The UFC is the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world. Bellator MMA, a Viacom-owned promotion based in San Jose, California, clocks in as the second-biggest.
There are a number of reasons why Bellator has been unable to overtake the UFC and emerge as the world’s biggest purveyor of MMA. The main reason, of course, is that the UFC is simply too well established. In a sense, the UFC is to MMA what Kleenex is to tissue. When people think MMA, they think UFC, and that makes them nearly impossible to overthrow.
Another key reason that Bellator is unlikely to usurp the UFC’s throne is that the UFC is believed to have better fighters. And really, that’s completely fair.
Look at the Bellator light heavyweight division, for example. The division is ruled by Ryan Bader, who is an undeniably talented light heavyweight, and probably one of the best light heavyweights on earth. Yet unfortunately for Bellator, we’ve seen Bader lose to a number of top UFC light heavyweights, such as Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Glover Teixeira, and Jon Jones. So, there is really no way for Bellator to claim that their light heavyweight champion is the best light heavyweight on earth.
For another apt example, look at Bellator’s heavyweight division. Though this division doesn’t currently have a champion, its best fighters are probably Cheick Kongo, Matt Mitrione, Roy Nelson, and Fedor Emelianenko.
If any one of these heavyweights were crowned Bellator’s heavyweight king, it’d be inaccurate to call them the best heavyweight alive, because they have all lost to top UFC fighters. Were Mitrione crowned king, he couldn’t fairly be called the best because we saw him lose to Travis Browne, Ben Rothwell and Brendan Schaub in the UFC. Where Nelson crowned Bellator heavyweight champ, the same would be true, as we’ve watched him lose to Alexander Volkov, Derrick Lewis, Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum, Stipe Miocic and others. You get the picture.
The unfortunate truth is that it is very difficult for the team at Bellator to argue that any of their best fighters are the best fighters on earth. There is, however, one obvious exception, and it exists in the welterweight division.
Bellator’s welterweight division is currently ruled by Douglas Lima. The division’s number-one-contender, meanwhile, is former UFC star Rory MacDonald. Lima and MacDonald, it was announced earlier this week, will fight for welterweight gold on January 20 in LA. It is a legitimately rare occurrence for Bellator, but the argument can be made that the winner of this fight is the best welterweight on earth.
— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) September 20, 2017
Though we have seen Rory MacDonald lose to top UFC welterweights in Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler and Stephen Thompson, we have, more importantly, seen him defeat the current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, who has defeated all of Condit, Lawler and Thompson. While so-called MMA Math (the assertion that because fighter A beat fighter B, and fighter B beat fighter C, fighter A will beat fighter C) is incredibly inaccurate, the fact remains that, because MacDonald has beat Woodley, the argument can be made that he’s the best welterweight on earth. His case isn’t hurt by the fact that he also beat Demian Maia, the last UFC welterweight title challenger. The point here is that, if MacDonald captures Bellator welterweight gold from Douglas Lima, the argument can be made that Bellator has the best welterweight alive.
And interestingly, Bellator will also be able to make this argument if Lima defeats MacDonald. Lima, after all, would then own wins over MacDonald – a man who has toppled Woodley, Maia, and others – and a win over Lorenz Larkin, who, until he joined Bellator, was considered one of the UFC’s 10 best welterweights. So, while there were certainly be readily-available counterarguments, Bellator could quite fairly call Douglas Lima the best welterweight on earth if he beats MacDonald.
Really, the important thing about this upcoming welterweight title fight is that, no matter the outcome, Bellator will have some mystery to work with. There is no mystery when it comes to their heavyweight division. We can safely say the best heavyweight alive does not reside on the Bellator roster. The same goes for Bellator’s light heavyweight division: Ryan Bader is not the best light heavyweight on earth, neither is Phil Davis, neither is Liam McGeary. The same logic can pretty easily be applied to all of Bellator’s divisions – with the clear exception of the welterweight division.
No matter wins Lima and MacDonald’s welterweight title fight, the fight itself will produce mystery as to who the best welterweight on earth is. Sure, most people will continue to believe it’s UFC welterweight king Tyron Woodley, but given the accomplishments of both Lima and MacDonald, there will be no way to know for certain. The best welterweight alive might actually live at Bellator, and that is a tremendously valuable possibility for the world’s second-biggest fight promotion.