Bellator MMA have apparently mended fences with former heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov, working out a new deal with the Russian heavyweight.
After years of estrangement and stripping him of their heavyweight title, it appears Bellator MMA are welcoming former heavyweight champ Vitaly Minakov back into the fold. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani initially reported the news, citing Bellator CEO Scott Coker. Minakov last fought for Bellator in 2014, after which a contract dispute saw him take his services to Russia, where he fought under the Fight Nights Global banner.
Minakov (21-0) defeated then-Bellator heavyweight champ Alexander Volkov (a current UFC contender) to capture the promotion’s heavyweight crown. That was way back at Bellator 108 in 2013. He defended the title once, the following year at Bellator 115, defeating Cheick Kongo. Then came the contract dispute, and Minakov dug in, hoping for a release to pursue offers elsewhere (mainly the UFC). However, Minakov was technically still under contract with Bellator, who refused to grant him his release. Instead, they eventually stripped him of the title in May 2016, over two years since he’d last fought.
While away from Bellator, Minakov fought six times in Russia, winning all six fights via stoppage. Facing the best heavyweights outside the major promotions, he scored victories over Josh Copeland, Bigfoot Silva, and Peter Graham, among others.
Per ESPN’s initial report, the plan is to have Minakov fight once, and if successful, pair him up against the winner of the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix.