The Grand Prix features eight — now seven, with Quinton Jackson losing to Chael Sonnen in the opening round on Saturday evening — of the biggest names in Bellator competing for the right to claim the vacant heavyweight title. But as with all MMA tournaments, the potential for injuries to derail the planned brackets is high, necessitating alternates should something sideline one or more of the tournament competitors.
We now know the two gentlemen who will be waiting in the wings to fill out those brackets.
“We have a couple of fighters that we are gonna invite in as our first round of alternates because, as you know, things can happen in the tournament,” said Coker. “The last tournament I threw, it was the third alternate that ended up winning the whole thing in great fashion, and he won tonight, so congratulations.
“Cheick Kongo is someone we’re going to invite into the tournament and Javy Ayala, who had a really great fight with Roy Nelson. Both those heavyweights will be invited to come in and participate as alternates.”
Coker previously put on the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2011 that ended up being won by Daniel Cormier, an alternate that entered the tournament when Alistair Overeem had a dispute with Coker over timing. Like with Cormier, Coker has chosen to select two of his more accomplished heavyweights to serve as backups for Bellator’s feature events of the year.
Both Kongo and Ayala have fought for Bellator since 2013.
Ayala is coming off an entertaining and competitive loss to tournament competitor Roy Nelson, while Kongo has put together an impressive run, winning the Bellator Season 9 heavyweight tournament before coming up short in his title shot against Vitaly Minakov. Other than that, Kongo’s only loss is a split decision to Muhammed Lawal and he is currently on a five-fight winning streak.
Should it become necessary, Kongo would seemingly be the first choice to serve as a replacement, although that is not official. For now, Coker is simply happy with the start of the tournament and where he believes everything is heading this year.
“I think the pairings are great,” said Coker. “I think it’s going to be really entertaining and I’m really excited about the year-long storyline and hosting this tournament.”