Bellator MMA has achieved some notable successes but has faced criticism from some quarters for making “fun fights” with athletes unable to compete in the UFC at the highest level any longer. These include Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie, Stephan Bonnar, Tito Ortiz, and Kimbo Slice. They even used Dada 5000 who never competed at the elite level of a local show, and he ended up very nearly dying.
However, Bellator also signed fighters that were highly competitive at the elite level, like Phil Davis, Benson Henderson, Rory MacDonald, and Chael Sonnen.
And there is yet a third layer to president Scott Coker’s efforts. Wrestling is demonstrably the best base for MMA, and Bellator is signing incredibly talented wrestlers, who are entirely unproven in MMA.
This replicates a strategy Coker employed in Strikeforce when he signed a green MMA fighter name Daniel Cormier. ‘DC’ had captained the US Olympic wrestling team, but couldn’t throw a kick. That signing ended up working out pretty well, and Coker has high hopes for what he calls the Fab Five:
•Joey Davis, Four-time NCAA Division II national wrestling champion
•Tyrel Fortune, 2013 Division II Wrestler of the Year
•Aaron Pico, The Future
•Ed Ruth, Three-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion
•Jarod Trice, Three-Time NCAA Wrestling All-American
“I always feel the roster has to be built from the ground up and the top down,” said Coker to Brett Okamoto for ESPN. “Ten years ago with Strikeforce, there were more free agents floating around. We signed Fedor Emelianenko, Bigfoot Silva, Fabricio Werdum — now free agents are few and far between, but we’re signing our share of them, as you’ve seen.
“We also have to build from the ground up, and that’s how we built Strikeforce, and I think we’re doing that here with the wrestling group we’ve brought in.”
Ruth and Fortune will fight on Friday at Bellator 163 in Uncasville, Connecticut. However, neither will fight on the televised portion of the card, so they are eased into mixed martial arts.