Bellator MMA has never been shy about getting involved in high profile free agent signings, but the past year brought several top UFC light heavyweight contenders to the promotion.
Former top-five ranked light heavyweight Corey Anderson asked out of his contract and just hours later came to an agreement with Bellator. More recently, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson secured his release in order to sign an exclusive deal with Bellator. He was soon joined by multi-time title challenger Yoel Romero just days later.
The end result is Bellator boasting a very healthy light heavyweight division heading into 2021 with a new champion in Vadim Nemkov and a lineup of contenders all vying for a shot at his title.
Bellator President Scott Coker is definitely happy to see the growth of the 205-pound division, which was partially fueled by the UFC’s decision to part ways with several of those athletes.
“You’re talking about a couple of guys that really made a difference in their division,” Coker told MMA Fighting when speaking about the recent UFC releases. “I’m surprised they didn’t want to keep them. To me, it’s a great opportunity for us.
“To be honest, I think we’re a better fit for those guys. They’ll have a great home here. I think they’re going to be extremely happy here. A couple of the guys that I talked to, they wanted to make the move. They wanted to come to Bellator. People see when they get here how we treat the fighters and how it’s a family atmosphere. Yes, it is a business so we run like a business but it’s really run a lot different than other organizations.”
Anderson spoke out almost immediately about his excitement when joining the Bellator roster and he proved his worth right away by dismantling Melvin Manhoef in his promotional debut. While Johnson confirmed he had no ill feelings whatsoever towards the UFC when that relationship ended, he also anticipated a great working relationship with Bellator after signing with the promotion.
“At the end of the day, I think the fighters wanted to be here,” Coker said. “They made the move to be here. I think each one of those guys had different circumstances with their past employer and I don’t think that they wanted to take this fight or that fight and some ultimatums were thrown around is what I heard. It just didn’t work out.
“Too bad for them, good for us and now look at that light heavyweight division we have..”
Coker had previously touted Nemkov as the best light heavyweight in the sport and nothing has changed that opinion as he looks ahead with big plans in mind for the division in 2021.
Adding fighters like Johnson, Anderson and even Romero only gives Nemkov the opportunity to prove his point as the new light heavyweight champion has a long line of contenders all gunning for his title.
“There’s no doubt in my mind [we have the best light heavyweight division],” Coker said. “First of all, I think [Vadim] Nemkov is the best fighter on the planet at 205 until he gets beat. I think that’s going to be my position. Because I’ve never seen Ryan Bader get dismantled like the way he did against Nemkov.
“You’re talking about a guy that can wrestle, can strike, got a complete game. Top pound-for-pound rated in the world. Top rated in the 205-pound weight class and he won a heavyweight tournament. He’s a serious athlete, this guy is a killer. Nemkov just kind of did his thing with him.”
From top to bottom, Coker is happy to compare his roster to anybody else in the sport, which is why he’s proud of the stable Bellator has built with the light heavyweight division and he expects the weight class to only grow from here.
“The sport of MMA really was built, I believe, on the light heavyweight division,” Coker said. “Back in the day when you had [Quinton] ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Tito [Ortiz] and Chuck [Liddell] and [Randy] Couture and to me this is the second wave of 205-pound killers that all assembled under one roof.
“They can all fight each other and have some great fights in 2021 for Bellator.”