By Raphael Garcia
March has been the month of free agent signings for Bellator MMA, as the promotion has brought in talent from other mixed martial arts venues and beyond. Inking Ryan Bader, Dillon Danis, Michael McDonald, and Lorenz Larkin gives the promotion four men who can make an immediate impact on the company. This shift in signing practices is a key component of any future success that Bellator achieves in the near or long term.
The Viacom-owned promotion is looking for ways to differentiate itself from the UFC while continuing to build a roster that fans respect and want to watch. The recent signings of Bader, McDonald and Larkin -- as well as the signing of Rory MacDonald in August 2016 – gives the promotion a collection of fighters who have seen success in the sport and have reached title contendership in the UFC. Their signings help add legitimacy to the organization and its weight classes.
The organization did the same with wrestling standouts Ed Ruth and Aaron Pico, signing them both without any MMA experience. Ruth debuted back in 2016 and quietly put together a 2-0 record, facing talent who could challenge his development without overwhelming his limited skill set. Danis’s debut hasn’t been announced, but the New Jersey native is already talking up a big game, sure to attract some attention.
Then there’s what the company is doing with its women’s divisions. In 2015 and 2016 the company brought in a mix of youthful competitors and veterans to build up its flyweight and featherweight divisions. Expect Bellator to also make a play for budding star Angela Lee when her massive ONE FC deal is complete. In some ways, Bellator MMA’s women’s divisions are on par with those in the UFC – something the company can’t say often enough. Still, the practice of signing young, attractive talent and experienced, former champions is paying off at this point.
“We’re going after the fighters before they’re even recognized by the other organizations,” Bellator President Scott Coker said, as reported by Lance Pugmire of the LA Times. “We’re tapping in early, putting them on developmental programs, letting them grow. These guys are really good.”
Bellator MMA is the right platform for fighters looking for new opportunities outside of the UFC, as well as those looking to make the leap into MMA. Whether it’s a veteran and former title challenger like Michael McDonald or a new personality like Dillon Danis, these signings create valuable opportunities for all of the parties involved.