We all heard Bjorn Rebney make a statement that Bellator would not sign UFC talent that was released. Rebney had the idea he would build his own talent through up-and-coming fighters, which he has been able to do so far with Michael Chandler, Eddie Alvarez, Pat Curran, etc.
Since he made that statement, we have seen Tito Ortiz, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lavar Johnson, Cheick Kongo and some lesser-known names that don’t quickly come to mind. Jackson and Ortiz are even headlining a Bellator PPV in November.
Though the most recent signings, Kongo and Johnson, show that ratings mean everything in fighting, it also shows fighters there is life outside the UFC. For Kongo and Johnson, both outstanding strikers, the clean slate could be what the doctor ordered.
For Kongo, 38, Bellator gives him a chance to chase a fresh dream. He now has a chance to shine in the heavyweight division. Even though he is way past his prime, he still has some juice left in the tank. If one looks at his losses inside the octagon, each one was to exceptional fighters: Carmelo Marrero, Heath Herring, Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson.
Kongo’s excellent striking will allow him to advance in the tournament and maybe even into the finals, unless the relentless pace of the Bellator tournament breaks his body down. Kongo’s first fight outside the UFC since July 2006 will take place against Mark Godbeer on Oct. 4.
Johnson, 36, has a little more time left than Kongo. His power and striking ability will also benefit him inside the Bellator cage. Never a real contender in the UFC, Johnson will have the chance to be relevant. Johnson showed promise in his first two outings in the UFC, beating Joey Beltran and Pat Berry by knockout or TKO. Then fighters began realizing the heavy-handed Johnson can’t fight off his back.
Johnson would go on to lose to Stefan Struve by submission and Brendan Schaub by unanimous decision, after Schaub frustrated Johnson with takedowns and ground work. It will be interesting to see if Bellator fighters have been paying attention to Johnson. If they have, they will attempt to take the fighter down.
Johnson can still make it to the Bellator finals at some point, but he will need to work on his ground game. Johnson will make his Bellator debut against Vinicius Kappke De Queiroz on Oct. 4. Even if it’s a short run for both fighters, Kongo and Johnson will find some success in Bellator.
Anthony Cloud is a MMA Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter: @TheAceCloud