Usman Nurmagomedov, A.J. McKee headline deep field for Bellator lightweight grand prix
Newly crowned champion Usman Nurmagomedov will make the first defense of his title in the Bellator lightweight grand prix, which the company announced on Wednesday.
The winner of the event will receive a $1 million prize.
Nurmagomedov, who is the first cousin of former UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, won the title at Bellator 288 on Nov. 18 in Chicago by defeating Patricky “Pitbull” Freire via unanimous decision. His title will be on the line in all tournament bouts he competes in. All matches in the tournament will consist of five, five-minute rounds.
Bellator president Scott Coker said the brackets haven’t been set yet, but the grand prix will debut on March 10 in San Jose, California.
Joining Nurmagomedov in the eight-man field is former featherweight champion A.J. McKee, who made his lightweight debut at Bellator 286 on Oct. 1 by defeating Spike Carlyle. He had a second lightweight bout on New Year’s Eve when he defeated Rizin champion Roberto de Souza.
The remainder of the field includes Freire, Tofiq Musayev, former UFC champion Benson Henderson, Alexander Shabliy, Sidney Outlaw and Mansour Barnaoui.
Bellator has put on previous grand prix tournaments at featherweight, welterweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. Coker said he feels the lightweight grand prix has the ability to be the best they’ve put on because of the depth of the field.
“We have so many young kids [at lightweight] who are so talented and are poised to become the new stars of the sport, that I think this could be an incredible tournament,” Coker told Yahoo Sports. “You look at this field and you see several people who have the ability to win it. I don’t think we’ve done a better one given the collective pool of talent we have.”
Coker raved about Shabliy, who is 22-3 and ranked fourth at lightweight.
“You can talk to Dan Lambert [of the American Top Team] and he’ll tell you this kid is super talented and the best lightweight at his gym,” Coker said.
He also singled out Barnaoui as one to watch. Barnaoui submitted Adam Piccolotti with a rear naked choke in the second round at Bellator 287 in Milan, Italy, on Oct. 29.
“Adam Piccolotti is a very good jiu-jitsu fighter, and a very good MMA fighter, and Barnaoui just submitted him in Milan,” Coker said. “That’s impressive. He’s a really talented guy who is a great addition to the field. Top to bottom, I think we’re looking at some amazing fights ahead of us.”