Bellator MMA elects not to renew lightweight Will Brooks' contract

Bellator MMA shook up the landscape of its lightweight division on Saturday by releasing champion Will Brooks after choosing not to renew his contract.

"Will Brooks' contract is ending, and we made a decision not to renew it," Bellator MMA president Scott Coker told MMAjunkie.com.

The promotion also waived all negotiation rights, making Brooks (17-1) a free agent. "Ill Will" has fought for the promotion since 2013 and compiled a 10-1 record. He won an interim title in May 2014 before winning the vacant belt in November of that year, and he has defended it twice.

The company also announced during Saturday's broadcast of Bellator 154 that Patricky "Pitbull" Freire will fight Michael Chandler in a rematch for Brooks' vacant 155-pound strap on June 24 in St. Louis, Missouri. The bout will serve as the co-main event of the promotion's second hybrid MMA/kickboxing card titled Bellator 157: Dynamite 2.

Freire (16-7) and Chandler (14-3) previously met in May 2011 in a lightweight tournament final, with Chandler winning by unanimous decision.

"I'm excited. This fight has been a couple years in the making," Chandler said. "I fought him a couple of years ago. It brings me back to that run I made to the lightweight title; I had to go through [Freire] to get to Eddie Alvarez. So I'm excited. He has had some spectacular knockouts since then. He's an exciting guy and I'm excited to step into the cage and compete against him.

Freire, the older "Pitbull" brother, has won both of his fights in 2016, most recently a decision victory over Kevin Souza at Bellator 152 in April. Freire's January win over Ryan Couture was an early knockout-of-the-year candidate.

Chandler has won two in a row after dropping three straight, including back-to-back title fights to Brooks in 2014.

"I'm thinking it's going to be more of the same from [Freire], but I have gotten better by leaps and bounds," Chandler said. "This is a fight that fans want to see. I'm excited to put on a show like I always do and get that title."

Chandler was originally scheduled to fight Josh Thomson on Saturday, but Thomson pulled out due to injury.

Bellator also announced that heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov has been stripped of his title due to inactivity. Minakov (17-0) hasn't fought for the promotion since 2014 but has stayed active by fighting three times in his native Russia. Bellator is retaining the rights to the 31-year-old.

The main event of the Dynamite card features the Bellator return of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson against Japan's Satoshi Ishii, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist in judo.