Photo: Facebook/ Bellator MMA — Ryan Bader after winning Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix earlier this year.

Does the Grand Prix format make MMA more exciting?

The sport of mixed martial arts is growing at a rapid pace, and already is arguably the most entertaining sport on the planet. It’s safe to say that it now has a bit more than just one foot into the mainstream sports world, thanks to the likes of Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, or Jon Jones. And while it already is a sport that nearly guarantees to keep you on the edge of your seat — what Bellator is doing with the Grand Prix tournament format makes it even more exciting.

Along with the thrill that a knockout competition in any sport brings, the Grand Prix format obeys the division rankings that are often overlooked during the matchmaking process, and as a result allows the best fighters in the world to go head to head in order to determine who truly is the best in the world.

In Bellator’s case, the matchups are determined via draws, and split into four rounds — meaning that potential money fights in the early stages go out the window unless they are essentially drawn out of a hat. This allows the promotion to, again using Bellator as an example, pick 16 of the world’s best in a division, and let a random draw to the rest, creating a suspenseful anticipation of countless scenarios of how the tournament could possibly play out.

The Grand Prix format also helps out the promoters and matchmakers. The process of putting together a card and finding the right balance of young fighters, big names, and exciting matchups to fill a fight night can often be grueling and endless. With this system, a promotion can instantly build a minimum of four cards with multiple high profile fights on it, and then add a definite headliner on top of that for the final (earlier rounds can headline too, e.g: Pitbull vs. Archuleta on Sept. 28).

Essentially, it is an efficient way to answer a lot of questions in regards to who the best competitor in a division is by putting all of the top contenders up against each other across multiple cards, making them earn their shot at the title. And as good and fun of a format as the Grand Prix is, it has been criminally underused in the fight world today.

But all of a sudden, it is beginning to look like a comeback to popularity may be on the cards.

It is worth noting at this point that all of the world’s major promotions were once involved with creating tournament based shows in one way or another. UFC did it when they first launched in 1993 with single-night tournaments, something that PFL has been doing recently. And then Strikeforce and PRIDE ran tournaments in the way that Bellator is doing now. In Strikeforce’s case, it enabled the breakthrough of now future hall of famer Daniel Cormier. PRIDE also enjoyed a lot of successful shows filled with big names competing in tournaments.

So clearly, it seems like there is way more pros to that system than there is cons.

For a promotion like the UFC, with so many global names in multiple divisions, it can be somewhat understandable as to why they have restrained from joining the party.

The money fight business is enticing. But with that said, money fights can still very well happen in the Grand Prix system. It will just take some build up, which is also good for the promotion side of things, to see if both of the big money fight names reach the final, or if they get matched up at some point earlier. If you ask me, I think it brings extra excitement to the table. Do the biggest names have what it takes to get past some of the other top contenders in relatively quick succession in order to reach the finals? That sounds fun.

Perhaps one day Dana White will give in and put on some tournaments of his own, but for now, Bellator are leading the Grand Prix fray with some more exciting featherweight fights to come later this month.

The mix of the young prospects with some more experienced featherweight contenders that are looking for another way of getting a crack at the title in this particular Grand Prix is excellent. The first half of the first round eliminators in San Jose saw some upsets including an undefeated record being broken, while also determining a few early favorites to win it all. The second half of the first round matchups look just as electric, with even more big names entering the last man standing contest.

The second half of the first round of the World Featherweight Grand Prix eliminators are set to take place at Bellator 228 on Sept. 28 in Inglewood, Calif.

The matchups are as follows:

Patricio “Pitbull” Freire vs. Juan Archuleta

A.J. McKee vs. Georgi Karakhanyan

Darrion Caldwell vs. Henry Corrales

Daniel Weicher vs. Saul Rogers

Already booked their places in the quarterfinals:

Derek Campos (def. Daniel Straus)

Pedro Carvalho (def. Sam Sicilia)

Adam Borics (def. Pat Curran)

Emmanuel Sanchez (def. Tywan Claxton)


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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