Chael Sonnen-Wanderlei Silva fight to headline Bellator PPV this June in NYC

For just the second time in company history, Bellator MMA will step back into the pay-per-view space on June 24 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. 

The Bellator 180 card will be headlined by former UFC stars and long-time rivals Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva. More fights will be announced, which are expected to include some of Bellator’s recent high-profile, free-agent signings. 

Bellator CEO Scott Coker confirmed the news to The Associated Press

“We always said that when we come to New York, we’ll bring the biggest and the best fight card we’ve ever had in the history of this company,” Coker told the AP. “We’re putting it together, and our roster is robust enough that we feel like it’s time to get into the pay-per-view business, so here we go.”

Bellator, which is owned by media conglomerate Viacom, has long talked about PPV not being part of the company’s vision. In recent years, since Coker’s arrival in 2014, the company’s quarterly “tent-pole events,” typically involving aging UFC veterans, have done massive cable numbers on Spike TV. 

The company’s first foray into PPV took place on May 17, 2014, shortly before Coker’s arrival. Bellator 120, emanating from Southaven, Mississippi, lost its main event of Eddie Alvarez-Michael Chandler III one week before fight night. Headlined instead by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, and also featuring Tito Ortiz, the card reportedly sold around 100,00 buys. 

Bellator 180 will have plenty of star power with Sonnen (29-15-1), 39, and Silva (35-12-1), 40, who famously came to blows during the filming of “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” in 2014. Their scheduled UFC fight months later never came to fruition, however, as Silva failed a pair of drug tests. 

Silva hasn’t fought since a knockout victory over Brian Stann in 2013. Sonnen, meanwhile, has lost four of his last five, including a hapless submission defeat to Ortiz in January that was highly criticized. The bout was Sonnen’s first since a three-year retirement that was announced following a two-year drug suspension. 

Coker said Bellator 180 will also feature preliminary bouts that will air live on cable across the country. While the promotion won’t attempt to compete with UFC in terms of monthly promotions, it expects to feature more of them around big events. 

Along with its aging stable of big-name fighters, Bellator has made headlines of late by signing former UFC talent much closer to their respective primes, including Rory MacDonald, Phil Davis, Benson Henderson, Lorenz Larkin and Ryan Bader. 

The company also signed heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko, whose high-profile debut was postponed in February when opponent Matt Mitrione was a late scratch due to kidney stones. 

The card will be Bellator’s first at Madison Square Garden, less than a year after the state of New York lifted its longtime ban on the sport. The UFC made its debut in the building last November for a UFC 205 card headlined by Conor McGregor and World Series of Fighting (WSOF) held an afternoon card on Dec. 31. 

It’s surprising news from the promotion, which has constantly talked about how much it doesn’t need PPV to succeed. At the same time, there isn’t a better time than now for the promotion to take a chance. Not only is its roster improving by the day, especially at welterweight, the company has enough aging fighters with big names to make the kind of guilty pleasure fights that add depth and might potentially held sell a card. 

While Sonnen-Silva is essentially par for the course compared to Bellator’s typical fair of “old guy fights,” the contentious backstory and potential for violence adds plenty of juice along with the prestige that comes with the venue. Enough, possibly, to overcome how bad Sonnen looked earlier this year in his comeback fight. 

But the success of Bellator 180 ultimately comes down to the strength of the fights that support the main event. Bellator has a long way to go to prove whether it can sustain these type of events on even a quarterly basis, but with UFC’s current shortage of stars at the ready, it’s worth a try. 

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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