What’s the best way to wait out a quarantine? How about revisiting a set of classic fights featuring some of the top names in MMA history?
Bellator MMA and CBS Sports have combined to announce a new series titled “Bellator MMA Recharged” that will air on the CBS Sports Network. Hosted by legendary referee and Bellator MMA analyst “Big John” McCarthy, the series will debut Saturday, April 25 at 8 p.m. ET. Following the premiere, it will run Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. ET.
The new program kicks off with featured matches from a pair of 2018 cards focused on the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix tournament, which crowned the promotion’s vacant championship. “Recharged” will air tournament bouts including Fedor Emelianenko, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Chael Sonnen, Ryan Bader, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Frank Mir, Matt Mitrione and Roy Nelson. The show will also feature fights from the likes of Michael Chandler, Douglas Lima, Aaron Pico and more.
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Sonnen, a former UFC title contender at middleweight and light heavyweight, made the daring move up to heavyweight at the age of 40 as one of the featured legends in the Bellator tournament.
“For me from a mentality standpoint, I didn’t know the difference,” Sonnen told CBS Sports on Tuesday. “When I started in this sport [in 1997], we didn’t have weigh ins. There was no weight classes. Everything was called open weight. Eventually, they decided to have a light heavyweight division and it stayed that way for years. For my mentality, I never cared what the other guy weighed. That was something that came around later in the sport.”
In the headlining bout of Bellator 192 in January 2018, Sonnen relied on his wrestling pedigree to defeat former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson by unanimous decision in their quarterfinal bout of the eight-man tournament at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
“I do remember that night and it was a heavyweight fight. I had never fought at heavyweight before,” Sonnen said. “We weighed in the day before and he was almost to the limit and I was the lighter guy coming up. I remember he walked through the cage door and he barely fit coming through and I was thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?'”
One month later, Mitrione took center stage against Roy Nelson in their quarterfinal bout headlining Bellator 194 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Mitrione had been stopped by Nelson in 2012 when both fighters fought under the UFC banner and he gained redemption with a victory via majority decision.
“What I remember most is that I got to kick the shit out of that bloated vagrant and it felt so good to punch and kick him in his face and his legs,” Mitrione told CBS Sports. “It was such a lovely experience. I’m not a big fan of Roy Nelson at all so literally causing him damage felt nice all around. It was nice. And then getting to beat him felt even better.”
Mitrione accused Nelson of cheating by using his toes to illegally grab the fence in order to maintain a dominant position on the ground in Round 3. The two fighters exchanged trash talk through the media after the bout, with Nelson offering to fight him a third time for free.
“He got his ass kicked pretty thoroughly in this one, I’m not really interested [in a third fight],” Mitrione said. “The bloated vagrant actually tried to cheat in this one and he still lost. In my opinion, he can go straight to hell. I have no time for him. If you are going to try to cheat to win, that’s your fault. But if we are actually considered friends before that and you still try and cheat, you’re just a douchebag in my opinion. I’m glad I got to whoop that bloated piece of trash and I’m glad he lost. That’s how I feel.”
The tournament was eventually won by Ryan Bader, who added the heavyweight title to his current Bellator championship at light heavyweight by knocking out Lawal, dominating Mitrione via decision and stopping Emelianenko.
Sonnen’s journey ended in a memorable slugfest with Emelianenko that proved to be the most anticipated fight of the tournament. Their semifinal bout headlined Bellator 208 in October 2018 in Uniondale, New York.
“I really enjoyed the Fedor fight,” Sonnen said. “I always liked fighting but not the actual competition. I liked the lifestyle, I liked going to the gym and I liked seeing the guys. I like doing the media and being part of something but the actual contest is the worst part. For some reason, that Fedor fight was very enjoyable.
“I think part of it is just because he’s such a great guy but he’s also such a great ambassador and a talent. I felt as though I had nothing to lose. I could just go out there and compete and every second I stay in there is a win. In fairness, that’s a bit of a defeatist mindset but in fairness, it was my mindset and it did allow me to go out and enjoy the experience for a change.”