While Joey Beltran is a fan-friendly, ultra-tough competitor, it’s definitely a major surprise to see him getting a Bellator light heavyweight title shot. That’s the unexpected route the promotion has elected to take as “The Mexicutioner” will square off against champion Emanuel Newton in the main event of Bellator 124. The bout will headline a card on Sept. 12 in Michigan.
It was expected that the winner of the Season 10 light heavyweight tournament would get the next crack at Newton, but those plans went up in smoke when Quinton “Rampage” Jackson earned a hotly-disputed unanimous decision victory over Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in the main event of Bellator 120. Rampage threw a curveball into the promotion’s plans by saying he wasn’t interested in a title fight against Newton as they both share the same coach.
The organization was therefore left in a bind and eventually opted to give Beltran an opportunity. The decision certainly speaks to the lack of current depth in Bellator’s 205-pound roster. The former UFC veteran has gone just 2-5 with one no-contest in his last eight career fights. He’s 1-1 during his time in Bellator having been knocked out in the first round by Jackson, and earning a submission win in his last appearance at Bellator 116 against 43-year-old Vladimir Matyushenko in what was the Belarusian’s farewell fight.
Newton is riding a major wave of momentum thanks to five straight wins. He made a name for himself in Bellator in 2013 when he knocked out Lawal in the first round, and would later also secure a decision win over “King Mo” at Bellator 106. “The Hardcore Kid” unified the title at Bellator 113 with a split-decision verdict over Attila Vegh and is on one of the most successful runs of his career. He’s gone 6-1 while fighting under the Bellator banner.
His unorthodox fighting style makes him a tough test for anyone, but a matchup against the struggling Beltran truly puts him in a no-win situation. If he destroys Beltran it’ll be seen as the expected result, but if he struggles he’ll be in line for criticism.
This matchup isn’t the type of title fight that fans were expecting to see when Scott Coker was brought on board as Bellator’s new President to replace Bjorn Rebney. There’s no doubt that Beltran will come ready to fight next month, but there had to have been a better option for Newton’s first title defense.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports