7 former Bellator champions who jumped to the UFC - and how they fared
This Saturday at UFC 235, former Bellator Welterweight champion Ben Askren will make his long-awaited debut inside the Octagon. While Askren hasn’t actually fought in Bellator since 2013 and has been with ONE FC for his last 7 fights, his debut still marks another example of a former champion of the UFC’s biggest rival promotion making his way into the Octagon.
Askren will join 7 other former Bellator champions who joined the UFC and to say they’ve seen mixed results in the biggest MMA promotion in the world would be an understatement.
Here is a look at the other former Bellator champions who have fought in the UFC, and how they did when they got there.
#1 Alexander Volkov
Russian Heavyweight Alexander ‘Drago’ Volkov claimed the Bellator Heavyweight title vacated by the retiring Cole Konrad in December 2012 by defeating Rich Hale in the final of Bellator’s Season 7 Heavyweight tournament. Volkov’s title reign was a strange one, as he spent almost a year as champion but never actually defended his belt successfully – Vitaly Minakov took it from him in his first fight since winning the title.
Following his title loss, Volkov won a further 3 fights in Bellator but left the promotion in 2015 after back-to-back losses to Tony Johnson and Cheick Kongo. After 2 fights under the M-1 banner in his native Russia, ‘Drago’ was then signed by the UFC, and it’s safe to say he’s done pretty well since moving to the Octagon.
Volkov defeated Timothy Johnson in his first fight in a bit of an unconvincing performance, but then reeled off impressive wins over Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve. That set him up for a main event against Fabricio Werdum last March, and ‘Drago’ looked fantastic in defeating the former UFC champion by 4th round TKO.
A title shot appeared to be in the Russian’s grasp, but he was stunningly KO’d by Derrick Lewis in his next fight in one of the all-time great UFC comebacks – Lewis, who had barely thrown a strike in the fight, somehow knocked Volkov out with just 11 seconds remaining.
Despite that setback, Volkov remains a viable title contender in the UFC, and he’s set to main event the upcoming Fight Night 149 show in St. Petersburg, facing off against Alistair Overeem.
#2 Hector Lombard
Cuba’s Hector Lombard – who held Bellator’s Middleweight title from 2009 to 2011 and won 8 fights under their banner – moved to the UFC in 2012 with a lot of fanfare as a possible title contender there. Unfortunately, 7 years and 12 fights later ‘Showeather’ will probably be recognized as one of the biggest busts in UFC history.
Lombard’s UFC run began badly with dull losses to Tim Boetsch and Yushin Okami sandwiching a win over Rousimar Palhares, but a move to 170lbs appeared to have rejuvenated him, and he quickly reeled off impressive wins over Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields. A win over Josh Burkman appeared to move him into title contention, but then disaster struck.
The Cuban tested positive for anabolic steroids in the post-fight drug tests following the Burkman win, and the result was quickly overturned to a No Contest. Lombard was suspended for a year, and when he returned he simply didn’t look like the same fighter he’d been before – his explosive striking remained, but his stamina and durability appeared to have vanished overnight.
Disappointing losses to Neil Magny, Dan Henderson, Johny Hendricks, Anthony Smith, CB Dollaway, and Thales Leites have followed, leaving Lombard on a six-fight losing streak – one of the worst in UFC history. While he hasn’t retired – or been cut by the UFC – yet, it seems like just a matter of time. To call his move from Bellator a disaster would be an understatement.
#3 Lyman Good
Most fans would probably have forgotten Lyman Good’s Bellator Welterweight title reign – it came in the very early days of the promotion, as he claimed the title in 2009 by winning the inaugural Welterweight tournament in the very first season of Bellator, defeating Omar de la Cruz in the final match.
Unfortunately, Good then ran into Ben Askren for his first title defense and was easily beaten, losing his title without ever successfully defending it. The rest of his Bellator career saw him go 5-2 before leaving the promotion in 2013, and from there he reeled off 3 wins on the regional circuit before signing with the UFC in 2015.
Good did well in his UFC debut, stopping Andrew Craig, but after more than a year on the shelf with injuries, he tested positive for a banned substance in the build to a 2016 fight with Belal Muhammad. Despite eventually being cleared – the drug apparently found its way into his system via a tainted supplement – he still didn’t return until a 2017 loss to Elizeu Zaleski.
2018 saw him stop Ben Saunders in an impressive showing, but he’s since lost to Demian Maia earlier in 2019 – meaning he’s probably not going to vault himself into UFC title contention any time soon. Still, he’ll probably stick around as a reliable action fighter for some time – meaning his move has been a moderate success.
#4 Eddie Alvarez
The inaugural Bellator Lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez is probably the most successful crossover from Bellator to the UFC since the emergence of the promotion in 2009. ‘The Underground King’ held Bellator’s title on two separate occasions and put together an impressive 9-1 record there between 2009 and 2013.
It took a hell of a lot of work to get him into the UFC in the first place – initially, he attempted to move there in 2012, only for Bellator to supposedly match the UFC’s contract offer. It was a controversial move from Bellator that saw Alvarez attempt to sue the promotion before coming to an agreement with them in 2013 to continue fighting there.
Alvarez then regained his title from Michael Chandler, the man who had dethroned him two years prior, but was then sidelined with an injury. When he returned, Bellator had a new man at the helm – Scott Coker – and he agreed to release Alvarez from his contract to pursue his UFC dream.
A debut loss to Donald Cerrone appeared to suggest Alvarez could become a bust, but he bounced back with wins over Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis to set up a title shot against Rafael Dos Anjos – and subsequently knocked the Brazilian out to capture the UFC Lightweight title, becoming the only man to hold a UFC title after holding a title in Bellator.
Alvarez was then knocked out by Conor McGregor to lose his title, and went on to have exciting fights with Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier before moving to ONE FC in late 2018. ‘The Underground King’ was a huge success in the UFC, though, and Bellator champions moving across would definitely look to follow his example.
#5 Will Brooks
‘Ill’ Will Brooks signed with Bellator in 2013, putting together a 5-1 record before challenging Michael Chandler for the Lightweight title in 2014. Despite going in as an underdog, Brooks unseated Chandler to claim the title and then defeated him in more convincing circumstances in an immediate rematch. Two title defenses followed, but Brooks was never truly happy with how Bellator were promoting him, and so he moved to the UFC in 2016.
Unfortunately, the move didn’t pay off quite as well as he was expecting. A solid win over Ross Pearson was a good start to his UFC career, but Brooks then went on a slide, losing to Alex Oliveira, Charles Oliveira, and Nik Lentz before being released from the promotion in 2017.
While he doesn’t go down as a bust on the scale of Hector Lombard – largely because he didn’t garner quite as much hype coming into his UFC debut – it was still disappointing to see Brooks fail so miserably in the UFC.
It felt like his game, which is based around his excellent wrestling and cardio – just didn’t serve as well under the big lights, and his dismal record definitely asks questions of just how good Bellator’s Lightweight division actually is, particularly as Chandler quickly regained the title there once Brooks had left.
#6 Joe Soto
The inaugural Bellator Featherweight champion, Joe Soto won his title by beating Yahir Reyes way back in the first season of the promotion in 2009. He made one successful defense – beating Diego Saraiva in 2010 – before being dethroned by former international wrestler Joe Warren a couple of months later. Strangely, that would be his final Bellator appearance.
Soto then went on to put together a solid 6-1 record on the regional circuit before being signed by the UFC in 2014, and while he was initially pegged to debut at UFC 177 against Anthony Birchak, things went a bit turbo when Renan Barao was forced out of his title fight with champion TJ Dillashaw, and so on less than one day’s notice, Soto found himself in line for a UFC title shot.
The ultimate underdog story didn’t end how Soto would’ve liked, though, and he was TKO’d by Dillashaw in the 5th round of their fight. That led to a three-fight skid for the former Bellator champ, but 3 wins from 2016 through to 2017 seemed to have righted the ship for him.
Losses to Brett Johns and Iuri Alcantara sent him back down the ladder, however, and in August 2018 the UFC released him with a 3-5 record. It’s hard to rank his UFC run in a lot of ways – you’d probably lean towards it being unsuccessful, but then he performed well against Dillashaw and was never expected to be a world-beater in the first place. Essentially, you’d probably say he did decently, but it’d be hard to go any further than that.
#7 Zach Makovsky
Another Bellator champion who largely gets forgotten these days, Zach Makovsky actually won the inaugural Bellator Bantamweight title in 2010, winning all three of his tournament fights via decision. Despite winning a pair of non-title fights as champion, he was beaten by Eduardo Dantas in his first title defense and then ended his Bellator career with a tight loss to Anthony Leone.
That was the catalyst for Makovsky to move down to 125lbs, and after 2 wins on the regional circuit he signed with the UFC in late 2013. Wins over Scott Jorgensen and Josh Sampo seemed to put him into title contention, but a loss to Jussier Formiga sent him back down the ladder and after defeating future title contender Timothy Elliott in 2015, he then lost 3 straight fights and was released from the promotion.
To be fair to Makovsky, he hardly had the easiest opponents in his UFC run – losses to Formiga, John Dodson, Joseph Benavidez, and Dustin Ortiz are hardly something to be ashamed of after all. And in reality, had the UFC been more focused on the Flyweight division, he may well still be competing there today. With that in mind, despite only earning 3 wins inside the Octagon I’d actually call ‘Fun Size’ a mild success in the UFC.