While all eyes are on the UFC this coming weekend for UFC 199, lets take a look at the sport’s number two promotion, Bellator MMA, and their “heavy” heavyweight problem: mainly, the lack of a champion following Vitaly Minakov being stripped of his title.

First off, the stripping of Minakov was completely justified. In fact, it should have come much sooner. Not defending your title in two years while taking fights in Russia is a sign of complete disrespect to the belt you’re holding. Is Minakov worth more than he was being paid? Sure, probably. However, MMA is a business, and if you can’t make the business side of things work, well, it’s time to say goodbye. While Bellator are clearly hesitant to let Minakov escape to the rival UFC or WSOF, it’s clear something had to be done.

The good news is that the stripping of Minakov could not have come at a better time, because for the first time in ages, Bellator has more than a single option in their heavyweight division. For starters, recent signees Sergei Kharitonov and Matt Mitrione, both of whom wouldn’t look out of place in a Bellator title fight. Then, consider Bobby Lashley and Cheick Kongo, both on mutli-fight win streaks at the moment.

All four of these men are solid fighters. While not approaching the top five in the UFC, they wouldn’t look horrible there (neither Mitrione nor Kongo can be said to be failures), and lets face it, unlike Coker’s old haunt Strikeforce, a deep heavyweight division is something Bellator has yet to come close to.

So the obvious approach here: make like the WSOF, and host a one-night heavyweight tournament. Pairing these four up is a no-brainer.

There’s a reason why this should be a one night deal: as Scott Coker learned in Strikeforce, staging a heavyweight tournament with more contenders over a longer period of time can become a logistical nightmare. Though Daniel Cormier eventually won the tournament, lets not forget that he started out as an alternate, and that the biggest names in the tournament back then were eliminated early, or pulled out due to injury. Names like Fedor Emelianenko and Andrei Arlovski fell early, shocking many. Then Alistair Overeem couldn’t make it to the next round due to injury.

No, a long, drawn out tournament is not the way to go. At least a one-night deal means, assuming all fighters make fight day, you’ve got your full roster to start the event. Maybe a tournament alternate gets called in due to injury, but you finish the exercise in one shot come hell or high water.

There are other options of course. Bellator should be pushing full force to sign Fedor after his Rizin FF run is complete, but that may mean having Viacom write a pretty fat check. Alternately, a bout between whatever names the promotion feel are the biggest right now, with a title eliminator the same night deciding the next in line, could also work.

One thing is clear: names like Kimbo Slice and anyone else on the freakshow side of things (Lashley gets a pass as he has displayed solid athleticism over the course of his career) needs to be kept far away from the heavyweight title scene. And the promotion must do everything possible to avoid a stinker akin to the recent middleweight debacle between Melvin Manhoeff and Rafael Carvalho.

At the end of the day, however, Bellator’s heavyweight ranks smell of opportunity for the first time in two years, and that is a very positive sign.

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.