What Would A Bellator/ONE Championship Cross-Promoted Card Look Like?

Ben Askren ONE Championship
Ben Askren Credit: ONE Championship

Earlier this year, the idea of some cross-promotional bouts between Bellator MMA and ONE Championship was floated by none other than Scott Coker himself. What would such a card look like? We put on our fantasy match-making hats and take a look.

Bellator MMA returns this Saturday, bringing Bellator 206 to the sunny west coast, and making its debut on streaming service DAZN. In the process, it will allow Rory MacDonald a chance to become a two-division champion, as he’ll face Gegard Mousasi for the middleweight belt.

It’s arguably the most competitive fight Bellator could make at the moment, frankly in any division. MacDonald is one of the best welterweights in the world, and has long desired a chance to ply his trade in another division. Mousasi is perhaps the best middleweight on the planet, rattling off a string of victories before spurning the UFC for Bellator.

However, a few months back, an interesting idea arose. When Scott Coker appeared on The MMA Hour ahead of Bellator 199, a rather intriguing topic came up: the possibility of a collaboration between Bellator MMA, where Coker sits as CEO, and ONE Championship, the Asian MMA powerhouse. Coker openly admitted that he has spoken with his counterpart in ONE, Chatri Sityodtong, and the lines of communication remained open.

The topic was broached thanks to Ben Askren, who had been campaigning for a UFC bout with Georges St. Pierre. While the GSP talk seems to have gone nowhere, Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald also seems to interest Askren, a former Bellator welterweight champion and ONE Championship welterweight king who retired last year undefeated as a pro.

However, nothing was certain, and of course, Askren is technically retired. Mind you, we all known what retirement in MMA means. “I said if [Askren’s status] changes, Chatri, let us know and we said we’ll get together some time soon and maybe we can do some collaborations or we can work together in sharing fighters,” Coker said. “If they need some help, we’re happy to help them. He said the same. So the relationship is good. When I think about the Ben Askren fight, if it was more than one fight, we would be interested.”

Now, maybe it’s wishful thinking. But let’s break down what could be an incredible night of cross promotion were ONE Championship and Bellator MMA to work together.

Bantamweight: Bibiano Fernandes vs. Darrion Caldwell

Let’s start off in the bantamweight division (keeping in mind, ONE Championship uses modified weights for their divisions, but presumably, ONE’s fighters would still be able to make the traditional weights). Bibiano Fernandes has long been one of the most feared bantamweights in the world. He was on the UFC’s radar years ago when they tried to sign him ahead of UFC 149, as he was leaving Japan’s DREAM. How close was Fernandes to joining the UFC? The promotion actually announced Fernandes vs. Roland Delorme on their official website. Fernandes then rejected the offer at the 11th hour, and signed with ONE instead.

He explored free agency again in 2017, where the UFC again put in a bid for his services, only to fall short to both Bellator MMA and ONE. Ultimately, Fernandes chose to stay with ONE Championship. There, he has been the most dominant champion in the company, winning the interim title in 2013 and unifying the belt that same year. He’s defended the title seven times since, most recently against two-division champ Martin Nguyen.

Darrion Caldwell? He might be one of Bellator’s most underrated champions. While big names like Ryan Bader, Gegard Mousasi, and Rory MacDonald hold belts in the higher weight classes, Caldwell is a relative unknown to those who don’t tune in to the former Spike TV on a regular basis. However, with wins over former Bellator tournament winner and Pancrase champ Rafael Silva, ex-Bellator two-division champ Joe Warren, and Eduardo Dantas, where he won the 135lb title, Caldwell is a legit talent. He has defended the belt once since winning it a year ago, and also made a successful trip up to featherweight to test the waters there.

That said, you’d have to give the edge to Fernandes in this one.

Featherweight: Martin Nguyen vs. Patricio Pitbull

Let’s start this off by admitting something: Conor McGregor sparked a trend at UFC 205 when he claimed a second belt, the first man to hold two titles simultaneously in the UFC. Sure, Randy Couture and B.J. Penn were two-division champs before the Irish star, but they didn’t hold their titles at the same time. The shine came off McGregor a little when he never defended either, but other promotions have tried hard as they could the recreate or surpass the feat.

Hence Bellator letting Rory MacDonald have a shot at a second title. Hence ONE Championship giving Martin Nguyen two shots at holding three belts. And while he came up short in the bantamweight division, Nguyen has won both the featherweight and lightweight titles in ONE Championship. He has also defended his featherweight title once, against Christian Lee, brother of atomweight champ Angela. This, and Nguyen doesn’t even qualify for a Wikipedia entry (thanks to the website’s outdated, western-centric, borderline racist “notability” guidelines, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Patricio Pitbull, meanwhile, is a two-time Bellator featherweight champion with wins over Daniel Weichel, former Bellator champ Daniel Straus (three times!), former Bellator champ Pat Curran, Diego Nunes, former WSOF champ Georgi Karakhanyan, and former UFC flyweight title challenger Wilson Reis. The younger Freire brother (older bro Patricky fights at lightweight) is one of the most dangerous 145lb’er on the planet, and a true homegrown star for the promotion.

Here, he’d have the clear edge in experience and quality of competition.

Welterweight: Ben Askren vs. Rory MacDonald

The fight that sparked all this talk in the first place. Ben Askren retired last year as ONE Championship’s welterweight king. Undefeated in his professional MMA career, he’s also a former Bellator welterweight champion as well. After being shunned by Dana White in one of the dumber moves the UFC has ever made, Askren made the jump from Bellator to ONE, and actually became a bigger star in the growing MMA powerhouse. Wins against Andrey Koreshkov, Douglas Lima (both taking part in Bellator’s current welterweight Grand Prix), and Shinya Aoki pepper his record. And despite being criticized for his “boring” style, Askren finished seven of his final eight opponents (not counting a no contest against Luis Santos that ended after an eye poke).

Rory MacDonald, meanwhile, was one of the best welterweights in the world when he signed with Bellator, despite coming up short in a bloody title challenge against Robbie Lawler in the UFC. MacDonald is a warrior, and a true mixed martial artist: good in pretty much all areas. Askren, of course, relies primarily on his wrestling, frankly the best in the sport regardless of weight class.

This one would be a pick ’em. Though it’s hard to side against an undefeated fighter, so we’d probably lean towards Funky in the end.

Middleweight: Aung La N Sang vs. Gegard Mousasi

Gegard Mousasi is one of the most laid back fighters you’ll ever meet. He’s also arguably the best middleweight on the planet. Having left the UFC on an impressive win streak with victories over Thales Leites, Thiago Santos, Vitor Belfort, Uriah Hall, and Chris Weidman, he continued to find success in Bellator, defeating Alexander Shlemenko and then winning the title against Rafael Carvalho.

A former Strikeforce champ who also competed in Pride, Mousasi also holds wins over Dan Henderson, Mark Munoz, Ilir Latifi, Mark Hunt, Gary Goodridge, Ovince St. Preux, Hector Lombard and others. Frankly, Mousasi has made a career of beating bigger, more imposing fighters.

Enter Aung La N Sang. ‘The Burmese Python’ holds ONE’s middleweight and light heavyweight titles, and has become a phenom for the promotion. Like Mousasi, Aung La N Sang is willing to fight larger opponents, having defeated heavyweight Alain Ngalani in a one-off fight less tha a year ago. The pride of Myanmar has won eight of his last nine fights, between three weight classes.

That said, Mousasi’s 44–6–2 record makes him one of the most experienced high-level mixed martial artists anywhere. That, at just 33 years old.

Women’s Flyweight: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane vs. Xiong Jin Nan

Hear us out: Xiong Jing Nan is ONE Championship’s strawweight champion, and currently set for a super-fight with the promotion’s star atomweight champ Angela Lee. Having said that, given ONE’s modified weight classes, it’s likely Xiong would have little issue fighting at flyweight (really she’s fighting there already). The Chinese fighter is 15-1 in her pro career, has won eight straight, and finished five of those. Oh, and she has a nation at her back.

Bellator flyweight champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane also has her people behind her. The Hawaiian will fight at home later this year, as Bellator makes its debut in the island state. She’s undefeated in her pro and amateur careers, and has been a breakout star for Bellator — but quality of competition has been the big question mark thus far in her career. That question will be answered when she faces Valerie Letourneau in Hawaii.

Like every other fight on this list, it’s a dream fight. It’s also the hardest one to pick, with so many unknowns between the two.