After a three-month hiatus, Bellator MMA returns to Spike TV this Friday, February 28 (9 P.M. EST), with a pair of light-heavyweight tournament, semi-final matchups, as Quinton "Rampage" Jackson takes on former titlist Christian M'Pumbu in the Bellator 110 headliner, and Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal squares off against Mikhail Zayats in the evening's co-main event.
The first event in Bellator's upcoming tenth season, which is set to run through early May, Bellator 110 will also host the opening round of the promotion's featherweight bracket, one of six such single-elimination tournaments to determine Bellator's next set of title contenders. Also up for grabs this season are six world titles, beginning with incumbent bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas' 135-pound strap.
Making his first appearance inside the Bellator cage in over a year, Dantas will face challenger Anthony Leone in the March 7, Bellator 111 headliner, while former champion Alexander Volkov will attempt to reclaim the title he lost in November 2013, when he goes head-to-head with Mark Holata in the opening round of the heavyweight tournament.
The Dantas-Leone matchup begins five straight weeks of world-title-fight action for Bellator, as current featherweight champion Daniel Straus returns to action at Bellator 112 to make his first title defense. Standing in his way will be former 145-pound strapholder Pat Curran, the very same man from whom Straus took the Bellator belt last year.
A controversial matchmaking decision, the Straus-Curran fight, the third installment between the pair and the second under the Bellator banner, was booked despite Season 9 featherweight winner Patricio "Pitbull" Freire's rightful claim to a title shot. But after the razor-thin decision that earned Straus the belt at Bellator 106, CEO Bjorn Rebney slated an immediate re-match.
Joining Straus and Curran on the March 14 fight card are eight welterweights, including Fight Master winner Joe Riggs, vying for the 100,000-dollar winner-take-all prize and a title shot. One week later, on March 21, eight lightweights will commence their own journey toward the Bellator 155-pound crown at Bellator 113. Headlining that event will be Attila Vegh and Emmanuel Newton, who will compete to unify the promotion's 205-pound title.
Following the Vegh-Newton unification bout, longstanding middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, who recently signed a long-term contract extension with Bellator, will look to defend his 185-pound strap for the third time, as he takes on Season 9 tournament winner Brennan Ward at Bellator 114 (March 28). Then, on April 4, at Bellator 115, heavyweight strapholder Vitaly Minakov will make his first title defense against Cheick Kongo.
Bellator will then take a week off from its run of championship fights, as light heavyweights Vladimir Matyushenko and Joey Beltran square off in the Bellator 116 headliner. But the following week, a pair of welterweight tournament winners, Douglas Lima (Season 8) and Rick Hawn (Season 9), will do battle at Bellator 117 (April 18) to hoist the 170-pound championship belt that was left vacant after the departure of former champ Ben Askren.
Two more events round out Bellator's tenth season, Bellator 118 (May 2), which will host the featherweight tournament final, and Bellator 119 (May 9), which will crown a new heavyweight tournament champion. But the real anticipation continues over when the promotion will book the third installment, and rubber match, between their most lucrative pairing, lightweights Eddie Alvarez, the current 155-pound champion, and Michael Chandler, the former titlist.
Expected to headline Bellator's inaugural Pay Per View fight card some time in 2014, the pending Alvarez vs. Chandler III remains the promotion's hottest commodity and most bankable fight, although the Season 10 lineup demonstrates significant growth by Bellator, which will also make its live broadcast debut in central and south America as part of a new television deal with FOX Sports Latin America.