The Bellator lightweight grand prix is official, and so are its eight participants.
While some matchups are still being worked out, the tournament is slated to begin at Bellator 292 on March 10 from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Bellator president Scott Coker announced the news Wednesday on “The MMA Hour.”
After a report Wednesday by OC Register, MMA Junkie confirmed with promotion officials the first two quarterfinal matchups at Bellator 290: champion Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Benson Henderson, and Tofiq Musayev vs. Alexander Shabliy.
This leaves Mansour Barnaoui, Sidney Outlaw, A.J. McKee, Patricky Freire, and Sidney Outlaw left to be matched up.
The lightweight grand prix is the fifth tournament during the Coker era of Bellator, but the first at lightweight. Heavyweight, featherweight, light heavyweight, and bantamweight previously have been featured.
Coker did not rule out the tournament could end by the end of 2023, depending on how the fights and scheduling plays out.
Scroll below to find out more about the eight fighters who earned a shot to compete in the Bellator lightweight grand prix.
Mansour Barnaoui (20-4)
For years, France’s [autotag]Mansour Barnaoui[/autotag] quietly battered opponent after opponent for South Korean promotion Road FC. In 2022, he signed with Bellator and continued the violence when he strangled Adam Piccolotti en route to a second-round submission at Bellator 287.
Benson Henderson (30-11)
Former UFC lightweight champion [autotag]Benson Henderson[/autotag] is one of the most recognizable faces on the Bellator roster – and he’s shown he has more left in the tank. After three straight losses from 2020-2021, Henderson turned the ship around with back-to-back victories over Islam Mamedov and Peter Queally in 2022.
A.J. McKee (20-1)
After an 18-fight unbeaten streak at featherweight came to an end, [autotag]A.J. McKee[/autotag] took his talents up a weight class and is back on a roll. After a unanimous decision win over Spike Carlyle at Bellator 286, McKee partook in the promotion’s cross-promotion with RIZIN and defeated Roberto de Souza by unanimous decision.
Tofiq Musayev (20-4)
[autotag]Tofiq Musayev[/autotag] is a former RIZIN tournament champion, who holds a win over fellow field participant Patricky Freire. In 2022, he debuted in Bellator with a 27-second TKO starching of then-No. 1 contender Sidney Outlaw.
Champion Usman Nurmagomedov (16-0)
The man with likely the biggest target on his back entering the tournament is the man with the belt: [autotag]Usman Nurmagomedov[/autotag]. A cousin of former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Nurmagomedov continues his surname’s legacy with win after win. At Bellator 288 in November, Nurmagomedov dominated then-champion Patricky Freire to win the title.
Sidney Outlaw (16-5)
[autotag]Sidney Outlaw[/autotag] had his title fight set before it all came crashing down. When then-champion Patricky Freire withdrew from their scheduled championship bout, Outlaw elected to fight newcomer Tofiq Musayev instead. He lost the bout in 27 seconds by TKO and will likely come back with a chip on his shoulder.
Patricky 'Pitbull' Freire (24-11)
The most recent man to hold Bellator lightweight gold besides current champion Usman Nurmagomedov, [autotag]Patricky Freire[/autotag] looks to get back on track after he lost the belt in November by unanimous decision. While he lost three of his most recent four bouts, Freire won eight of his most recent 11.
Alexander Shabliy (22-3)
Perhaps the dark horse in the race, [autotag]Alexander Shabliy[/autotag] has struggled to find willing opponents since he joined Bellator in 2021. However, in a tournament format, the struggles will alleviate as Shabliy looks to extend his seven-fight winning streak.