Two weeks ago, Bellator announced a Summer Series tournament bracket via press release on the same day as the World Series of Fighting announced a tournament of its own. Bellator’s upcoming Summer Series plans to open with a four-man heavyweight tournament, with the winner earning $100,000 and a shot at Bellator heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov. Meanwhile, the WSOF will host a four-man middleweight tournament to crown its first-ever middleweight world champion.

Bellator’s heavyweight tournament starts at Bellator 96 and features Vitaly Minakov facing Ron Sparks and Richard Hale against Vinicius Queiroz. Meanwhile, Dave Branch and Danillo VIllefort join Elvis Mutapcic and Jesse Taylor in WSOF’s middleweight tournament. The WSOF will likely announce the match-ups closer to WSOF 4, which goes down on Aug. 10.

Some may wonder if the WSOF’s combination of notable names like Taylor and Mutapcic, combined with this four-man tournament structure, does enough to allow the promotion to really challenge Bellator’s standing as the premier MMA promotion outside of the UFC. However, it’s a bit premature to ask that question. The WSOF’s ambitions in signing UFC veterans and securing a television deal so early in its existence makes it a legitimate future challenger to Bellator’s grasp on the title of the world’s No. 2 MMA promotion, but to compare the two promotions in such a way at this stage is unfair.

Remember, WSOF just started last year and will present only its third event on June 14 when the promotion returns to Las Vegas for live action. Right now, it needs to fill out its divisions and take time to grow as a promotion. What’s more worthy for direct comparison is the pair of tournaments these promotions have constructed.

So, who promises to deliver the more compelling tournament?

The answer depends on personal bias more than anything else. After all, some people prefer heavyweights over middleweights and vice versa. But if we put bias aside and look purely at what each tournament has to offer, the Bellator heavyweight bracket emerges as the more compelling of the two.

Of Bellator’s four participants, Hale and Queiroz both come off of losses to reigning champ Volkov and most certainly crave a second shot at the Russian. There’s also the opportunity to get a good look at Minakov, who debuts for the promotion with an undefeated 10-0 record. Plus, there’s Sparks, who fights for the first time since 2011. There’s also the intrigue of whether the victor of this tournament can give the champ a sufficient challenge for the title—Volkov maintains an 81-inch reach, which can create serious distance and spell doom for any heavyweight.

Bellator tournaments prove tough to top because the promotion keeps its lineups consistent with its long-term approach. Remember that for as long as MMA fans have accepted Bellator MMA as a promotion, Bellator’s main goal has always focused squarely on the sport’s fresher faces. In other words, the promotion always intended to create new stars instead of recycling the talent of yesteryear. This heavyweight lineup maintains this philosophy. Sure, Hale or Queiroz might find a way to set up a rematch with Volkov, but MMA fans and Bellator diehards alike know better than to overlook Sparks or Minakov. In fact, many see the undefeated 28 year-old finisher, Minakov, as the man to watch in this tournament.

That’s certainly not to suggest that the WSOF’s middleweight tournament cannot do well. It sports the more established case of names, with former MFC titlist Mutapcic alongside UFC veterans Taylor, Branch and Villefort. But again, the WSOF only started last year. We cannot stress this enough. The promotion runs a rather immense risk by going forward with this tournament. Will the decision to launch a title tournament before loading up on talent prove successful? It could in the short-term, but once the tournament concludes, the options for new title challengers may be exhausted to a larger degree. Will fans want to see rematches from this tournament or will they quickly tire of the redundant pairings, should the promotion fail to find a new injection of talent to vie for the crown?

However, although it runs a high risk, the WSOF can also cash in on a high reward. There is the chance that WSOF’s more established talent could draw more attention than its Bellator counterpart. Fans may be more willing to tune in to see three UFC vets and a former MFC headliner than they would two fighters who have already lost to the reigning champ, an upstart Russian prospect and a fighter whose inactivity makes him a huge underdog. Whereas Bellator bases its approach on the discovery and development of new talent, the WSOF has settled in with an approach where it seeks out the best that the UFC has rejected and balances them with slightly more established prospects like Mutapcic. In a way, this strategy may catch the eye of the casual fan in ways that Bellator cannot.

These two distinctly different approaches to running MMA events leave Bellator and the World Series of Fighting in stark contrast to each other. But they share common ground in their aspirations to challenge the UFC’s place at the top of the mixed martial arts mountain. These tournaments are just one more method of climbing towards that summit. One leads to the crowning of a new champion, whereas the other identifies a new challenger for an established champ. For both, it is the best of times.

Photo: Bellator champion Alexander Volkov (R) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)