CHICAGO, Ill. (February 24, 2010) - Bellator Fighting Championships put the final pieces in place for its much-anticipated Season 2 welterweight tournament today with the signings of knockout artist Brett Cooper (12-5) and UFC veteran Ryan "The Tank Engine" Thomas (10-3).
Cooper and Thomas are the seventh and eighth confirmed participants in Bellator's eight-man 170 lbs. tournament, joining Ben Askren, Dan Hornbuckle, "Judo" Jim Wallhead, Jacob McClintock, Steve Carl and Sean Pierson. Overall, the group boasts a combined winning percentage of .816 (89 wins, 20 losses).
First-round matchups will be announced next week.
Thomas could be the comeback story of Bellator Season 2. As a top prospect out of Central Illinois, he received a contract from the UFC in 2008, but was released after back-to-back losses to top-ranked opponents Ben Saunders and Matt Brown. After a nine-month hiatus from the cage, Thomas returned to MMA in dramatic fashion this past August with a triangle choke submission of Ryan Stout just 1:39 into Round 1. He is looking to regain his status as one of the world's top 170 lbs. prospects during Bellator Season 2.
Cooper, meanwhile, is looking to build on his fast-growing reputation as a knock-out specialist and giant killer. The Long Beach, Calif., native enters Bellator's welterweight tournament with seven victories over the course of his last eight fights. Six of those seven wins have come by KO or TKO with the other coming via anaconda choke. He is perhaps best known, however, for his December 2007 win over the heavily favored Rory Markham (a top UFC stalwart) during the IFL Grand Prix Finals - a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that Cooper took the fight as a last-minute replacement on just two weeks' notice.
"Cooper and Thomas are two great additions to our world-class welterweight tournament," said Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney. "Cooper's power presents big problems for anyone he fights and Thomas has the potential to upset anyone in our 170 division."
Thomas said he welcomes the challenge, adding that he's learned a lot from his experiences in the UFC and has "been training like a mad man to get ready and show all of the Bellator fans what I've got."
"There's no easy fight in this tournament," he said. "Everyone's a stud and whoever wins is going to be really proud of what they accomplish. As I look at it now, though, I see myself standing there at the end of the road."
Cooper has similar expectations, saying that Bellator's tournament format "really suits a guy like me who has some good experience and a well-rounded skill set but is still looking to make a name for himself."
He's also excited to fight on national TV thanks to Bellator's landmark broadcast alliance with FOX Sports Net, NBC and Telemundo.
"It's super exciting," he said. "To fight in front of millions of MMA fans and all of my friends and family-words can't really explain it."
Very solid pick ups, and what is Strikeforce doing again?