The champ-champs are here, and they’re here to stay in Bellator MMA.
As the promotion prepares for a packed spring and summer schedule, it does so with a pair of two-weight champions holding four of its belts, and a third double champion could be named in May.
At a Bellator news conference Monday previewing the promotion’s spring and summer events, president Scott Coker said he had no issue with his fighters holding multiple titles, granted they are willing to defend those championships when asked.
“Having three guys hold six different belts, I’m OK with it as long as they’re active,” Coker said. “The tournament situation is not ideal because they get stuck in the tournament for so long, but as long as we don’t have a tournament going and they have double belts, we’re just going to keep them busy, and we have a very busy fall schedule, so I think we’ll be able to keep all the guys busy who have two belts.”
The simultaneous two-weight champion became fashionable in MMA after Conor McGregor accomplished the feat in the UFC, winning both the featherweight and lightweight UFC titles in 2016 but never defending either. Since then, the feat has been matched in the UFC by Daniel Cormier (light heavyweight and heavyweight), Amanda Nunes (women’s bantamweight and featherweight) and Henry Cejudo (flyweight and bantamweight).
Ryan Bader became Bellator’s first two-weight champion last January. Already the Bellator light heavyweight title holder since 2017, Bader claimed the vacant heavyweight belt with a victory over Fedor Emelianenko to win the heavyweight grand prix. His next fight against Vadim Nemkov at Bellator 242 on May 9 in San Jose, California, will be just his second light heavyweight title defense despite nearly 1,000 days with the belt.
“It’s one of those things that kind of fell in my lap,” Bader said of becoming a two-weight champion. “It wasn’t a goal of mine to say, ‘Hey, I want to be champ-champ.’”
Bader said he always intended to drop back to 205 after the grand prix, but has embraced the idea of defending both belts as long as possible. He retained his new heavyweight belt in his first title defense last September, a no contest against Cheick Kongo that ended following an eye poke.
“I’m going to defend both until I lose one or retire. It’s tough, you’re fighting the best of the best all the time and you’re bound to lose a fight, it’s MMA,” Bader said. “So it’s one of those things where I’m going to keep rolling until the wheels fall off with the two-division thing, and after that I’ll see where I go from there.”
Bellator’s second two-weight champion was crowned last May when two-time featherweight king Patricio “Pitbull” Friere, the 145-pound champion since 2017, defeated three-time lightweight champion Michael Chandler to claim the 155-pound belt for the first time.
Friere will defend his featherweight title in a grand prix quarterfinal match against Pedro Carvalho at Bellator 241 on Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
“I think it's natural. If you look at boxing, it's happened a lot of times,” said Friere of two-weight champions. “We're just doing the same thing. The people want to see that. It's interesting. I like it, it's good for all of us."
Friere said he’s become a better fighter by preparing to compete in multiple weight classes.
“We're going to face opponents bigger or smaller and you have to change as far as your velocity, your power, everything is different,” Friere said. “It's always challenging your mind, you have to be patient in that.”
Fresh off his win in the welterweight grand prix, 170-pound champion Douglas Lima can join the champ-champ ranks when he makes his middleweight debut against Gegard Mousasi for the vacant 185-pound title on May 9.
“For me it’s the opportunity to stay busy, I want to fight more,” said Lima. “Of course, I was in the tournament, but I only fought two times last year. I want to do at least three every year, so winning two belts, I can keep going back and forth and have more fights. Of course, it would mean a lot to me, being champion of two divisions. At the level that everybody is nowadays, it's huge. It's just good for my career, for my legacy, this is amazing, this is a big opportunity.”