Before Scott Coker took over the helm, Bellator MMA was best known for holding “The Toughest Tournament in Sports.”
When Coker replaced Bjorn Rebney atop the company, the tournament format largely became a thing of the past. But Bellator’s president knows a good opportunity when he sees one, which is why the California-based promotion will be holding a heavyweight bracket to crown a new champion over the course of 2018.
The first round will begin at Bellator 192 on Jan. 20, when Chael Sonnen squares off against Quinton Jackson in the evening’s co-main event at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The main card, headlined by a welterweight tilt tilt between Douglas Lima and Rory MacDonald, will be televised on the Paramount Network beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
Coker is no stranger to heavyweight tournaments, however, as he presided over another star-studded big man bracket while serving as Strikeforce boss. He won’t rule out the possibility of holding more tournaments in Bellator down the road — just don’t expect them to become a regular occurrence.
“We’ll leave that door open,” Coker said during a media call on Wednesday. “This tournament happened in organic fashion. We just started signing all these guys. And pretty soon we were like, ‘Oh, we have our lineup here.’ The tournament made a lot of sense. Fighting for the belt at the end is going to be a special event for the year.
“There’s a couple of divisions I could see us hosting next year or the year after,” he continued. “It’s not something we’re going to be in the business of having to do a tournament every year. This is something that made a lot of sense, but we will keep that door open.”
The first round of the current heavyweight grand prix will stretch out until May, when Ryan Bader and Muhammed Lawal meet. The new champion isn’t likely to be crowned until the end of the year. According to Coker, that timeframe and the matchups worked out best for all parties involved.
“Timing was part of it, when these guys were gonna be ready,” he said. “We sat down as a group and looked at fights the fans wanted to see and that’s what we laid out. It was really a timing issue.”