Opening matchups for the Bellator featherweight grand prix are official, with a field twice the size of the promotion’s other recent tournaments.
A total of 16 fighters are slated to compete in the tournament, including featherweight champ Patricio Freire, who tops a field vying for a $1 million prize offered to the winner.
“The reason why we’re doing it, which is a good thing, is we felt like we had so much talent, we couldn’t do an eight-man tournament,” Bellator president Scott Coker told MMA Junkie following an initial announcement on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show.
The tournament kicks off at Bellator 226 on Sept. 7 in San Jose, Calif. The initial matchups include Derek Campos (19-9 MMA, Campos 8-7 BMMA) vs. Daniel Straus (25-8 MMA, 12-5 BMMA), Pedro Carvalho (10-3 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) vs. Sam Sicilia (17-9 MMA, 2-1 BMMA), Tywan Claxton (4-0 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (18-4 MMA, 10-3 BMMA) and Adam Borics (13-0 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) vs. Pat Curran (23-8 MMA, 13-5 BMMA).
The competition then moves to Bellator 228, which is headlined by a matchup between “Pitbull” Freire (29-4 MMA, 17-4 BMMA) and Juan Archuleta (23-1 MMA, 5-0 BMMA), who requested a title shot at the outset of his tournament berth, Coker said. Three remaining opening-round fights include Saul Rogers (13-2 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) vs. Daniel Weichel (39-11 MMA, 8-3 BMMA), Georgi Karakhanyan (28-9-1 MMA, 6-7 BMMA) vs. A.J. McKee (14-0 MMA, 14-0 BMMA) and Darrion Caldwell (12-3 MMA, 9-2 BMMA) vs. Henry Corrales (17-3 MMA, 5-3 BMMA). Bellator 228 takes place Sept. 28 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
Absent from the lineup is Aaron Pico, who once was Bellator’s hottest prospect at featherweight. Coker indicated the up-and-comer needs time to recover following knockout losses in his past two fights.
While the initial matchups are predetermined, the quarterfinals will be determined by a random draw conducted on Sept. 30 during a live show on Paramount, Bellator’s longtime broadcast partner, and potentially streamed on DAZN and the promotion’s app, Coker told MMA Junkie. In a nod to kickboxing tournaments in the now-defunct K-1 promotion, fighters will pick who they’d like to face in the quarterfinals.
All tournament fights after the opening-round matchups will be contested over five five-minute rounds so as to even the playing field for the titleholder, who will be required to fight a championship-length bout at each turn.
“This is the format in the future when we have 16-person tournaments,” said Coker, who added Bellator is targeting one competition per year. So far, the promotion has held tournaments in the heavyweight and welterweight divisions, each of which featured eight fighters.
The $1 million prize offered to the tournament winner makes a return after rapper 50 Cent put up the seven-figure payout in connection with a promotion for his new line of champagne. Coker said Bellator is still working with the hip-hop artist, but didn’t explicitly link him to the prize package.
The Bellator 226 lineup now includes:
Champ Ryan Bader vs. Cheick Kongo – for heavyweight title
Pedro Carvalho vs. Sam Sicilia – featherweight tournament opening round
Derek Campos vs. Daniel Straus – featherweight tournament opening round
Adam Borics vs. Pat Curran – featherweight tournament opening round
Tywan Claxton vs. Emmanuel Sanchez – featherweight tournament opening round
The Bellator 228 lineup now includes:
Champ Patricio Freire vs. Juan Archuleta – for featherweight title, featherweight tournament opening round
Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi
Georgi Karakhanyan vs. A.J. McKee – featherweight tournament opening round
Darrion Caldwell vs. Henry Corrales – featherweight tournament opening round
Saul Rogers vs. Daniel Weichel – featherweight tournament opening round
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Opening-round matchups set for featherweight tournament split between Bellator 226 and 228