Bellator MMA’s 2016 was supposed to start off with a bang: a card that would feature both Josh Koscheck and Paul Daley. Not fighting each other, mind you — but in separate fights that would, if all went well (meaning if the two veterans both won) line them up for a big-money grudge match down the road.

Koscheck, however, fell to injury before it could happen. While he’ll probably be back in time to salvage that eventual showdown with Daley, the loss of what was barely a relevant main event underscored the lack of depth Bellator currently has on their roster. Sure, they have the best stable of freakshow fighters outside of Japan and Rizin FF (and my how Rizin shot to the top of that particularly odd race quickly), but when it comes to relevant or even notable fighters that can headline a card, well the pickings are slim, and the loss of one may leave the cupboard bare.

It’s not what most envisioned when Scott Coker took over the promotion. A year and a half later, Bellator seems like a promotion without an identity. After Bellator 148 and its new headliner of Daley vs. Andy Uhrich (and you’ll be forgiven for asking “who?” in this case), the company puts on Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie III, the most sought-after match-up of 1996, with an undercard of Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000, who was Slice’s bodyguard, or part of his entourage, or did his laundry or something back in the day. Bellator just wants you to know that the two have a beef, and you should watch them fight because they hit hard and did stuff on Youtube once upon a time.

Okay, fine, I’m being a little harsh. I have a soft spot for Bellator, and I always have. Maybe it’s because I enjoy cheering for the underdog, even when the underdog is backed by a behemoth like Viacom. Maybe it’s because I recognize that, at the end of the day, competition is what the sport of mixed martial arts need.

And Bellator, way back when, was all about sport.

Now, they’re trying to juggle sport and spectacle, like the big dog in the yard, the UFC, and like just about everyone else these days, with the exception perhaps of the WSOF.

The point is, it’s time for Bellator, to borrow a phrase I realized just a little too late was recently used in a UFC campaign, to go big. Go BIG, or go home. Now is the time for them to start trolling the free agent market, and hooking some serious players.

The reasons should be simple and obvious to anyone. As much as Bellator is hoping that their freakshow fights will draw enough eyebrows to grow some homegrown stars, they’ve lots out too often to the UFC when it really matters. Example A, Lombard, Hector. Example B, Alvarez, Eddie. The Rampage Jackson matter is still undecided, but his removal from the UFC’s rankings can’t be a good sign, and don’t even get me started on the Ben Askren situation.

To be fair, not all of these happened under Coker’s watch. And he has signed the likes of Phil Davis, which was a fantastic move, Josh Thompson, which seems to be working out better than most expected, and Josh Koscheck, which may or may not turn out to be a smart signing. Only Davis, however, can really be considered a steal as a signing.

Still, now is the time to make a move. Consider the market at the moment:

Alistair Overeem is a free agent, having fought the final bout on his contract, knocking out Junior Dos Santos to put an exclamation point on his return to relevance. Overeem and Coker clearly have a history together, which makes signing the heavyweight star within the realm of possibility, though who he would fight, unless Bellator were able to bring in Fedor, is something of a mystery.

Speaking of Fedor, he apparently has just one other fight on his Rizin FF contract, and he’s certainly a guy who would bring eyeballs, though again, you need competition for him, and I’m not talking about kickboxers who dabble in MMA.

If competition is what you’re looking for at heavyweight, Matt Mitrione just fought out his contract as well, and would no doubt love to get paid. He’s never fought outside the UFC, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t.

Even more interestingly, stepping away from heavyweight for a moment, Aljamain Sterling is available, and talking very openly about getting paid what he’s worth. There’s a young, exciting, relevant fighter just begging for Bellator/Viacom to plop down some serious dollars in front of him.

And they should.

Remember when Bellator offered Giblert… sorry, that never gets old, Gilbert Melendez a cool two hundred grand to come over and fight Michael Chandler and the rest of Bellator’s pretty solid lightweight ranks, only to have the UFC match the contract? That’s the kind of play we need to see Bellator making, consistently. Not to mention, yes, keep signing the older guys. I hear Wanderlei might be available. Maybe Brendan Schaub will be let out of his contract if he apologizes to Reebok for pointing out what a stupid deal the uniform agreement is for fighters. If he can do it without blatantly crossing his fingers.

All kidding aside, 2016 is the year Bellator needs to make a splash. Go big, or go home, at least in terms of relevancy.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.