Even though the lightweight/featherweight belts might be tied up with rematches, there are lots of other Bellator championships to consider in addition to other dangerous contenders like Cheick Kongo (heavyweight), Patricio Freire (featherweight), Rick Hawn (welterweight), and Joe Warren (bantamweight). Additionally, many of the company’s title-holders out there are unproven as well. That combination alone is a recipe for at least one new divisional king to emerge before summer rolls around. Throw in the odds of Michael Chandler and Pat Curran potentially re-claiming the straps they saw go to opponents in Season 9 and it’s a near guarantee. If there’s one thing MMA fans have come to expect other than questionable officiating and Dana White’s potty mouth its turnover in the UFC. Consecutive losses can spell release for any fighter, veteran or rookie, as can rubbing the boss the wrong way, fighting in a less-than exciting style, or getting up there in age. As such, plenty of recognizable competitors with some gas left in the tank or name value are likely to be cut by the UFC in the coming months. Bellator will absolutely scoop a few of them up. Just look at signings in Season 9 like Vladimir Matyushenko and Cheick Kongo for reference. While an injury may have taken Ortiz out of Bellator’s attempt at having him headline a PPV opposite Jackson, that doesn’t mean the organization isn’t interested in having the high-profile pairing take place next year. Factor in the likelihood of Alvarez-Chandler III going down in the next six months, as well as Straus-Curran III, and it’s like the Bellator 102 fiasco was more of a test run than anything else. There also aren’t a lot of options for Jackson or Ortiz outside of each other and Mo Lawal. Neither is going to enter a tournament or challenge for a title so “super-fights” are really all Bellator can offer. CEO Bjorn Rebney has already said publicly he’s looking at giving former featherweight champion Curran an opportunity at avenging a November 2 outpointing to Straus, so it’s pretty clear the company wants to push Curran as the division’s top player. It’s a shame really, as Patricio Freire knocked out Justin Wilcox and Diego Nunes en route to winning the Season 9 featherweight tournament title and is more deserving than the recently defeated Curran. Though Curran was a solid champ, Straus’ victory over him was not controversial and the rematch could be set up down the road without compromising the belt’s integrity. There’s no question Bellator will set up a third tilt between Alvarez-Chandler. Both of their previous pairings resulted in pure pugilistic ecstasy, plus the most recent rumble was determined via Split Decision. Why put Chandler back into the tournament pool when there’s a rematch clause already written in to company policy and he’s clearly one of the two best lightweights on the promotion’s roster? This time around, the fight very well could be on PPV if Bellator gets its ducks in a row and doesn’t rely so heavily on has-beens.
Bellator wrapped up Season 9 with a big shiny bow just in time for the holidays, it’s time to take a look forward at what should be coming down the road in early 2014. It’s impossible to know how things will unfold for sure but there certainly some probable projections based on the company’s current climate. In short, rematches and familiar faces are likely to dominate the scene. Here’s a little more detail in both regards… (Photos by USA Today Sports Images)