MMA Ratings Podcast

December 15, 2020

Bellator MMA: Additions of Yoel Romero and Anthony Johnson Strengthen Bellator's Light Heavyweight Division

By Adam Martin

Over the past week, Bellator MMA has made two dynamite signings that strengthen its growing light heavyweight division. First, former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Anthony "Rumble" Johnson signed with Bellator. He'll come out of retirement in 2021 following a four-year layoff. With "Rumble" in tow, Bellator also inked former UFC middleweight title contender Yoel Romero to a free-agent contract. He'll make his promotional debut in 2021 at 205 lbs. With Johnson and Romero both now part of the Bellator roster, the promotion's 205-pound division continues to get stronger heading into next year.

After former UFC light heavyweight Corey Anderson signed with Bellator a few months ago, Bellator President Scott Coker proclaimed his organization's 205 division as the best of its kind in all of MMA. Initially, most fans and media scoffed at Coker's statement. After all, the UFC has a great light heavyweight division, and many of Bellator's light heavyweights were fighters who used to fight in the Octagon. But after Bellator signed Johnson and Romero, the laughs are no longer as loud. Both men are legit, and with them, Bellator now has a really great light heavyweight division that needs to be taken seriously.

Aside from Johnson and Romero, Bellator also has the aforementioned Anderson in its light heavyweight division, and he used to be a top-five fighter in the UFC. Of course, there is also Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov. The Russian recently became a champion when he knocked out Ryan Bader, who is also the Bellator heavyweight champion, and an incredible fighter in his own right. Plus, Bellator also has former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida, Phil Davis, and Melvin Manhoef in its light heavyweight division, as well as a number of up-and-coming prospects.

Basically, there are a lot of really solid fighters in Bellator's light heavyweight division, and right now, the promotion's 2021 calendar is completely free of any bookings outside of its Featherweight World Grand Prix. That means that Bellator can essentially re-start the light heavyweight division and book whatever fights it wants to right now. Heck, there is even a chance the promotion could run a light heavyweight tournament given how much talent. With all of the top-shelf talent in Bellator's light heavyweight division, it's fun to fantasy matchmake for the division. Below are some of my choices for fights.

I'll start by saying that I think a light heavyweight tournament would be a great idea, and the following bouts could easily be a part of the quarterfinals of an eight-man Grand Prix. Either way, these fights work on their own. To start with, I'd match up Nemkov against Anderson. Nemkov looked amazing against Bader in his last fight, knocking the former champion out in brutal fashion, and Anderson similarly looked fantastic when he took out Manhoef via TKO. Anderson was ranked in the Top 5 in the UFC before he came to Bellator, so there is no doubt in my mind he's ready for a title shot against Nemkov in 2021.

With Anderson vs. Nemkov booked, I'd match up the two newest Bellator signings in Romero and Johnson against each other. If you're Bellator, I don't think you can afford to give either guy a slow build considering their purses are likely to be very lucrative, not to mention Romero is 43 and Johnson is 36. I honestly think that if you asked most MMA fans right now, the fight they would want to see in Bellator more than any other is Romero vs. Johnson. That's because fans know that both fighters always bring it and that this would be a very violent fight between two KO artists. If Bellator is smart and wants to listen to their fans, then the promotion needs to get the Romero vs. Johnson booked for early in 2021.

Next up we have Bader. I'm not really sure what to do with him right now, because he is obviously one of the top light heavyweights in Bellator, but he might just return to heavyweight and not have to cut weight at age 37. However, if Bellator does do a light heavyweight tournament, then I wouldn't mind seeing him get a rematch with Machida in the first round. These two met back in 2012 in the UFC and Machida knocked Bader out in devastating fashion. This time around, I feel like Bader would actually be favored, so it would be interesting to see if he could get his revenge. Machida is coming off of a loss to Davis and Bader just lost to Nemkov, so it's a good time for both men to have the rematch.

Speaking of Davis, we can't forget about him when talking about Bellator's light heavyweight division. As mentioned above, Davis is coming off of a win over Machida in his last fight, and overall he's won three straight. That being said, he's not always the most exciting fighter, so despite his win streak, I feel like Bellator is much better off matching up its recent free-agent signings like Anderson, Romero, and Johnson, with other opponents. For Davis, I'd take a look at matching him up against a prospect like Julius Anglickas, who is currently riding an eight-fight win streak. Anglickas is 29 years old and it's time that he got a step up in competition, so Davis seems like a really good opponent to test him.

Overall, I'm bullish on Bellator's light heavyweight division. When Coker said it was the best 205-pound division on the planet, I won't lie, I did raise my eyebrow. But since then, and with the additions of Anthony Johnson and Yoel Romero, this division is looking way up. There are some really great matchups that Bellator can book at 205, and 2021 can't come soon enough for the division.

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