Thursday, January 27, 2022

Bellator MMA in 2022: Anthony Johnson vs. Yoel Romero among three biggest fights to make in the new year

Bellator entered a new era in 2021. The promotion moved its broadcast to Showtime, hosted big-name debuts like Yoel Romero and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, and crowned young champions in A.J. McKee and Sergio Pettis. Heading into the new year, Bellator is primed to deliver marquee fights that could capture a wider MMA audience.

Scott Coker and company have the chance to serve up some juicy fights in 2022. A super-fight between their dominant champion and the sport’s biggest free agent, a fan-friendly clash of big hosses, and the Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix are all within reach. CBS Sports has pieced together a trio of must-see Bellator match-ups. Note: these are all pairings that are not currently or expected to be booked imminently.

Take a look below at three fights Bellator needs to make in 2022.

1. Cris Cyborg vs. Kayla Harrison

There are no supremely compelling title challengers for Bellator women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg. A fight with fellow UFC veteran Cat Zingano is probably the best match-up to make from Bellator’s existing roster, but nothing comes close to a super-fight with two-time PFL women’s lightweight champion Kayla Harrison. All signs pointed to Harrison signing with UFC for a fight with UFC women’s featherweight champion Amanda Nunes. While that fight is still plausible, it has lost a ton of luster following Nunes’ failed UFC bantamweight title defense against Julianna Pena at UFC 269. Cyborg vs. Harrison is a more incremental step up in competition for the Olympic gold medalist on the road to an eventual clash with Nunes. Bellator also has a track record of cross-promoting with Rizin, so suggesting a crossover with PFL is reasonable. Cyborg vs. Harrison is arguably the best fight to make for both women at this juncture in their careers.

2. Anthony Johnson vs. Yoel Romero

Bellator was right to book Johnson vs. Romero in the opening round of its Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix. Unfortunately, Romero was not medically cleared and “Rumble” went on to defeat José Augusto. Romero lost a unanimous decision to Phil Davis in a non-tournament bout, and Johnson was forced out of the Grand Prix with an unspecified illness. That leaves the door wide open for Bellator to book Johnson vs. Romero in 2022. The fight may not have the same level of fan demand it did upon the announcement of each man’s signing. However, the bout’s primary selling point was never about MMA at its highest level. Johnson vs. Romero is a collision at Mach speed. Two nuclear warheads meeting head-on. A chain reaction of violence that Bellator needs to set off in 2022.

3. Sergio Pettis vs. Kyoji Horiguchi 2

Pettis successfully defended his Bellator bantamweight championship against Horiguchi at Bellator 272, but there is still a feeling that Horiguchi is the best bantamweight outside of the UFC. Pettis was clearly losing the fight before hitting the reset button with a spinning backfist knockout that was named CBS Sports’ Bellator Knockout of the Year. The promotion is gearing up for the Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix in 2022, which boasts three title matches and a $1 million grand prize. Pettis and Horiguchi are both scheduled for the tournament along with Magomed Magomedov, James Gallagher, Leandro Higo, Patchy Mix, Raufeon Stots and Juan Archuleta. The easy option would be to immediately book the rematch, but let’s put a little trust in the process and really build towards the rematch. Bellator should put Pettis and Horiguchi at opposite ends of the brackets. Should each man survive their respective gauntlet, the stage will be set for a big-time rematch with questions left to answer.

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