“The Dreamcatcher,” who won the vacant title in a one-sided thumping of then-welterweight champ Douglas Lima at Bellator 250 last October, is already the first two-time belt holder in the history of the division, and in Friday’s main event, he will seek to become the first to successfully defend the middleweight title during two separate reigns. Standing in his way will be John Salter, the grappling specialist whose only loss in nine Bellator appearances came against former champ Rafael Lovato Jr. It is something he and Mousasi have in common, as Lovato took the title from him a little over two years ago, only to be forced into early retirement due to a brain condition known as cerebral cavernoma.
While Lovato Jr’s story is a tragedy for the former champ and a loss for the sport, it is 100% on brand for one of Bellator’s most hard-luck divisions. Since its inception in 2009, the Bellator middleweight belt has been stripped or vacated as many times (3) as it has been won from a reigning champ. Things got off to a rocky start when inaugural champion Hector Lombard won the title with a violent stoppage of Jared Hess, then immediately put the belt in mothballs, defending it just once in nearly three years before bolting for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. While his successor, Alexander Shlemenko, did his best to make up for lost time, winning the belt and defending it three times in rapid succession, since Shlemenko’s loss to Brandon Halsey it has been rough sledding again for long stretches.
Here is the 12-year history of the Bellator middleweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. It tells the story of a division that has boasted some outstanding fighters, but has thus far struggled to catch a break.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration