Bellator 258: Why We Need a Bantamweight Grand Prix

Bellator 258 just took place and while the Light-Heavyweight Grand Prix rolled on, the bantamweights took center stage. That may seem an obvious observation in an event which saw the Bellator Bantamweight Championship contested in the main event, but that wasn’t the entire story. The entire card featured pivotal bantamweight bouts from the prelims to the main event and we got to see how deep Bellator’s bantamweight division is as a result. In a way, Bellator 258 served as the opening to an unspoken, unofficial Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix.

To start things off for the bantamweights, Erik Perez, a veteran of the UFC where he went 7-2, got his first Bellator win. He took on promotional newcomer Blaine Shutt, and Perez was able to showcase all the skills necessary to win at the big show. Due to the durability of Shutt, Perez was able to showcase all of his mixed martial arts repertoire. Perez’ striking looked solid, his wrestling was solid, and his ground control was there when he needed it. In addition, Perez’ gas tank never looked close to empty in a fight where he delivered high offensive output. While Shutt ultimately looked like a fighter overwhelmed by a much more experienced fighter, it was a good way to get Perez back on track after dropping two straight in Bellator.

The next bantamweight contest at Bellator 258 was a showdown between divisional newcomer Henry Corrales and late replacement Johnny Campbell. Both men accepted the bout on a month’s notice, and Campbell made the most of his first showing in a major promotion. Campbell dropped Corrales in the second round and secured a rear naked choke finish on the dazed Bellator veteran. For as long as it lasted, the fight was an all-action affair which saw both men touched up. Corrales landed some absolutely stinging strikes, but Campbell’s chin appeared to be bulletproof. Campbell’s win is a feel-good story about a man who felt he may never get his shot at the big show. With over 30 bouts on his resume, Campbell is an experienced but unknown commodity in Bellator’s newest marquee division. In a hypothetical Bantamweight Grand Prix, I would be happy to see him against just about anyone in the top-10.

Later on the card, former Bellator Bantamweight Championship challenger Patchy Mix took on a late replacement in the form of Albert Morales. Mix was originally scheduled to take on James Gallagher, but due to an injury, Morales signed up to be Mix’s dance partner for Bellator 258. Mix made the most of the contest and reminded everyone watching that he’s still here and not to be forgotten in the red-hot bantamweight division. Morales, while eventually finished, was able to offer enough opposition to give Mix a good showing. In addition to fantastic grappling offense, Mix was able to display his defensive grappling and a little striking as well. While I don’t think Mix had the best showing in the striking exchanges, he wowed with his ground and pound when he turned up his offense in the second round. His ground striking looked particularly lethal. We’ll probably see him against James Gallagher next, which would be a fantastic quarter-final bout in a hypothetical grand prix.

In the featured preliminary spot, Raufeon Stots and Josh Hill squared off in a Bantamweight title eliminator. While Josh Thompson was not impressed with the result, I thought that Raufeon Stots showed out against a super tough Josh Hill. Stots dominated everywhere the fight took place through his use of pressure, distance management, and solid wrestling when he got the opportunity to shoot. It was a seriously impressive display that made Josh Hill, a legitimate contender, look utterly hopeless at multiple points in the fight. The interesting detail about this bout is that Stots is a main training partner of current title holder Sergio Pettis. Stots stated in the post-fight presser that he would like to “play bodyguard” for Pettis, knocking down competition that Pettis hasn’t gotten to yet. Pettis, instead, seems open to the idea of fighting his teammate, not shooting down the idea at his post-fight interview.

That brings us to the main event between now-former champion Juan Archuleta and now-current champion Sergio Pettis. This was Pettis’ moment to shine and have the coming-out party that we’ve been waiting for since he made his professional debut in 2011. It was a culmination of hard work and perseverance for the younger Pettis that resulted in one of the most fantastic performances of his career. I must give credit to Archuleta here, because while things didn’t work out for him, he was there the entire time trying to win. The only way we get to see the incredible counter-striking of Pettis is for him to have a willing and able opponent in the form of Archuleta. Pettis got to showcase not only his expert striking, but also improved takedown defense and an improved ability to get back to his feet. Needless to say, I thought the main event was the cherry on top for an event which put the 135 pound division on center stage.

Now to mention the Bellator Bantamweights that were not on the show, but loom over the division’s landscape. Coming up at Bellator 259, we get a rematch as former champion Darrion Caldwell rematches Leandro Higo. Higo is riding a two-fight win streak, and Caldwell is returning to bantamweight after a failed campaign in the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix. Leandro Higo is #6 in the Bellator Rankings and while Caldwell is currently unranked, you have to imagine that win or lose, he will end up in the top-10 after returning to the weight class.

The name on everyone’s lips after winning on Friday was James Gallagher, the brash Irishman that was supposed to fight Patchy Mix at Bellator 258, but was forced to withdraw due to a shoulder injury. He is ranked at #5, and we have to assume Bellator will most likely rebook him against Mix. Should they choose to go another direction, we have no shortage of viable competition at 135. Another solid athlete in the Bantamweight picture is Magomed Magomedov, the #3 ranked fighter in the division. At 18-1, he is an impressive athlete that I’d love to see step up and take on one of the winners from Bellator 258.

I’ll end with the shadow hanging over the entire Bellator Bantamweight division: Kyoji Horiguchi. While he isn’t technically a Bellator fighter, he did hold the Bellator Bantamweight title before blowing out his knee and relinquishing the belt. In other words, he never lost it. Horiguchi returned to the sport at Rizin 26 in December, and he not only recaptured his belt and avenged a loss against Kai Asakura, he looked better than ever. Judging from his performance at that Rizin New Years card, Horiguchi might be the best Bantamweight on the planet. A potential bout between Kyoji Horiguchi and Sergio Pettis gets my blood pumping.

If we were to put that in the opening round of a Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix, we would surely be in for one heck of a tournament.

And that’s it! Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to keep up with me outside of writing, you can catch me on the Sparring Partners Podcast, either on YouTube or Spotify.

Feel free to reach out in the comments below and let me know what you think about a potential Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix

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