Bellator has long been regarded by many as the place where UFC fighters go once they are past their prime. The UFC's recent roster-cleaning spree has added to this as they cut big names and former champions.
One of them was Yoel Romero, which came as a shock to many. Needless to say, Romero found a contract with Bellator and has decided to fight in their light heavyweight division. This is probably a good move considering the difficulties he's had with weight cuts in the past.
Bellator is on the cusp of a light heavyweight Grand Prix, and the names on the list are nothing short of stellar. President Scott Coker has been saying for a while now that with the current line-up, Bellator's light heavyweight division is the best in the world right now. Is there merit to that statement, though?
Bellator's current light heavyweight division:
The company's roster for the 205-pound weight class is quite stellar, given the number of big names who currently call it home. One need look no further than the upcoming light heavyweight Grand Prix, which kicks off at Bellator 256 on April 9th.
The first fight of this Grand Prix is between Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida. Other names on the list include Corey Anderson, Phil Davis, Anthony Johnson and Yoel Romero. All of these athletes have previously competed in the UFC at a very high level, some being former champions or title challengers.
The current Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov is the best light heavyweight in the world, as per president Scott Coker. Arguably, he may not be entirely wrong, given the 28-year-old Russian is 5-0 in Bellator and is a protege of MMA great Fedor Emelianenko.
It's worth mentioning that Ryan Bader beat Fedor Emelianenko in 35 seconds to win the heavyweight title in 2019. Vadim Nemkov then beat Ryan Bader to win the light heavyweight belt in 2020 and is scheduled to face Phil Davis on April 16th at Bellator 257.
A fight that MMA fans will be very excited to watch is Yoel Romero vs Anthony Johnson scheduled for May 7th at Bellator 258. Coker mentioned that it was better to make this fight happen sooner rather than later, and we aren't complaining.
The very first fight of this Grand Prix is Ryan Bader vs Lyoto Machida, which is a rematch 9 years in the making since they first fought in the UFC back in 2012.
How does the UFC's current light heavyweight roster compare to Bellator's?
For the past decade, the UFC's light heavyweight division has largely belonged to Jon Jones. The man considered by many to be the greatest fighter of all time became the youngest champion in UFC history at the age of 23 and went on to defend it 8 times in a row, 11 times overall.
However, last year, Jones vacated his belt after his fight with Dominick Reyes stating that he was moving up to heavyweight.
Dominick Reyes fought Jan Blachowicz for the vacant title, with the Polish powerhouse emerging as the winner. He made his first defense in a super-fight against Israel Adesanya and handed 'The Last Stylebender' the first loss of his pro MMA career.
While Adesanya isn't officially part of the UFC's light heavyweight rankings, there are a lot of notable names in the top 10 of the division. Glover Teixeira, Alexander Rakic, Dominick Reyes and Thiago Santos make up the top 4 respectively.
Most of these names barring Teixeira do not have the same star power as Ryan Bader, Lyoto Machida, Yoel Romero or Anthony Johnson just yet. However, it's important to note that a lot of these athletes are past their primes, and have moved to Bellator only after fighting in the UFC.
One could make the argument that they are more battle-tested than some names in the UFC's current light heavyweight roster. Perhaps the best way to know once and for all would be a series of cross-promotion fights, but we all know UFC president Dana White isn't too keen on the idea.
For now, though, we will say that both companies have a great set of light heavyweight fighters, and the future is only going to get more exciting. We're not picking sides because, like loyal fight fans, we will watch all the bouts with equal excitement.