The Bellator Fighting Championships has become the second-biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world, with only the UFC promoting more events.
The organization was created in 2008 in Chicago by Bjorn Rebney and takes an approach to the fight game that many MMA fans consider to be the most fair of all the promotions.
In the Bellator Fighting Championships, all events are structured around divisional eight-man tournaments spread out over a season of fight cards. The eventual winners of each weight class tournament automatically win $100,000 and a shot at the current champion.
The organization’s motto is “Where title shots are earned, not given.” It has proven appealing with MMA bettors as Bellator odds are much sought-after on sportsbook menus, especially each spring when the Bellator tournaments hit full stride.
The first season of Bellator was nationally broadcast on ESPN Deportes via tape delay. MMA stars like Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard, Lyman Good, and Joe Soto all won titles in their respective weight classes and helped launch the promotion.
In its second season Bellator was able to secure a television deal with Fox Sports Net in the United States and was broadcast through affiliates in other countries. Season 2 was also when they began to add non-tournament and non-title fights to fill out their cards.
This was done mainly to keep their current champions active as they waited for the tournament winners at the end of the season.
In Season 4 of Bellator organizers were able to work out a partnership with MTV2 which continues today. Season 6 begins on March 9 and will be the first season in which the promotion will hold five tournaments.
Events will continue to include bouts that display local fighters battling on the undercards in front of hometown fans.
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Rules for the Bellator Fighting Championships were initially governed by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board and are the same ones most MMA fans are used to seeing in other North American fight promotions.
One major difference in the rules comes during tournament quarterfinal and semifinal fights; in those fights elbow strikes to the head are illegal in an attempt to stop cuts that could knock a fighter out of the tournament even when they win. Elbows are legal in tournament finals.
The current list of Bellator champions (as of March 2012):
Heavyweight – Cole Konrad
Light Heavyweight – Christian M’Pumbu
Middleweight – Hector Lombard
Welterweight – Ben Askren
Lightweight – Michael Chandler
Featherweight – Joe Warren
Bantamweight – Zach Makovsky
Women’s Flyweight – Zoila Gurgel