Bellator rolls into '14 on high note

Expectations early next year will be as high as they've ever been for Bellator when the promotion starts its 10th season in the mixed martial arts business.

The Viacom-owned production deserves to have that sort of weight on its shoulders as it exits a successful 2013, especially off a season that featured notable winners across six weight classes, as well as a big shift in the look of its title picture.

Say what you will about Cheick Kongo's viability, he's a name. People know him. And he fought with some life throughout the single-elimination event. He'll challenge for the belt next against new titleholder Vitaly Minakov, who at a minimum looks like a solid heavyweight. A win over Kongo will help validate Minakov (at least somewhat).

Brennan Ward sets up nicely as the next challenger for middleweight Alexander Shlemenko (who isn't a top-five fighter at 185 regardless of what Bjorn Rebney says).

Rick Hawn continues to press on, and will try to get people to forget about departed welterweight champion and fellow Olympian Ben Askren.

Will Brooks fully recovered from his only loss, making good on his talent at 155 pounds. He'll have to wait a bit for a title shot, as there's a logjam here with Michael Chandler and the injured Dave Jansen.

Patricio Freire did his thing again at 145, and could easily become Bellator champion when given the chance. Fights with Daniel Straus, Frodo Khasbulaev or Pat Curran interest me.

Joe Warren ran through competition at 135 pounds, and continues to be one of the show's best-known fighters. Can he do anything against the young menace Eduardo Dantas?

The season delivered a ratings boost for Bellator and Spike TV, which picked up momentum during a crazy November stretch that began with the pay-per-view that never was.