Give Bellator MMA credit for bringing Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir to Illinois recently for Bellator 198.
Sure, technically the card didn’t actually take place in Chicago, instead originating from the Allstate Arena in nearby Rosemont, but for argument sake, we’ll call it “Chicago.”
Emelianenko scored one of the biggest wins of his career when he flattened Mir in the first minute of the first round to advance in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. For the San Jose-based Bellator, the performance was a much-needed spark to the next few months of planned events in hopes of gaining ground on the UFC.
Bellator isn’t quite there yet, but they have been opening up the wallet and are doing things just a bit different than the UFC – such as the grand prix, which Bellator president Scott Coker has said is something we could be seeing more of in the near future.
The UFC last paid Chicago a visit in 2016 with Valentina Shevchenko besting former champion Holly Holm on a FOX card. Over 10,000 fans packed the United Center that night, a number that is sure to be bettered this coming June when they return for UFC 225.
Like Bellator with Emelianenko-Mir, the MMA debut of Dillon Danis, Neiman Gracie and Rafael Lovato Jr., the UFC has stacked the Chicago card for midwest MMA fans.
In the headliner, Robert Whittaker defends his middleweight title against Yoel Romero in a rematch from their 2017 meeting that was won by Whittaker. Colby Covington, who once competed for Iowa Central Community College on the wrestling mats alongside the likes of Joe Soto and former champion Jon Jones, takes on Rafael dos Anjos for the interim welterweight title in the co-main event.
Holm returns, as she battles Megan Anderson in a key female featherweight scrap, along with former champion Alistair Overeem taking on Curtis Blaydes at heavyweight.
Oh, and of course, ex-WWE superstar Phil “CM Punk” Brooks makes his second appearance inside the Octagon when he squares off with Mike Jackson.
The prelims are likely to feature an array of former UFC champions and title contenders such as Joseph Benavidez, Claudia Gadelha, Carla Esparza, Andrei Arlovski, Ricardo Lamas and Rashad Evans.
Needless to say, fight fans around Chicago and neighboring states will have quite the opportunity on June 9 to see some of the best fighters of all-time in action once more.
Not bad for a city that has held just five UFC events ever.