If Bellator President Scott Coker knows anything, it’s how to entertain the MMA masses even if it sometimes feels like he’s promoting the health benefits of candy. His Heavyweight Grand Prix might taste good, but let’s call it what it is: a circus.
Usually heavyweight tournaments are supposed to be made up of actual heavyweights. But Bellator’s is a mishmash of heavies, light-heavies, and Fedor Emelianenko — with all participants thirty-four years of age or older.
Coker has done this before, putting together an eight-man heavyweight tourney a few years ago in the now-defunct Strikeforce, and it would be a stretch to call it a success. All it ended up being was a coming-out party for Daniel Cormier, who is now the UFC’s light-heavyweight champion.
Bovada has released the betting odds on each of the four opening-round fights of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, plus futures lines on who’ll win the whole tournament. The numbers, reproduced below, have made me scratch my head.
- Matt Mitrione +225
- Ryan Bader +280
- Frank Mir +400
- Fedor Emelianenko +600
- Roy Nelson +600
- Any Alternate Fighter +600
- Muhammed Lawal +1100
- Chael Sonnen +1400
- Quinton Jackson +1600
It’s curious to see Matt Mitrione as the odds-on favorite to win the Grand Prix; he lost to Roy Nelson back in 2012 and that’s exactly who he has to face in the opening round later this year.
Ryan Bader is another favorite and although he is the youngest and most active of the bunch, he is also a small light-heavyweight who might find it hard to deal with bigger men.
Another interesting note is that some guy named “Alternate Fighter” has a better chance of winning the tournament than the likes of Muhammed Lawal, Chael Sonnen, and Quinton Jackson. With this crew of misfits, there is definitely a chance we could see an alternate used at some point, but it’s hard to believe that they would just walk in and win the whole thing like Cormier did back in 2012.
The dark horse for me is Frank Mir, and at +400, there is some real value in taking him now. Mir possesses the best ground game in the Grand Prix and has some solid hands for a heavyweight. Ultimately, it comes down to how motivated the former UFC heavyweight champ is to win instead of treating it as just another paycheck. We’ll get a chance to see what version of Frank Mir we can expect when he faces the legendary Fedor Emelianenko on February 16th. Unfortunately, if it’s the bad version, there won’t be a chance to renege.
The same can be said for Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (+1600), who should not have the longest odds of this octet. Hey may not win the tournament, but I see him getting past the first round when he faces Chael Sonnen.
Below are the odds for the first-round bouts along with our quick picks.
Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix Quick Picks
Quinton Jackson (-155) vs. Chael Sonnen (+125) – January 20th
We already analyzed this bout in greater detail in our Bellator 192, Rampage vs Sonnen: Early Picks and Preview piece, but if Rampage (37-12) comes to fight, he has enough wrestling to stop Chael Sonnen’s (29-15-1) predictable and slow takedown attempts. If the fight remains standing, I’ll take Jackson all day. I don’t expect this fight to be entertaining; in fact, if it gets out of the first round, it will likely be a slow and plodding affair between to geriatrics.
Take Jackson at -155
Frank Mir (-190) vs. Fedor Emelianenko (+155) – February 16th
I’m of the belief that Fedor Emelianenko (36-5) should have retired years ago. One of the greatest of all time is now a shadow of his former self. Sure he fought as a “heavyweight” for most of his career, but in today’s MMA, he’s just too old and small to be fighting men this big.
Stylistically this is a very interesting matchup. Both men can grapple, and even at 41, Fedor still has some pop in his hands. I already mentioned that Frank Mir (18-11) has solid striking and power, meaning this fight might come down to who hits the chin first, because one other similarity these two share late in their legendary careers is glass jaws.
If Mir can avoid taking big power punches, he should be able to use his boxing to set up a takedown and get this fight to the mat. In the end, Mir will prove too big, too strong, and too talented on the ground.
Take Frank Mir at -190
Matt Mitrione (-175) vs. Roy Nelson (+145) – Date TBA
Underdog alert! Roy Nelson (23-14) is a punching bag, but a punching bag that hits back and actually has under-rated jiu-jitsu. I find it curious that Matt Mitrione (12-5) is the favorite to win the tournament when he has to face a guy who rocked him back in 2012 in the quarterfinals. Mitrione has power too, but Nelson is not someone you just walk in and knock out. The longer this fight goes, the more it favors Nelson.
Take Roy Nelson at +145 before other bettors catch on. He can win this fight standing or on the mat.
Take Roy Nelson at +145
Ryan Bader (-260) Muhammed Lawal (+200) – Date TBA
“Darth” Bader (24-5) won’t need the Force when he faces “King Mo” (21-6). Bader is adept at forcing fights to the ground, and Lawal has trouble with high-level wrestlers. All Bader has to do is look at how Phil Davis controlled Lawal at Bellator 154 to see his path to victory. Bader is the second favorite to win the tournament despite being a natural light-heavyweight. His size may prove an issue in the semis and finals, but I don’t see it hindering him much against Lawal.
Take Ryan Bader -260