Analysis

Opinion: Bellator is on Par with the UFC

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With the conclusion of Bellator 291, Yaroslav Amosov has defeated Logan Storley and has staked his claim that he is not only the best welterweight in Bellator but that he is the best fighter at 170 lbs. on the planet. While the answer to this question is certainly not a clear one, the very fact that it is even being entertained shows how far Bellator has come on in recent years. Upon the monopolization of MMA when the UFC bought out Pride, Strikeforce, and the WEC, they established themselves as the major promotion in the sport and have remained the titan of the industry until today. The UFC champions were always considered to be the very best of the best and all other organizations were seen as simply stepping stones for fighters wishing to make the jump into the big leagues. This remains partly true today. However, over the years, ever since its formation in 2008, Bellator has slowly been growing its roster, production value, and overall credibility. Initially forced to sign fighters who had been rejected by the UFC in the twilight of their career yet still retaining some name value, Bellator has been attempting to transcend simply showcasing former UFC veterans such as Chael Sonnen, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Ryan Bader and many more. Instead they are now focused on developing and promoting their own talent. And it is working.

Bellator MMA on Par with the UFC?

Yaroslav Amosov

Yaroslav Amosov is a 4x world Combat Sambo champion and currently holds the longest undefeated streak of any active MMA fighter and is only two fights away from equaling the infamous 29 – 0 of Khabib Nurmagomedov. He is a complete fighter with no weaknesses, capable of competing with pure kickboxers and Muay Thai specialists on the feet and has shown himself to be more than capable of dealing with Division 1 wrestlers, as can be seen from his most recent contest with Logan Storley. While it cannot be said for certain how he would fare against the likes of Leon Edwards, Kamaru Usman or other top contenders at the UFC welterweight division, it would be ridiculous to write him off entirely. He would not look out of place and has shown that he possesses the necessary skill sets and attributes to thrive in one of the UFC’s most stacked divisions. In fact it could quite easily be argued that Amosov possess one of the most well-rounded skill sets in that division. 

Vadim Nemkov

Amosov is not an isolated case for Bellator however, looking at the Light Heavyweight division Bellator’s champ Vadim Nemkov boasts an impressive record of sixteen wins and two defeats. The two defeats came in the early stages of his career with one coming against former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jiri Prochazka. Nemkov’s rise in Bellator saw him knockout Ryan Bader to win the Light Heavyweight crown and after a no contest against Corey Anderson, a rematch was held with Nemkov gaining the unanimous decision victory. These wins are a massive indicator as to the skill level that Nemkov is at as both are formidable opponents. Ryan Bader is a former UFC veteran who left the organisation on a two fight win streak and had only ever been beaten by former champions or title contenders. He had also been on a seven fight win streak in Bellator leading up to the fight against Nemkov and had become the first dual champion in Bellator’s history reigning at both Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight. Nemkov knocked out Bader with a head kick on the 21st of August 2020. A feat that had not been replicated since the late Anthony Johnson finished Bader almost 4 and a half years earlier in January 2016. Likewise Anderson was also a longtime combatant in the UFC and had established himself as one of the top Light Heavyweights on the roster. A somewhat shaky start to life in the organization saw him go 5-4 yet still included a win over future champion Jan Blachowicz. However, in 2018 Anderson would go on a four fight win streak which saw him defeat future champion Glover Teixeira and one of the most talked about prospects in the division Johnny Walker before losing a number one contender’s fight in a rematch against Blachowicz. Contract disputes erupted and Anderson made the switch to Bellator. He too would lose to Nemkov in a one sided fight for the Light Heavyweight championship.   

When measuring up the UFC Light Heavyweight division that both Bader and Anderson competed in one could easily argue that it is far weaker today than it was then. Glover Teixeira who had been considered a long time highly skilled gatekeeper was able to become one of the oldest UFC champions in history at 42 and current champion Jamahal Hill was ranked number 7 and had not beaten anybody within the top-5 before he was given the fight against Teixeira due to several unforeseen circumstances. With arguably the weakest landscape the division has seen for years it is not unrealistic to say that Bellator’s Light Heavyweight champion is currently the best. 

Usman Nurmagomedov

While the UFC undoubtedly has a far deeper roster of world level fighters than Bellator with some divisions seemingly being leaps and bounds ahead of other promotions, think Volkanovski at featherweight, Sterling at bantamweight and Moreno at flyweight yet for others the debate is far more contentious. Despite the lightweight division traditionally being among the strongest and the current rankings being full of elite level fighters, it is worth noting how well the Bellator champion Usman Nurmagomedov has performed throughout his short yet eventful career. At only 24 years old, Nurmagomedov is already at 16 – 0 – 0 and has looked unstoppable during his time in Bellator. The Dagestani fighter comes from the same training camp as his cousin Khabib and current UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. Both Khabib and Makhachev have dominated the Lightweight division like no one has ever managed to do before and with Usman possessing a similar skill set and already looking as skillful as his teammates it is not ridiculous to think he would find similar success. While not a certainty that he would become champion every indication points to him performing extremely well in the UFC.

Johnny Eblen

The final Bellator champion who would not be out of place in the UFC title picture is the Middleweight champion Johnny Eblen. Eblen is a relative latecomer to MMA having only made his debut in 2017. He is an accredited Division 1 wrestler who has used his skills alongside his natural athleticism to climb to the top of Bellator’s Middleweight division. A dominant win over Gegard Mousasi who himself was long considered one of the best middleweights in the world and would have been included in this article if still a champion, showed that Eblen was truly an elite fighter. Several coaches and teammates from American Top Team have stated that Eblen is a special athlete capable of beating anyone with Mike Brown coming out and saying he believes that Eblen is the best middleweight in the world. The UFC’s Middleweight division has historically been one of the weakest in the organization and was dominated by Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker for years before the arrival of current champion Alex Pereira. Despite Pereira being the current champ, he has never faced an opponent with the grappling skill set of Eblen and likely would find it very difficult to defend against the Bellator champ. Based on the wins and performances of his career so far and the skill set which he possesses it is not unreasonable to assume that Eblen would catapult his way over the rest of the ranked middleweights and land himself in that upper echelon along with Robert Whittaker, Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira. 

 This article suggests that there are four Bellator champions who would be at least capable of becoming champion in the UFC. This highlights the massive improvement of the standard of Bellator over the years. What is also worth noting is that every champion mentioned here is a home grown talent of sorts. None were signed from the UFC or any other organization with preexisting brand name or recognition. These four are all proof that Bellator is capable of churning out their own world level stars and if they maintain this current rate of progression, they may be challenging the UFC for more weight divisions sooner rather than later.

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