The Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix tournament is well underway. First, Chael Sonnen defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson by unanimous decision. Most recently, Matt Mitrione bested Roy “Big Country” Nelson by majority decision to shore up half of the semifinal brackets. Up next, Fedor Emelianenko returns to face the newest addition to the Bellator heavyweight roster, Frank Mir on April 28.
In a tournament with its fair share of problems, this fight is definitely a high point. Fedor and Mir are undoubtedly two of the greatest big men in the history of the sport. Fedor (36-5, 1 NC), ruled the Pride organization with an iron fist, putting him in contention for the title of the greatest heavyweight of all-time. As for Mir, (18-11), he’s a two-time UFC heavyweight champion, with wins over the likes of Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira (twice), Mirko Cro Cop, and this other guy you may have heard of, one Brock Lesnar.
As for the Grand Prix tournament, the fact that Bellator is doing something of the sort isn’t all that surprising. They try to be different from the UFC, claiming to be a fun alternative. The tournament format in itself is a throwback to the wild west days of MMA, an era which saw the rise of stars like Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, Don Frye, and Vitor Belfort, just to name a few.
Not to mention the fact that Bellator President Scott Coker has a soft spot for the tournament style, as evidenced by the heavyweight Grand Prix in the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion. Current UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier was the victor of that tournament.
However, the Bellator Grand Prix is far from perfect. One look at the initial bracket and it becomes glaringly obvious. Of the eight competitors, only four of them can be called “true” heavyweights. Sonnen, for example made his name fighting as a middleweight. If the company was so determined to have these eight men in the tournament, they could have called it an open-weight Grand Prix and avoided confusion.
Another glaring issue is the fact that current Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader is in the tournament. Sure, it’s fun to think about champions holding titles simultaneously. Hell, it seems to be something of a trend these days. But, it holds up your division. Your contenders are forced to fight each other while they wait for the champion to return. In the process, stars are diminished. The platform to build the sport’s next generation of light heavyweight stars is taken away.
Which brings up the next issue, duration of the tournament. Yes, there is some excitement surrounding it right now. It is indeed something different. However, it will be drawn out so long that much of that energy will surely be subsided by the time we reach the finals. The tournament kicked off in January, but the quarterfinal round won’t even be completed until May. It’s worth noting, Bader is in that final fight of the quarterfinal round.
Finally, history has shown that these tournaments rarely play out as scheduled or anticipated. That heavyweight Grand Prix won by Cormier in Strikeforce? At the time, he was an alternate nobody had ever heard of, filling in due to an injury to another fighter. The same thing happened all the way back at UFC 3, when Steve Jennum served as an alternate, replacing an injured Ken Shamrock between rounds to win the whole thing.
Point being, injuries, and therefore tournaments, are unpredictable.
With all that being said, Fedor-Mir is a great fight. It’s one fight fans have been dreaming of for years. It was a smart move by Bellator brass to make this a quarterfinal fight, ensuring fans got to see it before either legend is eliminated, or hangs up his gloves for good.
Critics may point to both men’s performances as of late as a reason to not be excited, with Fedor being knocked out by Mitrione in June of last year, and Mir being finished by Mark Hunt in his most recent fight, before being suspended by USADA for a banned substance, and ultimately being granted his release from the UFC. But, that could mean that this is the perfect time for this fight to happen. Both men with their backs against the wall. It adds to the intrigue and excitement of this dream matchup. a similar set of circumstances were present in the Chuck Lidell vs. Wanderlei Silva bout, and that produced fireworks.
In Fedor’s case, many have questioned his decision to continue fighting after his performance against Mitrione. For Mir, the question has surrounded his motivation. Similar to the questions faced by the great B.J. Penn. Mir, like Penn, had the talent, but his work ethic was always called into question.
One has to assume that a date with the great Fedor Emelianenko would be enough to light that competitive fire. If for some reason that wasn’t the case, the opportunity to win a tournament and add yet another championship to an already hall of fame worthy career surely would be.
For all the issues surrounding the Grand Prix tournament, there’s only one thing to say about the booking of Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir:
Well done, Bellator.