The 2021 schedule for Bellator MMA kicks off in a big way this April with the promotion announcing a slate of big events which will air exclusively on Showtime, marking the company's debut on the network. The move begins with three consecutive Friday night fight cards beginning April 2.
Showtime has a long history of airing mixed martial arts events on its platform, beginning with EliteXC before a lengthy history with Strikeforce -- the promotion formerly headed up by current Bellator president Scott Coker.
"Everyone in this industry knows the history that I have with Showtime. We have done things together that have truly shaped the sport of mixed martial arts that you see today," Coker said. "But what's really exciting about this news is that everything we have already accomplished is just the beginning. 2021 marks a new era for Bellator MMA. With our new home at Showtime, we are going to take this brand to a new level, and you are going to see us build upon the foundation that we have already set throughout my time with Bellator."
Bellator 256 and 257, which take place on Friday, April 9 and Friday, April 16, respectively, will feature the beginning of the much-anticipated eight-man Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix -- a tournament that includes two high-profile Bellator signings in former UFC title challengers Yoel Romero and Anthony "Rumble" Johnson.
Romero was a high-profile cut by the UFC in late 2020, one fight after a close decision loss in a bid for Israel Adesanya's middleweight championship. He challenged for the middleweight title three times in his final five fights for the UFC, with a fourth scheduled championship opportunity ultimately not contested for the title after Romero missed weight.
Johnson will be fighting for the first time since April 2017, ending a lengthy retirement from active competition after his second stint with the UFC. Like Romero, Johnson's most recent fight was a chance at UFC gold, losing a battle for the light heavyweight championship against then-champion Daniel Cormier.
The main event of the Bellator 257 card boasts reigning light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov putting his title up for grabs against former champion Phil Davis.
One week prior at Bellator 256 on April 9, the Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix kicks off with former 205-pound champion -- and reigning heavyweight champion -- Ryan Bader battling Lyoto Machida in the main event. This is a rematch of their 2012 encounter under the UFC banner which saw Machida emerge victorious via second-round KO. The co-main event, also a tournament bout, features Bellator newcomer Corey Anderson -- fresh off a promotional debut win in November -- versus Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov.
Bellator 256 and 257, which take place on Friday, April 9 and Friday, April 16, respectively, will feature the beginning of the much-anticipated eight-man Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix.
The entirety of the Showtime slate kicks off on Friday, April 2 with the Bellator 255 event. The main event witnesses Patricio Pitbull defending his Bellator featherweight championship against Emmanuel Sanchez in the semifinals of the Featherweight World Grand Prix. The winner will advance to the finals as champion to battle AJ McKee, who secured his spot in the finals with a submission victory over Darrion Caldwell this past November.
The upcoming events are scheduled to take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, as will future cards which are planned to feature middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi, welterweight champion Douglas Lima, bantamweight champion Juan Archuleta and women's flyweight champion Juliana Velasquez.