Chandler advances by mauling 'Pitbull'


Bellator Fighting Championships needs several things to be a long-term, viable mixed martial arts promotion. Among those things is that the public must regard its fighters as legitimate, talented and dangerous enough to test the company's champions.

In some weight classes that's easier said than done, and Saturday's card in Atlantic City, N.J., showed that.

The middleweight division appears to be problematic for the company. Its champion, Hector Lombard, is a heavy hitter who has drawn attention for his made-for-viral-video knockouts. Yet the level of his opposition leaves his results in a tenuous place. Is he as good as a 29-2-1 record would indicate, or is his success based upon fighting washed-up names from the past? We still don't know after Lombard pasted Falaniko Vitale this past weekend. And based on the dynamics of the division, we might not know even after the next contender emerges from the company's middleweight tournament. The weight class has a long history of being fractured, and talent is dry outside of Zuffa since Strikeforce was brought into the fold.

Lightweight is another story, as more fighters have potential at and around 155 pounds than in any other class in combat sports. Eddie Alvarez is well regarded in most circles because he competed and in most cases succeeded against high-level opposition before entering Bellator. In his last bout, a decision over Pat Curran, most observers felt the Philadelphian went unchallenged in a boring fight. Clearly, the tournament format won't always deliver noteworthy challengers. But sometimes it will, and based on the unblemished performances of his next contender Michael Chandler, Alvarez will face a much more serious threat later this year. Chandler, 25, won three fights in three months to earn the opportunity.

It's case by case, of course. No one wants Lombard's career to waste away as he mows over dead grass. Unless Bellator finds the Cuban a Michael Chandler -- someone the public will believe has a chance to win the belt -- he'll be a fringe player and never get the due he might be owed.

Here are grades for fighters competing in Bellator 44, the only event of note in the U.S. this past weekend:

Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.