16 for 16: No. 7 Bellator signings includes Fedor, Sonnen, amateur wrestlers
December 26, 2016
Benson Henderson, Rory MacDonald and Chael Sonnen signed with Bellator MMA this year reflecting a new age of free agency for MMA. Fedor Emelianenko was also signed by the Viacom-owned company in 2016.
Bellator continued with its strategy of signing fighters with some fan notoriety to headline as well as sign accomplished amateur wrestlers to groom for the future. Three-time NCAA Division 2 wrestling champ Romero Cotton signed an exclusive MMA contract with Bellator in November.
In addition to Cotton, Bellator added Joey Davis, Jarod Trice and Tyrell Fotune. Ed Ruth, a Penn St. amateur wrestler signed in 2015 and made his debut in November 2016. Aaron Pico also signed with Bellator but has yet to make his debut.
Henderson signed with Bellator after his contract ended with the UFC. Thus far, Henderson has not fared well in Bellator. He was thoroughly dominated by Andrey Koreshkov in his Bellator debut at welterweight. He moved back down to lightweight to challenge for Michael Chandler’s title. In a fight to see who would face Chandler, he defeated Patricio Pitbull Freire due to an injury by Pitbull. Henderson went on to lose to Chandler this past November for the lightweight title.
Rory MacDonald signed this August after his contract expired in June. He has yet to fight in Bellator but it appears he will compete at middleweight and welterweight for the company.
Sonnen may have been the surprise since he has been out of action since 2013. He signed with Bellator in September and now is scheduled for a tentpole event in January 2017 against Tito Ortiz.
The Fedor signing should be a big deal for many international and Strikeforce fans that want to relive the glory days of The Last Emperor. Coming out of retirement, it’s likely that we won’t see him in any title fights but just features with handpicked opponents.
The strategy of signing ex-UFC talent seems to work. Certainly, Sonnen-Ortiz will draw big ratings especially since the UFC moved its event off of the same day. While using the former UFC fighters to draw in fans for name recognition, it allows the company to allow the young former amateur wrestlers get fights under their belt without the pressure of being a featured fighter.
We’ll likely see more UFC fighters take a look at free agency as more fighters weigh their options post-UFC sale. This may allow Bellator to be more particular in looking at fighters to sign.
16 for 16
14. Bellator 149
15. CM Punk debuts