Ahead of last Friday’s Bellator 244 event, Ryan Bader declared himself the best light heavyweight fighter in the world. After all, Jon Jones had vacated the UFC light heavyweight championship to move up to heavyweight and Bader held the Bellator title and was 11-2 in the division since 2013. Bellator president Scott Coker backed up the statement.
Then, Bader was dominated and knocked out in the second round of his fight with Vadim Nemkov in the Bellator 244 main event. Nemkov now may lay claim to the status of top 205-pound fighter in the world, or maybe that distinction will belong to the winner of the UFC 253 bout between Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz for the UFC title Jones vacated. Reyes did, in the eyes of many, deserve the win over Jones in their UFC 247 clash earlier this year — even if the official judges disagreed.
For his part, UFC president Dana White dismissed the debate altogether.
“Guys, everybody they have in their light heavyweight division we let go of,” White told reporters on Saturday. “[Coker has] got the best light heavyweight division? We let those guys all go. It’s like the f—ing dumbest thing I’ve heard, but I get it. He’s got to f—ing do his thing. I’m not s—ing on him. He’s got to try to do his thing. He’s got to try to sell fights. The way you don’t sell fights is, ‘I’ve got the best light heavyweight division in the world.’ Everybody that was there was let go from here.”
Bellator lightweight and featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire is one of the many Bellator fighters who then stepped up to lay down a challenge to White and the UFC, questioning why White dismissed him while saying new free agent Michael Chandler was deserving of a potential UFC contract. Freire brought up White’s decision to have Chuck Liddell compete in the 2003 PRIDE middleweight Grand Prix, where White bet that his fighter would win the tournament, only to see Liddell stopped by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the tournament’s second round.
“Hi @danawhite I’m the one who destroyed steroids machine @MikeChandlerMMA, whom you said deserves a talk, in 61 seconds,” Freire tweeted. “If you send some of your top fighters to @BellatorMMA I can do the same to them too. Let’s bet like you did with PRIDE.”
Others, like Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima, also chimed in.
While White has called the idea of crossover fights between the promotions “silly,” that didn’t stop Bellator from posting a graphic originally put out by ESPN wondering who would win champion vs. champion fights between the two promotions.
In light of the ongoing debate — which will almost certainly never be ended by a UFC vs. Bellator cross-promotional showdown– we chose the five fantasy champion vs. champion fights we would most like to see.
Light Heavyweight — Vadim Nemkov (Bellator) vs. Dominick Reyes/Jan Blachowicz (UFC): This fight may be the biggest wildcard in the bunch. Nemkov was already on a roll when he dominated Bader, who did have a legitimate claim to being a top-five light heavyweight. His five-fight winning streak in the Bellator cage has been impressive against many of the better fighters on the Bellator roster. Nemkov does have two career losses, both in RIZIN and one against current UFC fighter Jiri Prochazka, though that fight was at heavyweight.
Reyes deserved the win over Jones and should be the current UFC light heavyweight champion because of it. Blachowicz is on a hot run right now, riding a three-fight winning streak, but has five losses in the UFC. The Nemkov that showed up against Bader could certainly be competitive against anyone, and a fight with either Reyes or Blachowicz feels like it would be close to a toss-up.
Women’s Featherweight — Amanda Nunes (UFC) vs. Cris Cyborg (Bellator): This fight happened at UFC 232 in December 2018 and was a disaster for Cyborg. Nunes scored a knockout in just 51 seconds, winning Nunes the UFC featherweight title in the process. Why should the two rematch? It’s a simple matter of neither woman having as compelling a fight available to them as the rematch. Cyborg is still a top fighter at featherweight, even with the stunning loss to Nunes.
In defeating Julia Budd to earn the Bellator women’s featherweight title, Cyborg beat the best available option within her new promotion. And Nunes is now being matched up against Megan Anderson, a capable fighter but someone who has not shown herself to be on Nunes’ level while going 3-2 in the Octagon. Why not run it back and see if Cyborg can avenge an embarrassing defeat?
Welterweight — Kamaru Usman (UFC) vs. Douglas Lima (Bellator): There’s little doubt that Usman would enter the cage as a heavy favorite. After a loss in his second career fight, Usman has been perfect, running up 16 straight victories including a recent stretch winning the UFC welterweight title from Tyron Woodley, knocking out Colby Covington and grinding out a win over Jorge Masvidal.
But Lima is a three-time Bellator welterweight champion — an impressive accomplishment in any promotion. Since 2010, Lima has a record of 18-3 with many impressive victories in the mix. As far as representing the cream of the crop for his promotion, Lima is the man while serving as the true defining welterweight presence over Bellator’s existence.
Featherweight — Patricio Freire (Bellator) vs. Alexander Volkanovski (UFC): In his featherweight career, Freire has three losses, two of those coming via split decision including a Bellator 23 loss to Joe Warren. The fight probably should have been a draw were a 10-8 score properly applied to an opening round where Freire was moments from a stoppage. At lightweight, Freire has far less experience, but his 61-second demolition of Michael Chandler was certainly eye-opening. Freire, however, is a better fit for featherweight here as it’s far easier to see a fight with Volkanovski being competitive than a lightweight fight against UFC 155-pound king Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Volkanovski is on an incredible run at featherweight, scoring back-to-back wins over Max Holloway in his most recent fights that have left him as featherweight champion. There was plenty of controversy around the scoring in the rematch, and a bout with Freire would likely be competitive bell-to-bell. It is a fight where Volkanovski would have a slight height advantage, something that has not been the case with the much taller Holloway.
Women’s Flyweight — Valentina Shevchenko (UFC) vs. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (Bellator): Shevchenko is, without question, the best fighter in the world in her division. But the challenges in the Octagon have become … well, not challenging. Shevchenko’s lone UFC losses have both come at bantamweight against Nunes. She’s undefeated at flyweight and has been disposing of opponents with ease. Jennifer Maia is up next for Shevchenko, earning her title shot off a win over Joanne Calderwood but with a 3-2 record in the UFC overall.
Macfarlane is an undefeated fighter who is in much the same situation as Shevchenko: 5-0 in Bellator championship fights and running thin on new and interesting challengers. Six of her 11 career wins have come by submission, with another three knockout wins on her record. Earlier this year, she signed a 10-fight, five-year contract extension with Bellator. So the only way we’re seeing Shevchenko vs. Macfarlane is in this fantasy scenario.