Is it just me, or does mixed martial arts as a whole seem to be in a bit of a lull right now?
Sure, there have been several fight cards lately. The UFC has put on a pay-per-view and a few televised Fight Night cards over the last month or so. Regional organizations like Legacy Fighting Alliance continue to put on cards that showcase the next crop of MMA talent. But as a whole, the MMA world has seemed strangely silent.
But there is an organization that appears to be gearing up for a big push to make a bigger mark in the MMA world, and perhaps even begin challenging the UFC as being appointment television for fans. Of course, I’m talking about Bellator MMA.
The UFC is experiencing a down period at the moment. Its last few fight cards have been surprisingly decent at best (like it’s recent Fight Night card in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) to underwhelming and forgettable (UFC 215 earlier this month). The promotion currently has no big stars, given that UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor has not announced if he will return to MMA after making in the neighborhood of $100 million to box Floyd Mayweather last month. The UFC is also reeling from the likelihood that former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will be suspended again for failing another drug test.
The UFC does have talented fighters who can help fill the void, including flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and lightweight contenders Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee, who are all competing at UFC 216 on Oct. 7. The promotion is also likely banking on its second-ever show at Madison Square Garden, UFC 217, drumming up big business in November.
But while the UFC is relying on fighters it seems reluctant to promote, Bellator is laying the seeds for an eventful fall and winter by putting on events featuring exciting fights with fighters that all MMA fans should want to see. It began with Bellator’s most recent offering this weekend.
Bellator 183 on Saturday had the air of one of the “big top” events that the promotion has become so fond of putting on under Scott Coker. On the whole, the card delivered on that feeling. The main card featured memorable finishes by fighters like Paul Daley, Goiti Yamauchi and Aaron Pico, who finally gave a glimpse of the potential and hype that’s followed him into MMA. The card also featured the debut of former UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson, who defeated Javy Ayala in a surprisingly entertaining bout.
However, the card did stumble toward the finish line when the main event between Benson Henderson and Patricky “Pitbull” Freire didn’t exactly deliver. But it didn’t diminish what was overall a very entertaining presentation by Bellator, and there is more to come from the promotion as we begin to wind down 2017 and enter 2018.
Over the next few months, fighters such as Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas, Darrion Caldwell, recent free agent acquisition Gegard Mousasi, Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal, Liam McGeary, Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, James Gallagher and Bellator featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire are all scheduled to compete. You may recognize some of the names on that list – if you don’t, it would behoove you to put down the UFC Kool-Aid and realize there is more to MMA than whatever Dana White posts on Twitter.
Bellator will also begin 2018 on the right foot, as its first card in the new year will feature welterweight champion Douglas Lima defending his belt against another free-agent acquisition in Rory MacDonald. Simply put, on paper, the upcoming fight cards that Bellator has planned appear to be more appealing than anything the UFC has in the works – including UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden, which features three title fights and the return of Georges St. Pierre.
Bellator appearing to roll out its big guns and make a push for more eyeballs is just smart business. It’s spent the last year or two building its brand domestically and internationally under Coker, and these fight cards appear to be the next step in boosting its profile among MMA fans. Unfortunately, there continues to be a sect of uneducated fans who refuse to acknowledge that MMA exists outside the scope of the UFC:
hmmm, Scott Coker, UFC rejects, 50 year olds, what isn't terrible about it?
— Mo Leicester (@leicester_mo) September 24, 2017
But Bellator can’t afford to waste its time dealing with such ignorance. It must continue building on what it started at Bellator 183 this weekend, and create new stars and put on cards with fights that fans want to see. If it does that, the UFC may find itself with real competition as we enter 2018. Which would be a win-win for fans everywhere.
Photo Credit: Dave Mandel/USA Today Sports