Scott Coker: Bellator grand prix winner can’t be denied as ‘the best lightweight’ in the world
SAN JOSE, Calif. – If a championship belt and $1 million prize weren’t enough motivation for the eight-man field of the Bellator lightweight grand prix, company president Scott Coker says the status of No. 1 in the world is on the line.
Bellator’s 155-pound tournament begins on Friday at Bellator 292 with a pair of quarterfinal bouts. In the main event, undefeated champion Usman Nurmagomedov (16-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA) begins his quest to defend through the grand prix field when he meets former UFC and WEC titleholder Benson Henderson (30-11 MMA, 7-6 BMMA). And in the co-main event, Tofiq Musayev (19-4 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) takes on Alexandr Shabliy (22-3 MMA, 3-0 BMMA).
“This is going to be arguably the greatest lightweight tournament in the history of MMA,” Coker told MMA Junkie and other reporters following Thursday’s Bellator 292 ceremonial weigh-ins. “You guys saw gauntlet of fighters that are going to be in this tournament, and I think there are two or three dark horses that could upset these fighters. That is going to depend on how they perform under pressure. I’m really excited about this first night of fights.”
Bellator 292 ceremonial weigh-ins faceoff highlights video from San Jose
Bellator 292 official weigh-in results: Nurmagomedov, Henderson hit marks for grand prix title fight
The other pair of quarterfinals in the grand prix will see A.J. McKee vs. Patricky Freire, which does not have an official date, and Brent Primus vs. Mansour Barnaoui, which goes down at Bellator 296 on May 12.
Whomever emerges from the brackets are going to have to endure three fights scheduled for five rounds in order to complete the mission. That’s a significant task, and Coker thinks it would elevate the winner’s global ranking above any other organization’s champion.
“How could you deny that?” Coker said. “The guy is not going through one (or) two, he’s going through three fights in a one-year period of fighters of this quality, he’s got to be the best lightweight.”
The Bellator 292 main event is particularly compelling to Coker, he said. Nurmagomedov is listed as a significant betting favorite over the decorated Henderson, and although the odds point to it being a one-sided fight, Coker said he’s not ready to count out the underdog out.
“Benson’s been around a long time,” Coker said. “He’s still got it. He’s going to be scrappy. He’s going to be in Usman’s face and putting a lot of pressure on him, and we’ll see see he handles it. This tournament is super exciting, this might be best tournament we’ve hosted yet to do.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Bellator 292.