What to Make of This Era of Bellator

So the dust has settled and we’ve now had a chance to get a little perspective on Bellators announcement of Ken Shamrock vs Royce Gracie with Kimbo vs Dada 5000 as the co headliner.

And guess what, they are deadly serious. This is actually happening.

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Bellator MMA has long held the perceived distinction of being the number two promotion on the globe. Rightly so? I guess the answer to that is entirely subjective but what we do know is not many promotions are the spectacle that Bellator currently is. I say spectacle with entirely negative connotations though as opposed to positive unfortunately.

Bellator garnered it’s reputation living by the phrase ‘the toughest competition in sports’. The tournament format was fun and it did actually give us the best and toughest fights possible in their culmination, at least the ones at Bellators disposal. Bjorn Rebney for all his faults had found a niche, a positive niche and capitalised on it by getting fighters of good quality to battle it out until the two best were left standing and competing for a shot at the belt. This was enjoyable and helped promote Bellator comfortably into the number two spot in North America, arguably the world. Eventually the format started to wain, at least from the inside as Bellator decided to start putting on ‘super fights’ – in other words single match ups that were non tournament related- to keep things fresh. This was seemingly the start of the end for Bjorn -timeline wise, there were obviously other factors at play- and before long he was ousted by Viacom and replaced by an old hand in Scott Coker, the guy formerly at the helm of Strikeforce.

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The announcement of Cokers arrival was one met with relative joy by fighters, fans and media alike. I for one was pretty happy about it given how Strikeforce had shown to be a very good promotion with some great athletes. As the weeks went by we saw some good, fun and talented signings by Coker, namely guys like Paul Daley Melvin Manhoef, Georgi Karakhanyan, Chris Honeycutt, Augusto Sakai, über prospect Aaron Pico and the new MW champion Rafael Carvalho. The roster was filling out and gaining more depth along with re-signing of LHW Champion Liam McGeary at a later date. With this Bellator also introduced a change in format. The tournaments were now an after thought or at least for the most part. Bellator would now be in the match making business as opposed to fighters earning their next match up through tournament progression. Enter Rich Chou. Coker’s matchmaker at Strikeforce had now joined the perceived number two promotion. Bellator were on a roll.




Or were they?

The tides seemingly turned some point after this. Fighters started becoming stagnant. Recently their HW champ Vitaly Minakov has been having contractual problems, the very good HW Blagoi Ivanov left for greener pastures and Bellator created a poor scenario with Gavin Sterritt simply due to association. To add to these less than flattering situations fighters were being signed solely due to their previous exposure from being signed to the UFC. (Something which Bjorn was never really a fan of, at least not as blatant as this) and the fights being made became something akin to the PRIDE era, where shameful and freakshow fights were the norm. Don’t get me wrong, there was an era where this was enjoyable. The early to mid noughts really pushed the boat out on this in Japan, be it a culture thing seeing a guy 6’5 and 150kg behemoth taking on a 5’10, 70kg man, or maybe something else, either way it was all the rage around a decade ago.

 

The sport at that point was still trying to garner mainstream attention and some form of legitimacy so eventually when PRIDE was bought out by the UFC in ’07 these freakshow fights  gladly became a thing of the past. The sport was moving on. Progressive and on a quest to legitimacy.

 




Since that point no large promotion had gone the route of  the freakshow fight. It was an era thing when promotions were still trying to find that edge with a caveman gimmick rather than letting the talent speak for itself. Unfortunately Bellator seem to be heading back down this outdated path. We will go over this a bit later in the article but for now let’s take a look at Bellator and their penchant to rely on former UFC fighters to sell their product.

Since the arrival of Scott Coker and Rich Chou we have seen these former UFC fighters scheduled to headline or co headline a Bellator event;

  • John Alessio
  • Houston Alexander
  • Joey Beltran
  • Stephan Bonnar
  • Francis Carmont
  • Paul Daley
  • Phil Davis
  • Royce Gracie
  • Kendall Grove
  • Melvin Guillard
  • Quinton Jackson
  • Cheick Kongo
  • Josh Neer
  • Tito Ortiz
  • Karo Parisyan
  • Ken Shamrock
  • Kimbo Slice
  • Sokoudjou

Along with those guys headlining or co headlining, Bellator have also signed upwards of 20 former UFC fighters since Coker and Chou joined the promotion with only one actively choosing to go to Bellator (Phil Davis) with the rest released due to poor form. Other recognisable names who have recently signed include Josh Koscheck (0-5) and Melvin Guillard (2-5) who both had very poor runs in their final UFC fights.

Bellator have snapped these fighters up purely to cash in on their name value which was garnered in the UFC. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem itself if they weren’t in direct competition with the UFC.

My understanding is it’s an easy way for them to spend less money on promoting fighters when all the hard work garnering attention has been done by another promotion. Pretty shameful that a supposed number two promotion resorts to this sort of promoting rather than pushing the homegrown talent they already have signed and helped nurture. This is very much something we expect from smaller regional shows with less expenditure, not a number two.

 

Just to hammer it home fighters such as Patricio Friere, Will Brooks and even people on behalf of Liam McGeary have spoken out against these shameful promotional tactics which Bellator have employed since Coker and Chou came on board.

It definitely goes someway to show how frustrated fighters are feeling about this current situation when three of the promotions champions felt that they weren’t being promoted or at least given the same opportunity to shine as guys like 51 year old and five year retired Ken Shamrock, or a 41 year old five year retired former street fighter like Kimbo Slice.

It has to be disheartening when you are a championship caliber fighter in the prime of your career but get overlooked in favour of guys coming out of retirement, all so your bosses can gain some misleading and unsustainable viewing figures.

Just to show how Bellator have had a penchant for this, here is a list of fights featuring former UFC fighters over Bellators homegrown talent. All these fights have headlined or co headlined an event in the Coker/Chou era.

 

  • Bellator 124: Beltran vs Newton -Main
  • Bellator 125: Parisyan vs Gonzalez – Co Main
  • Bellator 128: Burrell vs Page – Co Main
  • Bellator 129: Neer vs Bradley – Main with Alexander vs Zwicker as Co Main
  • Bellator 131: Ortiz vs Bonnar – Main
  • Bellator 134: Kongo vs Lawal – Co Main
  • Bellator 137: Grove vs Halsey – Main
  • Bellator 138: Kimbo vs Shamrock – Main
  • Bellator 139: Kongo vs Volkov – Main along with Alessio vs Rickels as Co Main
  • Bellator 140: Daley vs Olson – Co Main
  • Bellator 141: Guillard vs Girtz – Main
  • Bellator 142: Ortiz v McGeary – Main along with Davis vs Carmont as Co Main and Daley vs Gonzalez as Co Main on the Glory portion of the card
  • Bellator 143: Grove vs Beltran – Co Main

By my calculations that shows in this current Bellator era they have chosen to promote former UFC fighters in the headline or co headline spot 13 times as opposed to 8 which have been headlined or co headlined by homegrown talent.

That figure alone shows the type of promoting Bellator are favouring. The quick, cheap and shameful way instead of building up their own talent to help the future potential of the company.

They are doing a complete disservice to their own future by promoting old, former UFC fighters over their young talent that could sustain them numbers long after said former UFC fighters have retired. I’d use the term shortsighted. Sporadic spikes in viewership as opposed to solid sustainable future numbers.

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Not only has Bellator blatantly taken to promoting former UFC fighters as headliners and co headliners but it has also been actively making numerous squash matches, ie; mismatched fighters in order to give a favourable outcome of a fight.

Most recently and probably most noticeable has been Michael Page and his run of opponents since the NahShon Burrell fight. I feel that fight was probably the catalyst for this trend in regards to Page. He looked very beatable and human against a middling, former UFC fighter who was released for under performing in the UFC and subsequently released from Bellator after showing some vulnerabilities in Page. To this point Bellator had promoted Page as the next Anderson Silva yet he looked very normal against a guy that was 2-3 in his fights prior to the Page fight. Hence the shift from matching Page up with somewhat legitimate opponents.

Worryingly since then Page has been matched up with two guys making their Bellator debuts and one in the midst of a terrible run.

First it was Curtis Millender. A fight which ultimately never came to fruition but Millender, a regional guy who had wins over low level regional guys had been promoted to the big leagues and subsequently would get stopped in his first two Bellator fights, thus showing what a mismatch that would have been.

Next up Page was given Rudy Bears. A 36 year old regional vet in the midst of a 6-10 run. Page would starch Bears in just over a minute.

Page’s most recent fight was against relative unknown Charlie Ontiveros who had fought on Legacy cards before with mixed results. Ontiveros would enter the fight 3-3 in his previous six fights. Again Page would starch his opponent in the first taking a little over three minutes.

This is indicative of how Bellator tries to fool gullible fans into believing hyperbole over actual facts.

I could understand if Page wasn’t unbeaten and hadn’t been on the Bellator books for over 3 years but he has so these fights show poor matchmaking reminiscent of over a decade ago in Japan. It brings up questions both ethically and morally in regards to fighter safety and how comfortable they are misleading the fans.

Please don’t think Page is the sole example either. Here are just a few examples of some of the other guys Rich Chou and Bellator have thrust into evident squash matches. Current Featherweight champion Daniel Straus taking on regional champ Henry Corrales in Corrales first ever Bellator fight. Paul Daley taking on limited fighter Denis Olson in Olson’s first Bellator fight. Former Middleweight title challenger Brennan Ward taking on newcomer Curtis Millender at Welterweight along with what was probably the most egregiously overmatched fight I’ve seen against replacement fighter Roger Carroll.

I really can’t condone squash matches at any level of the sport never mind a supposed number two promotion making them, and pretty consistantly at that.

As mentioned earlier, the issues surrounding squash matches are very much fighter safety centric. So on that subject I’d like to raise another concerning point in regards to Bellator matchmaking. The geriatric fights.

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These last twelve months we have seen an influx of fights being made between former retired fighters. Some of which never truly were MMA fighters, at least in the conventional sense, re; Mixed.

These gimmick driven events have come to be referred to as ‘Tent Pole’ or ‘Showcase’ events by Scott Coker. Theatrics and optics over substance and meaningful fights. A circus if you will.

Fights such as Tito Ortiz vs Stephan Bonnar I thought to myself

‘Well, it’s two past their prime UFC fighters. One retired on the back of a failed PED test and one who left the UFC in the midst of a 2-7 run. But oh well it’s not too bad considering one was still active, although briefly retired and the other was only retired for a short span too’

I could deal with that as at that point I certainly thought it was a one off. Boy was I wrong.

Since that fight it’s like Bellator has kept the gimmick and tried upping the ante with each new ludicrous ‘Showcase’ event.

Next up came Kimbo vs Shamrock. A fight which had been scheduled at the doomed promotion Elite XC seven years previously. A fight between a former internet sensation who had never shown true Mixed Martial Arts skills and was five years removed from his last MMA fight vs a fighter who peaked in the mid 90s and again was five years removed from his last MMA fight.

By all accounts it was a ridiculous match to make and one thoroughly undeserving of a headlining spot over Bellators’ actual talent. Certainly not over the Featherweight championship fight between Patricio Friere and the recent tourney winner Daniel Weichel.

The fight itself was a mockery when it finally came to fruition. There were calls of it being a fix but in reality it was two old, poor fighters looking old and poor at fighting. It was sloppy, lacked technique or skill and generally portrayed a bad image for a reputed number two promotion.

Now, this is were the problems lie. The event did solid numbers. All be it misleading and unsustainable due to this being a freakshow fight that crossed demographics. The intent seemed to be to gain some casuals on the back of Kimbo’s -and to a lesser extent Shamrock’s- name. Which I question how sustainable that is and if it even worked. Bellator went from gaining 1.6m average across the card with it peaking at 2.1m in the main event to gaining 764k average viewership with a peak at 988k in the very next.

To put this into context the six events prior and six events after the ‘showcase’ or ‘tent pole’ event the figures show minimal to no gains in average viewing figures.

The six fights prior to Bellator 138 gained an average rating of 677k with an average peak of 992k.  Post Bellator 138 the average was 19k higher at 686k while the average peak came in 70k lower at 922k.

These ‘showcase’ events which feature old fighters to draw misleading and unsustained numbers really do nothing to help the legitimacy of the sport in a time where MMA is gaining exposure and craving for the mainstream. If anything it’s a blatant disregard for fighter health and a way to fool gullible fans who -from the numbers- don’t come back to watch the product with any real consistency.

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And now, the proverbial straw that broke the camels back -especially for this fan-.

Shamrock vs Gracie, yes Ken Shamrock vs Royce Gracie headlining a fight in 2016 with a co headliner of Kimbo vs Dada 5000. Go figure.

For this part I’d like to list some facts to save time as I could honestly write all night on how truly pathetic these fights are.

I’ll be removing the names to allow us to see these facts more objectively. Lets start with the co headliner then onto the headliner:

  • Fighter A is 41 years old and has had one MMA fight in 5 years.
  • Fighter B is 38 years old and come fight time won’t have had an MMA fight in 5 years.
  • Fighter A‘s only win since 2009 has been against a 51 year old.
  • Fighter B has only ever beat two opponents, their combined record is 1-16.
  • Fighter A is 2-2 in his last 4 fights including a 14 second loss against a guy with a 0-4 UFC record and a 1-2 Bellator record.
  • Fighter C is 51 years old and has had one fight in 5 years.
  • Fighter D is 48 and hasn’t fought in 8 years.
  • Fighter C is 2-8 in his last 10 fights.
  • Fighter D tested positive for nandrolone in his last MMA fight along with being knocked out in the one prior to that.
  • Fighter C has only beat 2 fighters in the last 10 years. One has a 6-10 record, the other 32-54.
  • Fighter D hasn’t won consecutive fights since 1994.
  • Fighter C last won consecutive fights (2) between 1996-2000

From the facts provided above it really is shameful that these guys are not only competing but are actually headlining an event in 2016.

Again Bellators penchant for using former retired UFC fighters raises it’s ugly head again. The inclusion of Dada 5000 is a new low for Bellator though. The guy has gone from beating two guys with a combined record of 1-16 to being inactive for five years to being signed to fight as a co headliner in the perceived second best promotion in the world.

It’s disgraceful and readily apparent that Bellator have no shame.

So much for ‘the toughest competition in sports‘.

 

 

Photo Credit: bjee.com, sherdog.com, Bellator.com, mmajunkie.com, mmafighting.com

All factual information can be verified. All opinions have been determined from having read the facts and making an informed opinion. 

 

 

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Ryan Thomas
To sum Ryan up in a few words - General MMA nerd.

He predominantly enjoys the UFC, ONE, WSoF and Bellator but is also a big fan of Russian and European MMA, particularly M1, Absolute Championship Berkut, Fight Nights and BAMMA.

He enjoys scouting for prospects and trying to find 'the next big thing', as well as being an avid fan and practitioner of Muay Thai.

Any questions regarding MMA hit him up on twitter or FB.

Peace

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