Bellator MMA will be moving to CBS Sports Network in October, and there is no better time to become acquainted with the mixed martial arts promotion’s top talent. Founded in 2008, Bellator MMA is widely considered one of the top mixed martial arts promotions outside of the UFC. What makes them different is their willingness to co-promote with the likes of the Rizin Fighting Federation in Japan and hold hybrid MMA and kickboxing events. They even have a cage/ring set up to help transition from one to the other and hold tournaments to determine title contenders as opposed to the interim titles other promotions like to use.
A new home on an all-sports network means fans will be seeing a lot more of Bellator MMA. They will be bringing their fanbase that goes back as far as twelve years, and while many have been along for the ride, the sport of MMA has grown a lot since then. With MMA’s growth, a new network means a lot more new fans. In no particular order, here are Bellator MMA’s top 15 fighters to watch representing countries from around the world.
Bader was at one point a double champion in Bellator MMA. He was both the heavyweight and light-heavyweight champion before losing the light-heavyweight title to the next man on this list. Still, as the current heavyweight champion, Bader is Bellator’s biggest and toughest not because he holds the title, but because of how he won it. Bader fought through the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, a tournament set up to win the title. To win the title, Bader beat Matt Mitrione and the legendary Fedor Emelianenko.
Nemkov is the current Bellator heavyweight champion. He recently picked up the title at Bellator 244 when he finished Bader in the second round by technical knockout. Coincidentally, he is also the protege of Emelianenko, the man Bader beat in the heavyweight Grand Prix to become heavyweight champion. Nemkov is currently on a seven-fight win streak and with the recent win claiming the title, he has a target on his back in Bellator’s light-heavyweight division.
Kongo is one of Bellator’s heavyweight contenders, and at 45-years of age, seems intent to continue to fight Bellator’s biggest and baddest. Having renewed his contract for four more fights, it would seem a fight with Bader is in his future. The two fought in September of last year at Bellator 226 but the fight was ruled a “no-contest” due to the accidental eye-poke Kongo received from Bader in the bout. Situations like that call for a do-over and this will likely be a possibility should Kongo get through his upcoming bout against Tim Johnson when Bellator holds their first event in France on October 10.
Lima is the current welterweight champion but it is his third time reclaiming that title. Doing that means he holds wins over notable opponents and avenged some of his losses, particularly his last two title losses where he was able to reclaim the belt from the men that beat him. One was against Andrey Koreshkov (also on this list) where he lost the title to him via decision and fought his way back to a rematch to win by a third-round knockout.
The other was against Rory MacDonald. MacDonald beat him by decision at Bellator 192 then there was a welterweight Grand Prix that had the title on the line. Lima had to go through Koreshkov again and Michael Page to meet MacDonald in the finals, winning back the title and the Grand Prix for his division.
Mousasi has been a top middleweight in MMA for a while now. He came to Bellator from the UFC on a five-fight win streak. The streak continued when he came to Bellator and fought his way to a title fight with Rafael Carvalho. Mousasi won the fight and defended the title against MacDonald attempting to do his own run being a double champion. Mousasi would lose to Rafael Lovato Jr., who had to vacate the title due to medical issues. He and Lima are scheduled to face one another for the vacant title at Bellator 250.
Freire, known as “Pitbull” to fight fans, is currently the only double champion in Bellator. He and his brother, Patricky, both fight for the promotion and share the “Pitbull” nickname. Their tenacity in competition warrants the nickname. Patricio holds two titles—and while awaiting another bout—is calling out UFC lightweights. His next featherweight title defense was supposed to be against Pedro Carvalho, but the fight was postponed due to the COVD-19 pandemic. With MMA already back, that fight is likely to get booked soon.
Justino, best known as “Cyborg” to long time fans of the sport is the only woman to have held titles in various mixed martial arts promotions. For those unfamiliar with what that entails, she has been featherweight queen in the UFC, Strikeforce, Invicta FC, and now Bellator.
In her Bellator debut, she beat Julia Budd who was the inaugural featherweight champion, and defended the title three times before facing Cyborg. There is no shortage of opponents in her weight class either. Since Cyborg made her Bellator debut, other notable featherweights have joined Bellator such as Cat Zingano and there is one former Bellator title challenger waiting to face her next.
Blencowe will be Cyborg’s next opponent and it will be her second attempt at Bellator’s featherweight title. Blencowe fought the former champion twice, losing the last fight by a split decision, meaning not all the judges thought she lost. Having come so close to winning in the past means another title shot should make for a great fight with the current Champion in Cyborg.
Blencowe has won titles in the World Boxing Association and Women’s International Boxing Association so she is definitely a worthy challenger to keep an eye on. Coming from the world of boxing against Cyborg could answer the questions about how Cyborg would do in boxing, especially if Blencowe wins.
MacFarlane is undefeated and currently reigning and defending Flyweight Champion for Bellator. Her evolution as a submission specialist to a mixed martial artist has been showcased throughout her career leading up to when she won the title back in 2017. She has defended the title four times and even holds the Flyweight Eddie Bravo Invitational Combat Jiu-Jitsu Flyweight title. Macfarlane will not be going anywhere either as it was announced at the beginning of 2020 she signed a ten-fight, five-year extension on her Bellator contract. Her fanbase in Hawaii has allowed Bellator to hold shows there twice where she headlined the card both times.
Archuleta recently won the vacant bantamweight title at Bellator 246. Before that, he made a run for the featherweight title in the featherweight Grand Prix suffering a decision loss to the current champ Freire. That only underlined that his path to Champion lied in the bantamweight division and his ultimate test would be in the title fight he won against a very formidable opponent. Having competed also as a lightweight, it is clear that the 135-pound division is where he fights best. As the new champ, there is no shortage of challengers for him in Bellator.
Mix rarely leaves a fight to the judges and even though he lost to Archuleta when they fought for the vacant bantamweight title, it was by decision. That means he was hard to put away and at only 27-years-old he will likely be fighting for a title soon. Of Mix’s 13 victories, nine came by way of submission. Chances are, if Mix gets a hold of his opponent, a tap out will likely follow. For someone so young in the sport, he is probably one of the most focused bantamweights on Bellator’s roster.
Caldwell is a lifelong competitor from Rahway, New Jersey who won NCAA wrestling championships and, like many wrestlers that want to make a living competing, transitioned to mixed martial arts. Caldwell was also the first Bellator champion to get a shot at winning the Rizin bantamweight title when Bellator co-promoted with the Japanese promotion. He lost the title to the Japanese Champion Kyoji Horiguchi but made the change to featherweight and is currently riding a two-fight win streak in Bellator’s featherweight Grand Prix. He was scheduled to face AJ McKee in the semifinals this past summer but the bout was postponed due to the COVID 19 pandemic. With the move to CBS Sports Network, this bout will likely be announced soon.
McKee has been written about here on ONE37pm before, but it would be a mistake to not bring up the undefeated featherweight again. McKee’s father, who also competed in mixed martial arts, has passed on his knowledge to his son, and the two have even competed on the same card at Bellator 228. McKee is currently in the semifinals of the featherweight Grand Prix and will put his undefeated record up against the likes of Caldwell. Second generation MMA fighters at this level are rare, making McKee a fighter to watch. McKee is only 25 years old so he will likely be around for a while.
The Russian mixed martial artist and former welterweight Champion has been a staple in Bellator’s welterweight division for years. Of his 22 wins, 12 come by way of knockout and his style of fighting is definitely more offensive than defensive. He holds wins over former champions like Benson Henderson and Lyman Good. He won the title when he first faced Lima but lost it in the rematch. Still, at 30-years-old, he will likely be making another run for the title soon.
Daniels’s record might make it seem like he does not belong on this list, and his recent fight at Bellator 245 resulted in a “no-contest” due to an accidental groin strike. However, chances are you have seen Daniels’ highlight reel finish of Wilker Barros from his second mixed martial arts bout last year. The finish made the rounds all over the internet making him a “must-see” fighter. You can see the first round finish here, but Daniels did not get the win by luck. His kickboxing and Karate titles go back as far as 2005 and his kickboxing record makes his MMA record seem like a hobby. In kickboxing, Daniels is 35-3, with 22 wins by way of knock out. Calling him a world-class striker in MMA would be an understatement.