Bellator MMA made a significant push in 2021. The company’s long-term development of A.J. McKee paid off in the form of a featherweight champion that can carry the promotion forward. Bellator also acquired valuable names like Yoel Romero and Anthony Johnson, and hosted the coronation of Sergio Pettis as world champion.
2021 ushered in an important new era for Bellator. Heading into the company’s first full year under the Showtime banner, what should fans expect? That was a question the CBS Sports experts sat down to try to answer by offering our bold predictions for the next 12 months.
Read on to see what we feel will be three major stories coming out of a pivotal year for the promotion.
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Michael Page wins the welterweight title
After years of teasing his bright potential, the 34-year-old “MVP” seems finally ready to fulfill it as he enters 2022 on the verge of his first Bellator MMA title shot. The sublime striker scored the biggest victory of his career in October when he edged former champion Douglas Lima in their rematch to avenge his lone pro loss. There’s little doubt Page is expected to have his hands full with unbeaten titleholder Yamosav Amosov and his grinding style. But Page has the kind of explosive finishing ability that makes it hard to count him out, even if he has had issues at times with wrestlers in the past. Page’s confidence is through the roof amid his current six-fight win streak and he remains the wrong type of striker to shoot for a takedown against that isn’t well disguised because of his quick-trigger ability to end the fight in any number of creative ways. — Brian Campbell
The Bantamweight World Grand Prix will be the best tournament yet
Bellator built itself up being a tournament-based company. That ended for a while but the introduction of their World Grand Prix tournaments have brought back big, interesting competitions. The bantamweight division is packed with talent and every potential matchup in the tournament will be exciting. In terms of pure action, the 135-pounders have the potential of delivering the best tournament-style mixed martial arts since the days of Pride FC. It won’t be done before 2022 is over, but every second of the Grand Prix should have fans glued to their television screens, and with good reason. — Brent Brookhouse
Kayla Harrison fights Cris Cyborg
Safe money suggests Harrison was UFC bound following UFC 269. The live broadcast captured her sitting front row for the UFC women’s bantamweight title fight between Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena. An upset victory from Pena has severely damaged the stock for an immediate Nunes vs. Harrison fight. That may open the door for the Olympic gold medalist to test her mettle against Bellator women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg. It serves as an intermediate step in competition between Harrison’s PFL opponents and the Nunes fight, albeit much closer to the Nunes end of the scale. Not to mention that it would also be Cyborg’s toughest test since her loss to Nunes in 2018. Additionally, Harrison may be able to angle for a co-promoted fight between Bellator and PFL to maximize earning potential, while leaving room for a UFC debut in 2023. Harrison claims legacy trumps money in her MMA run, and a match vs. Cyborg is far more likely to materialize before she signs with UFC. — Shakiel Mahjouri