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Bellator Season Four: News, Updates And Signings

Bellator Fighting Championships begins their fourth season this year and kickoff their relationship with MTV2 beginning on March 5th. Do they have enough talent or market share to compete with Strikeforce or the UFC? Here goes nothing.

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16 Total Updates since February 17, 2011
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Ricco Rodriguez Allegedly Signs With Bellator

He was the former UFC heavyweight champion. Then he was a cast member of the first season of VH1's Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew. Now he's apparently a Bellator Fighting Championships heavyweight.

MMA Weekly has the scoop:

While he's currently preparing for his bout against James McSweeney in BAMMA next week, former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez has now signed a new deal to become a part of Bellator Fighting Championships.

Rodriguez broke the news during a recorded interview for MMAWeekly Radio on Friday.

"To be honest with you, I signed the Bellator contract and just waiting to get permission from MTV. Everyone wants me to do something, but they're just concerned with my past, if I'm going to be hard to work with. It's a great opportunity for Bellator, I would love to fight in that competition, it's going to be great exposure, I just think Bellator's going to blow up on the scene," Rodriguez said.

Currently training in England with the Wolfslair, Rodriguez has been there for just over a month working with the team and is in the closing stages for his fight against McSweeney next week in BAMMA.

There's been nothing official from Bellator about where matters stand with Rodriguez, but ones hopes his drop to light heavyweight means he'll be in this season's tourney. He'd be an excellent test for Nik Fekete and could perhaps give himself the career boost he's been groping after for so long.

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Chris Davis Signs With Bellator As Participant Of Light Heavyweight Tournament

Former U.S. Marine Chris Davis is the most recent signee to Bellator's fourth season. "The Professional" will compete as part of the light heavyweight tournament alongside Nik Fekete, D.J. Linderman and others. From Bellator:

Bellator Fighting Championships has signed the dynamic Chris Davis to its growing list of light heavyweights. After spending over four years serving the United States as a  Marine, "The Professional" will bring his skills to the cage in hopes of becoming the first ever Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion in the first ever Bellator Light Heavyweight Tournament, airing LIVE this March on MTV2.

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That attitude has earned Davis an impressive 10-2 record, including wins against Strikeforce alum Francisco France, Bellator veteran Brian Imes, and fast rising Chris Bell. Having never gone the distance once in his professional career, Davis is tenacious in the cage, using his aggression to overmatch his opponents early in the fight. Davis has won his last three fights by knockout, and has seven first round stoppages to his name.

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Ronnie Mann Signs With Bellator, Will Not Participate In Featherweight Tournament

He isn't known to casuals and is barely known to even hardcore MMA fans, but this signing should help with awareness and visibility. Ronnie Mann, who lost to Hatsu Hioki in the Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix, has signed on with Bellator for their fourth season, but will not be competing in the featherweight tournament. Another fantastic signing by Bellator, although him not being a part of the tournament is slightly regrettable. From Bellator:

Ronnie Mann is coming back to America. Bellator Fighting Championships today announced the acquisition of the top featherweight Brit to its burgeoning roster of 145 pounders.  Mann, who has spent the bulk of his 21 fight career in Japan and England, made his U.S. debut last September where he won the Shark Fights Featherweight Championship.  Mann will not compete in the upcoming Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament but will make his Bellator debut in the fourth season with an opportunity to take part in a future tournament.  Bellator Season 4 begins in March and will air LIVE on MTV2.

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A Sengoku veteran and former Cage Gladiators Welterweight Champion, Mann brings a very impressive 18-2-1 professional record to the Bellator cage, which included a 12-fight undefeated streak spanning the first three years of his career.  Fighting out of Cheltenham, England, Mann became a well rounded martial artist at a young age, getting his start in Muay Thai at 11 before subsequently competing in kickboxing and jiu-jitsu tournaments at 13-years-old.  Wasting no time making the jump to MMA, Mann took his first amateur fight at 16 before turning pro at just 17-years-old.

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Ben Askren Faces Nick Thompson In Welterweight Superfight At Bellator 40

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Bellator cannot compete with UFC or Strikeforce, but they do an excellent job of grooming prospects. They've announced a non-title superfight between one of their top prospects in former Olympian Ben Askren and well-rounded UFC, Sengoku and Strikeforce veteran Nick Thompson. From Bellator:

Bellator World Welterweight Champion Ben "Funky" Askren returns to the cage for the first time since his impressive title win when he meets dangerous UFC veteran Nick "The Goat" Thompson at Bellator 40, which airs LIVE on MTV2, and takes place April 9th at the First Council Casino in Newkirk, Oklahoma.

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A 2008 Olympian and 2-time NCAA Division I National Wrestling Champion, Askren has silenced any critics who doubted his ability to transition from collegiate wrestling to MMA since his professional debut just two years ago. After three straight impressive victories to win the Bellator Season 2 Welterweight Tournament - including a finals matchup where "Funky" completely dominated highly regarded welterweight Dan "The Handler" Hornbuckle with a non-stop barrage of takedowns and ground-and-pound - Askren prepared for his toughest test yet, a Championship meeting with Lyman Good at Bellator 33. The fight ultimately went the distance, spanning five grueling rounds before Askren was awarded a very deserving decision victory and the Bellator World Welterweight Championship.

This is an excellent fight for both Askren and Thompson. For Askren, he gets an excellent step up in competition. Thompson has experience against opposition with a wide array of skill sets on big stages. He also possesses a good jab, decent guard, suitable cardio conditioning, comes from an excellent camp and is generally well-rounded. However, Thompson has some issues with defensive wrestling, although his size relative to Askren might help a little in that department.

For Thompson, it's a great way to make a statement. Thompson is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but he's been a prospect killer before (Eddie Alvarez) and it'd be nice to have this scalp in his collection before his day in professional fighting is done.

A job well done by Bellator in booking this fight.

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Nik Fekete Confirmed For Bellator Light Heavyweight Tournament

Nik Fekete, beyond a promoter's hype, actually is one to watch. The Xtreme Couture product and former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler is only four fights deep into his professional mixed martial arts career, but appears to have a ton of promise. In only his second pro fight he bested Strikeforce prospect Ovince St. Preux in September of 2009. The Bellator tournament format is an excellent place for this highly-talented prospect fighter to make the next jump in his career. From the Bellator release:

After training among the likes of Rashad Evans, Gray Maynard, Forrest Griffin, Wanderlei Silva, Roy Nelson and a slew of others, undefeated NCAA Division I All-American wrestler Nik "The Machete" Fekete has been confirmed to compete in Bellator's first ever Light Heavyweight Tournament, which airs LIVE on MTV2 beginning in March. The winner of the eight man tournament will take home a $100,000 prize and will be crowned Bellator World Light Heavyweight Champion.

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Fekete joins Bellator after completing an incredibly successful wrestling career, which included a four year run on the Michigan State Wrestling Team and a 2008 trip to Beijing to assist the U.S. Olympic squad in their training. It was at Michigan State where Fekete and UFC lightweight Gray Maynard struck up a friendship that ultimately led to "The Machete" ending up at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. 

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Bellator 35 Card, Welterweight Quarterfinal Pairings Announced

Bellator Fighting Championships has finally announced the quarterfinal pairings for their welterweight tournament, which begins at Bellator 35 on Saturday, March 5th at the Tachi Palace Casino & Resort in Lemoore, California. This event and the entire season is all set to be aired on MTV2.

Opening the show will be "Judo" Jim Wallhead vs. Rick Hawn, a former judo Olympian for the U.S. From there it will be Steve Carl vs. Jay Hieron. Hieron enters this fight on a three-year win streak.

Also on the show for the welterweight quarterfinal will be Dan Hornbuckle vs. Brent Weedman as well as Lyman Good vs. Chris Lozano. Hornbuckle vs. Weedman is a rematch while Good vs. Lozano will serve as the main event.

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Michael Chandler Confirmed As Bellator Season 4 Lightweight Tournament Participant

Not much is known about Michael Chandler through five wins in his professional career. He's obviously a phenomenal athlete and being an Xtreme Couture product is clearly a beneficial association. His All-American wrestling pedigree is a boon as well, although it'll be curious to see how he handles someone with the takedown defense, sprawl and brawl game of Rob McCullough.

So far Chandler has not only gone undefeated, he's finished all of his opposition as well with either strikes or submissions. I wouldn't read much into it as early-stage opposition in MMA can be a very uneven thing, but clearly Chandler is one to watch.

From the Bellator release:

With a pair of impressive wins under the Bellator banner in 2010, Chandler's opponents have never made past the second round, as the Missouri native is a perfect 5-0 in his professional career with all of his victories coming by way of (T)KO or submission.          

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Training alongside UFC lightweight title challenger Gray Maynard and Bellator welterweight Jay Hieron at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, the former Division I All American is ready to break the mold of many wrestlers who have transitioned to MMA.

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UFC Veteran Ben Saunders Signs With Bellator, Will Compete On Fourth Season

One of Bellator's best and most intriguing signings, "Killa B" Ben Saunders has signed on with the number three promotion in mixed martial arts. The American Top Team product is a rangy fighter with a devastating clinch, well-timed jab and possesses underrated takedown defense.

He won't compete in the welterweight tournament, but hopefully they'll find a way to get him an eventual fight with Ben Askren. Saunders would provide a very sturdy test for the rising Askren, although it's not clear that fight would do much to move the needle on that organization's brand awareness.

From the Bellator press release:

Bellator Fighting Championships today announced the singing of seven-time UFC veteran Ben "Killa B" Saunders to its already stacked welterweight roster.  Although Saunders will not participate in the upcoming Welterweight Tournament, "Killa B" will make his Bellator debut during Season 4.  Bellator Season 4 airs LIVE on MTV2 beginning Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 9 pm.

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A veteran of the sixth season of "The Ultimate Fighter," Saunders enters Bellator with a 9-3 professional record, with eight of his nine victories coming by way of knockout, TKO or submission.  "Killa B" holds notable victories during his time spent in the UFC over the likes of Marcus "The Irish Hand Grenade" Davis, Bellator veteran Ryan Thomas, and Brandon Wolff.  In his last outing, Saunders scored a decisive first-round submission due to strikes over Elijah Harshbarger last November.  With momentum and a wealth of experience on his side, Saunders is eager to face any and all in his path.

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Bellator Confirms Season 4 Lightweight Tournament, Adds Rob McCullough As Participant

"Razor" Rob McCullough, well known to MMA hardcores and former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) lightweight champion, has been announced as participant in the fourth season of Bellator Fighting Championships. McCullough will compete in the lightweight tournament and actually stands a decent chance of winning it all. He'll be beaten by quicker, better athletes, but "Razor" packs respectable power, has arguably the best takedown defense among non-elite lightweight fighters and extremely experienced. From the Bellator press release:

Following confirmations of talent filled Welterweight, Featherweight and Light Heavyweight Tournaments for the promotion's highly anticipated fourth season, Bellator Fighting Championships has officially announced that the promotion will hold a Lightweight Tournament this March, LIVE on MTV2. Eight world class 155 lb. fighters will face off for a chance at claiming the Season 4 Lightweight Tournament Championship, a check for $100,000, and a shot at Bellator World Lightweight Champion and top ranked lightweight Eddie Alvarez.

While announcements regarding all eight participants will follow, former WEC Lightweight Champion "Razor" Rob McCullough has been confirmed for the upcoming tournament. The Huntington Beach-based knockout artist enters the Bellator cage with momentum on his side, going undefeated in 2010 and moving his record to an impressive 19-6. Training out of Huntington Beach Ultimate Training, the hard hitting McCullough holds impressive victories over the likes of Nam Phan, Kit Cope, Rich Crunkilton, Marcus Hicks and most recently Corey Hill.

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Nazareno Malegarie Confirmed As Season Four Bellator Featherweight Tournament Participant

Not much is known about Nazareno Malegarie, but the interest is high. A jiu-jitsu black belt who trains out of Brazi, he trains alongside UFC veteran Thiago Tavares. There's not much to say about this signing early on. It could be the word of mouth recommendation from more well-known MMA figures or perhaps Malegarie impressed Bellator staff. Either way, he's an interesting addition to the tournament. From the Bellator press release:

Bellator Fighting Championships today announced the final participant in the Season Four Featherweight Tournament, adding undefeated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Nazareno "Naza" Malegarie to the already impressive list of featherweight fighters. Malegarie joins Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, Wilson Reis, Daniel Straus, Georgi Karakhanyan, Zac George, Kenny Foster, and Eric Larkin as the other confirmed participants in the featherweight tournament, which will air LIVE on MTV2 in March.

Fighting out of the Ataque Duplo gym in Brazil, Malegarie (19-0) initially began his training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at just 12-years-old before ultimately becoming a Brazilian National Jiu-Jitsu Champion. With a series of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships under his belt, "Naza" began his MMA training with UFC veteran Thiago Tavares and through the training was inspired to make MMA a profession. Having already established a reputation as one of the most dangerous and promising featherweights in Brazil with 17 finishes in his 19 victories as a professional, Malegarie is eager to prove himself to fans in the United States.

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Patricio "Pitbull" Freire Returns for Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament

A season two finalist, Patricio Freire is a very tough, well-rounded fighter who fell short in Bellator's featherweight tournament last season because of the takedown onslaught of Joe Warren. A mostly complete jiu-jitsu player (his guard is ok, not great) with fantastic striking and superb cardio, Freire is going to give most people fits in this tournament. From the Bellator press release:

Beginning in March, Freire will join already confirmed participants Wilson Reis, Daniel Straus, Georgi "Insane" Karakhanyan, Zac George, Kenny Foster, and Eric Larkin in the Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament, airing LIVE on MTV2.

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Residing and training out of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, MMA played a key role in Freire's childhood, as the dynamic featherweight began his formal training at just 14-years-old alongside his brother Patricky "Pitbull" Freire - together the pair are commonly known in the MMA world as "The Pitbull Brothers". After becoming a 2-time International Kickboxing Champion, a Brazilian Cup Jiu-Jitsu Champion, and a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, "Pitbull" made his way into the cage. Currently training daily with the likes of fellow world class Brazilians Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Anderson Silva, and Junior dos Santos, Freire is constantly surrounded by many of the best in the sport and plans to use that experience to his benefit in the upcoming Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament.

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Wilson Reis Confirmed As Season 4 Bellator Featherweight Tournament Participant

Roberto Godoi jiu-jitsu black belt Wilson Reis has made something of a name for himself beyond the jiu-jitsu circuits with his strong showing in two Bellator tournaments. He enters his third this season and should be considered a favorite to win it all with his excellent combination of athletic wrestling, aggressive position advancement and super submission finishing skills. From the Bellator press release:

Six-time Bellator veteran Wilson Reis will have a chance to become a nine-time vet in early 2011. Bellator Fighting Championships today confirmed Reis as the sixth competitor in the Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament which airs LIVE on MTV2 beginning in March 2011.  Reis made it to the semifinal round of both the Season 1 and Season 2 Featherweight Tournaments and currently boasts a Bellator record of 4-2 with an overall record of 11-2. His impressive rear naked choke of Shad Lierley at Bellator 14 can be viewed here: (http://bit.ly/hYfd4O

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Reis brings an impressive 11-2 record to the Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament that includes a 2008 submission victory over newly crowned Bellator World Bantamweight Champion Zack "Fun Size" Makovsky. 

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Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil and currently fighting out of Philadelphia, Reis began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at just 13 years of age, eventually earning his black belt in 2004 - the same year he won the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.  After reaching the pinnacle of Jiu-Jitsu, Reis decided to make a move to mixed martial arts and has been training full time ever since.

I've personally trained with Reis. I've never seen someone take the back like he can. However, if he has any deficincies that are glaring, they're in the striking department. He'll need to dramatically improve if he wants to advance and wins the finals.

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Daniel Straus Confimred As Season 4 Participant In Bellator Featherweight Tournament

Straus, again, is not as well known as he should be, but is an impressively talented featherweight. He's got decent size, although there's an issue with his ability to finish opposition. That is a liability should he advance in the tournament. From the press release:

Following an impressive decision victory over Chad Hinton at Bellator 23, Daniel Straus brings a long string of victories to the Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament this March, LIVE on MTV2. Straus is the fifth confirmed participant in the tournament, joining Eric Larkin, Kenny Foster, Georgi Karakhanyan, and Zac George.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Straus (14-3) enters the tournament on an impressive 10-fight win-streak, including victories over WEC veterans Karen Darabedyan and Joe Pearson, and UFC veteran Gideon Ray. Even more impressive is the amount of fights Straus has taken on in such a short time, as the former lightweight has competed in 17 fights over the past two years. With 11 fights alone in 2009, Straus knows the unique Bellator tournament format will be a perfect fit.

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Georgi Karakhanyan Confirmed As Season 4 Bellator Featherweight Tournament Participant

A fighter who at least made a name for himself with hardcore MMA fans during season three of Bellator was Armenian Georgi Karakhanyan. While he lost to standout wrestler Joe Warren last season, his knockout of veteran Bao Quach put him on the map. From the Bellator press release:

Karakhanyan will have a chance to avenge that [Joe Warren] loss as Bellator Fighting Championships announced today that he is the fourth confirmed participant in the Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament.  The tournament is set to debut in March 2011 and will air on MTV2.

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The former professional soccer player says that although the chance to get back in the cage with Joe Warren is always in the back of his head, he is currently focused on the three fighters standing in his way to get there.

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Karakhanyan brings an impressive 14-2-1 professional record to the tournament, which includes eight submission victories and three KOs.  Providing even more fuel to the fire, Karakhanyan was on a nine-fight win-streak prior to his loss to the current Bellator World Featherweight Champion.

Provided defensive wrestling is still as much of an issue this season as it was last season, he's going to have a hard time winning the whole show. Still, he's got suitable power for a featherweight, a diverse striking arsenal and a surprising gameness throughout the course of the fight. I don't like his overall chances, but he's too dangerous to count out.

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Zac George Confirmed As Season 4 Featherweight Bellator Tournament Participant

A former IFL lightweight fighter, featherweight and Team Quest member Zac George is now confirmed for the fourth season of Bellator. You've likely never heard of him, but that's sort of the charm of Bellator. Here's the rundown:

Residing in Oklahoma while training out of Team Quest in Oregon, George (20-3) had the luxury of competing in a variety of combat sports prior to his career in MMA. After getting his start in wrestling at just 4-years-old and eventually becoming an All-State wrestler in high school, George continued to look for new challenges. While attending the University of Oklahoma to obtain his degree in Social Studies, the aggressive Sooner picked up boxing at a local gym. It wasn't long before "The Red Devil" compiled an amateur boxing record of 15-1, an amateur kickboxing record of 18-1, and a pro kickboxing record of 2-0 with a pair of knockouts to his credit. The transition to MMA was an obvious one for George.

With eight knockouts and seven submissions in his twenty victories as a professional - including fourteen finishes in the very first round - George has clearly established himself as one of the more electrifying featherweights in the division.

I tend to think George's last win is over Bryan Goldsby doesn't tell us much. He's got capable wrestling, we know that. And he'll enter the tournament as a true featherweight, meaning size is on his side. Beyond that, it's anyone's game.

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Bellator Mixed Martial Arts Notebook: News, Updates And Signings

With the transition over to this space from BloodyElbow.com, I've been neglecting some of the less-than-premium but still relatively interesting news of the mixed martial arts world. Most notably, I've ignored news about the Bellator Fighting Championship. The number three or four North American organization (depending on where you rank Maximum Fighting Championships) is about to start their fourth season and their first run on MTV 2.

The first event kicks off on March 5th at 9pm ET from the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, California. There will be tournaments for light heavyweight, welterweight, lightweight and featherweight. Some of the notable fighters confirmed early on for this season include:

The first Bellator light heavyweight champion will be decided during Season 4 live on MTV2. The first fighter made official for the Bellator Season 4 light heavyweight tournament is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and member of the legendary Gracie family, Daniel Gracie.

Bellator's third welterweight tournament is one of the most talent-filled in mixed martial arts to date.  Fighters confirmed for the upcoming 170-pound tournament include former Bellator welterweight world champion Lyman Good; MMA veteran Jay "The Thoroughbred" Hieron; Season 2 finalist Dan Hornbuckle; undefeated Judo Olympian Rick Hawn; fast rising Brent Weedman, undefeated knockout artist Chris Lozano; British standout "Judo" Jim Wallhead, and hard-hitting Iraq War veteran Steve Carl.  The tournament winner will challenge Olympian and Bellator world champion Ben Askren for the welterweight world championship later this year.

The featherweight tournament includes Patricio Freire, Eric Larkin, Georgi Karakhanyan, Daniel Straus, Wilson Reis, Kenny Foster, and Zac George.

My early impressions are that Bellator has their work cut out for them. Non-UFC trends toward older audiences, making the MTV 2 platform large, but perhaps inappropriate. Not having high definition in many cable packages doesn't help sporting content in 2011. They also plan to run on Saturday nights this year, pitting them at least somewhat head-to-head with UFC and Strikeforce. Even if they hold events earlier in the day, their news is still going to get pushed down and out, figuratively and literally. I won't count them out, though. They've got some of the sport's top prospects, they're giving them noteworthy fights and the new platform creates some intriguing personalities.

Follow along as I update with this season's signings and news.

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