With the addition of Phil Davis, light heavyweight is now the marquee division of Bellator

Bellator made a splash yesterday in free agency as the promotion signed top light heavyweight fighter Phil Davis to an exclusive, multi-fight contract to compete in the Bellator cage.

Jason Floyd - The MMA Report
Jason Floyd – The MMA Report

The signing of Davis is the first big free agent signing the promotion has made since Scott Coker took over as President of Bellator ten months ago.

Davis (13-3, 1NC) is currently ranked as the number five light heavyweight in the Fight Matrix rankings and with the addition of Davis, Bellator now has seven of the top twenty light heavyweight fighters in the world.

Since the beginning of Bellator in 2009, the promotions marquee divisions were either lightweight or featherweight. When people thought of the major fights in Bellator, they thought of fighters like Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler, Will Brooks, Pat Curran, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, and Daniel Straus to just name a few.

However, the marquee division of Bellator has changed with the addition of Davis to the light heavyweight division. He joins a division that currently has an undefeated champion in Liam McGeary, along with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Tito Ortiz, Emanuel Newton, Linton Vassell, and Francis Carmont.

With the name value of all of those fighters, Bellator could make a tent pole event that just has light heavyweight fights or they could even do a tournament to determine a title challenger for McGeary. Bellator got away from the tournament format last year, but when Coker took over the company, he mentioned how he would still do a tournament if it made sense.

“As we move forward, my plan is to evolve the league from the tournament that we have all known to to see on Spike TV to more of a traditional format where fans get to see the fights they want, more super fight format,” Coker said last year when he was named President of Bellator. “Will we ever do tournaments again? Sure. We will do tournaments when the situation makes sense. I feel that tournament has a place in mixed martial arts. The timing has to be right, the fighters have to be right, and we will determine that on a case-by-case basis.”

It’s much more likely that Bellator could do an entire tent pole event with just light heavyweight bouts as opposed to a tournament. Let’s just say Rampage comes back to Bellator and they had him headlined a tent pole event against Ortiz. The other fights on the main card could be McGeary vs. Lawal, Davis vs. Newton, and Vassell vs. Carmont. That would be a major tent pole event for the promotion and could draw a bigger rating on Spike TV than Bellator 131 did last year.

Along with the signing of Davis making the light heavyweight division the marquee division of Bellator, it could also be the first step in a shift in the mixed martial arts landscape. I expect we will see more fighters like Davis test the free agency waters and see what Bellator is willing to offer them. We may end up looking back at the signing of Davis and say this was the first major step Bellator made under Coker to show they are a legitimate challenger to the UFC.