Bellator announced its 2023 World Grand Prix will feature eight lightweight fighters in a $1 million competition that will begin at Bellator 292 on March 10 at SAP in San Jose, Calif.
The matchups have yet to be announced, but the tournament will be headlined by current champion Usman Nurmagomedov.
The 155-pound lightweight division will be the sixth different weight class featured in a grand prix.
–Usman Nurmagomedov (16-0) is the reigning Bellator lightweight champion from Bellator 288 in November. The cousin of legendary UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, Usman is currently the 11th-ranked lightweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings and is 5-0 in Bellator.
–AJ “Mercenary” McKee (20-1) is ranked as Bellator’s No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter and won the $1 million prize at the 2021 featherweight grand prix. He is 2-0 since moving up to lightweight.
–Patricky “Pitbull” (24-11) seeks to reclaim the lightweight crown after he was beaten handily by Nurmagomedov in November. His 10 knockouts are tied for the most in Bellator history, and Pitbull finished second in Bellator’s 2011 and 2014 tournaments.
–Tofiq Musayev (20-4) scored a 27-second knockout of then-top-ranked Sidney Outlaw at Bellator 283. He is No. 2 in the Bellator lightweight rankings, and has 16 knockouts in 20 professional victories.
–Benson “Smooth” Henderson (30-11) is a former UFC and WEC lightweight champion and enters the grand prix as the No. 3-ranked lightweight in Bellator.
–Alexander “Peresvet” (22-3) is coming off a second-round knockout of former champion Brent Primus. Peresvet is current ranked No. 4 in the division, with three consecutive victories since joining Bellator in 2021.
–Sidney “Da Gun” Outlaw (16-5) lost his most recent shot at a world title in a loss to Tofiq Musayev, who was a late replacement for Pitbull.
–Mansour “Tarzan” Barnaoui (20-4) is the Bellator’s newest contender and dominated Adam Piccolotti in his debut at Bellator 287.
“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,” Bellator president Scott Coker said Wednesday on The MMA Hour, per SBNation.
Coker said the plan is to complete the tournament in 2023, but did not rule out the possibility that it could extend into 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.”
–Field Level Media