Bellator has definitely put themselves in a big money and a high viewership situation heading into 2021. That’s thanks to the anticipation from fans after the signing of two former UFC title contenders, Yoel Romero and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
Both men are expected to compete in Bellator’s stacked light heavyweight division.
The consensus with MMA fans is to book this money fight between the two right away. The thought process behind that decision is understandable, as the level of power these two possess in their hands means a fight that promises fireworks, on a level rarely seen between two competitors so well known. But is that really the best course of action?
While there are all sorts of reasons to be a fan of this fight, Bellator could go a different direction and tease the fans more, rather than being so quick to match Romero and Rumble up. Giving the fans a “warm up” fight before these two KO titans set foot inside the Bellator cage against one another may create even more anticipation and excitement. In terms of opponents, there are a few interesting options: Julius Anglickas, Leo Leite, or Alex Polizzi.
Julius Anglickas, a Contender Series winner and former LFA champ, is one of Bellator’s top light heavyweight prospects, and undefeated through two fights in the promotion. He’d be a clear underdog against either Romero or Rumble, but has the credentials necessary to land a fight against either at this point.
Alex Polizzi is actually the last man defeated by Anglickas. Another light heavyweight with a high ceiling, it was the first loss of Polizzi’s career. And while it might seem odd, both Romero and Rumble Johnson are technically coming off losses as well, albeit outside Bellator.
Lei Leite is 42, and coming off a pair of losses under the Bellator banner. But that’s still a year younger than Yoel Romero, and his status as a former Legacy double-champ could make all the difference.
Then there’s the top of the Bellator light heavyweight division: champ Vadim Nemkov. Ex-champ Ryan Bader. Phil Davis. Liam McGeary. Lyoto Machida. Karl Albrektsson. And potentially at some point, Gegard Mousasi. For now, those match-ups can wait.
Of course, there is a fifty-fifty chance that such a “warm up” booking could backfire, as whoever faces off against Rumble or Yoel could potentially steal their star power with a win. And *poof* — there goes all the hype that came with signing these big name free agents to the promotion. A perfect example of this was when Justin Gaethje inserted himself into the dream fight between Tony Ferguson and Khabib. A TKO win from Justin Gaethje (who took the fight on short notice) in five rounds sealed the fate of us potentially never seeing the anticipated fight between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Still, the risk seems minimal. Even down the road, Yoel vs. Rumble would be a nice moneymaker and bring plenty of eyeballs to CBS Sports Network. That also makes it understandable as to why Bellator would make this as a quick marquee fight, especially during these crazy COVID times.
If Bellator MMA wants to match up Yoel Romero and Anthony Johnson as quick as possible, another way of making this fight have some meaning behind it would be if they fought each other for a way into a potential spot in the Light heavyweight tournament (if there happens to be one). While the winner would earn a spot in the grand prix, the loser would lose less momentum and be considered a strong alternate while building their resume back up.
We shall soon see how Yoel Romero and Anthony Johnson fare in their new MMA home. But no matter how Bellator handles these new signees, we know there are exciting fights on the horizon in the light heavyweight division.