Bellator MMA announced this week that it would be holding a major heavyweight title tournament in 2018. The Heavyweight World Grand Prix is a great way to inject some interest into a division inside the Bellator cage that has gone mostly forgotten. The organization had some success this year with their light heavyweight tournament and it would seem that this is already garnering as much or more attention than its lighter predecessor.
The participants are a great mix of larger and smaller heavyweights and even features current Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader. The list of talent is a who’s who of past UFC stars and former PRIDE greats.
- Matt Mitrione
- Ryan Bader
- Roy Nelson
- Fedor Emelianenko
- Frank Mir
- Rampage Jackson
- King Mo Lawal
- Chael Sonnen
This is not a young group. The average age of these competitors is just over 38 years old. Because of this, many are picking youth to win the tournament and going with the 34-year-old light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader to win it all. Others are going with the hot hand and picking Matt Mitrione, who is coming off a win over Fedor Emelianenko this past June. Mitrione is on a three-fight win streak with all three coming by way of knockout. One fighter not getting much attention is “The American Gangster” Chael Sonnen. Sonnen is a former UFC middleweight and light heavyweight title challenger who is coming off a win over bitter rival Wanderlei Silva. At 40 years old, Sonnen is no spring chicken but that doesn’t mean he should be counted out. Sonnen is a live dog in this tournament and here’s how he can bring that title home to Oregon.
This tournament is expected to run throughout 2018 and finish up next December. While Sonnen isn’t getting any younger, this long form tournament is a huge advantage to him and the other older competitors on the card. Recovery is key for fighters, especially older fighters who can no longer count on testosterone replacement therapy for help. For Sonnen, fighting three times in 2018 is likely just what he is looking for. Throughout his career, he has fought as many as seven times in a one-year window but since his return to competition in 2017, he has only fought twice. Sonnen has used grappling tournaments to remain active and in the gym his training has not seemed to slow. Beyond that, the added time would allow Sonnen to bulk up if he chose to try and add some muscle mass for this heavyweight run.
This tournament is not yet seeded and that is the thing that will almost certainly make or break Sonnen’s success in this tournament. Being one of two former middleweights in the tournament alongside King Mo, it would seem that these two are at a disadvantage. However, with no rhyme or reason to most MMA tournament matchups, you never know what might happen. The question is who does the Bellator brass hope to have in the finale? The bracket below lends itself to fan friendly matchups and gives a clear path to victory for the favorites.
This would be one of the more favorable brackets for Sonnen. Fedor is relatively small for a heavyweight and he has not faced very much high-level talent in the recent past outside of a knockout loss to Matt Mitrione in June. Sonnen would only have to avoid the power of Fedor and make the fight a wrestling match. In the past, Fedor was a threat to win a fight by submission, but he has not won a fight that way since 2008. Sonnen has been noted for having a good chin and should not have too much trouble getting inside Fedor’s guard and taking the fight to the mat. If he can avoid the submissions and sweeps of the former PRIDE star, Sonnen should advance to round two. As far as a second-round match is concerned, he will need to keep his fingers crossed for an upset by Rampage Jackson. Rampage has already expressed that he does not want to fight Sonnen. It is obvious that Rampage understands the dominance Sonnen has in the wrestling department. With a win over Rampage, Chael makes it to the final.
With 46 professional fights, Sonnen has more experience than all but one of his potential opponents (Rampage Jackson has 49). Sonnen will certainly lean on this edge should he get matched up with a younger fighter (not that there are many in this tournament). Beyond his experience in the cage, he has the distinct advantage of being a two-time Greco-Roman national champion and one of the most decorated wrestlers in MMA history. He has the ability to get everyone in this tournament to the mat and this game plan is no secret. However, Sonnen’s new found love for submissions will almost certainly play a factor in his fights and fight fans should be watching for front choke variations from the recently promoted BJJ brown belt.
Anything can happen in a large-scale tournament like this. Fighters will face injuries; alternates are already being lined up. Tournament seeding can make or break a fighter’s odds and fighters like Chael Sonnen are ready to exploit matchups for exactly what they are worth. Is this Chael Sonnen’s tournament to lose? Probably not. Should you count him out? No way! Everybody knows you should never underestimate a Gangster.