capturing Bellator’s welterweight crown in two fights.

The company has also taken strides to embrace the women’s MMA.  Their flyweight division is among the deepest in the sport and the promotion crowned a champion in Ilima-Lei Macfarlane last year.  They have also been active with their featherweight division, something not seen in the UFC or Invicta.  Currently ruling the division is Julia Budd, who has made her mark as the best fighter at 145 pounds not named Cris Cyborg.  The promotion will have two cards headlined by women in the coming months, a sign of their continued commitment to equality in the sport.

Tonight, Bellator will add to their history with a stacked card featuring their dominant middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho against perennial contender Gegard Mousasi.  The undercard will be loaded with intriguing talent such as Michael Page and Anastasia Yankova.    The expectation is that the card will deliver on a night when the company is looking to celebrate.  The guarantee is that after 200 events, Bellator has no intention of slowing down.