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Bellator MMA announces eight-man World Grand Prix at the lightweight beginning in March

The newly crowned lightweight champion Usman Nurmagomedov didn’t get much time to decide his opponent for his first title defense instead has to win a major tournament to retain his gold strap.

The eight contestants in the Bellator Lightweight World Grand Prix have been selected by Bellator. Usman Nurmagomedov, the lightweight champion, and AJ McKee, a former featherweight champion, were two of the greats when the competitors were revealed on Wednesday. On "The MMA Hour," Bellator President Scott Coker officially announced the move.

“As you know, we pick our tournament based on what we feel is the best division of our league and right now I think lightweight, including A.J., is going to be something that fans are going to want to watch,” Coker said.

Throughout the competition, the lightweight Bellator champion will be challenged, as well as a $1 million prize will be awarded to the winner. Nurmagomedov, McKee, Patricky Pitbull, Benson Henderson, Tofiq Musayev, Alexander Shabliy, Mansour Barnaoui, and Sidney Outlaw are the eight men who made the list.

Two first-round matches will kick off the Grand Prix on March 10 in San Jose, California. Versus former UFC champion Henderson, lightweight champion Nurmagomedov will defend his championship on that card. The promotion revealed that Musayev will square off against Shalbily that same night.

Later, in May, when the promotion comes to Paris, France, Outlaw will square off against Barnaoui. This indicates that McKee and Pitbull will face off in the first round's finale at a later point in time.

The majority of the top contenders in the division compete in the Lightweight World Grand Prix. There are five of the leading lightweights in the world, including the current champion. In October, McKee (No. 8) successfully made his lightweight debut by defeating Spike Carlyle. The most intriguing entrant is Barnaoui, who defeated Adam Piccolotti via tap-out in his Bellator premiere despite being unranked at the moment.

Every bout of a Grand Prix match typically lasts five rounds, with the current champion defending their title. Even though Coker is certain that the competition will conclude in 2023, he cautioned that variables beyond his and the fighters' influence might delay it until the next year.

“These things are kind of a fluid process because injuries happen, scheduling conflicts, things like that,” Coker said. “Mostly we just want to make sure that the fighters are healthy and really ready to fight and give it 100 percent. That’s why some of these things have taken so long and then COVID hit when we had our featherweight tournament, there’s a lot of those issues.

“Really, we want the fighters to be 100 percent and if that’s the case in 2023 then we’ll finish it this year.”


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