If you browsed social media following Bellator 216 last weekend, you would think that card and the Bellator 215 card the night before were complete and utter disasters, with some speculating that Bellator might be in financial trouble as a result. When in reality, “MMA Twitter” simply once again subjected itself to hyperbole.
The cards as both were originally presented boasted multiple marquee matchups, including Matt Mitrione vs. Sergei Kharitonov, a no. 1 contender bout at heavyweight between Cheick Kongo and Vitaly Minakov, the return of Mirko Cro Cop to stateside MMA against Roy Nelson and the much-hyped grudge match between Michael “Venom” Page and Paul Daley as part of the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix.
I will be the first to admit that neither card went as planned, and I can also understand the arguments that both cards failed to deliver on its promises. The first sign was the main event of Bellator 215, which ended in 15 seconds after an accidental kick to the nuts by Mitrione rendered Kharitonov unable to continue and later resulted in him suffering a hemorrhoid (which I didn’t even know was possible and sounds like an unspeakably painful insult to injury).
The bout between Kongo and Minakov also did not live up to expectations, especially when looking at Minakov’s record in his previous fights and the rate and fashion in which he finished his opponents. Kongo’s victory should assure him a title shot against Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader and even though Kongo’s performance did not inspire confidence in his chances against Bader, Kongo explained after the fight that his performance against Minakov was affected by health issues.
However, the biggest complaint with last weekend’s Bellator cards was the main event of Bellator 216. Page and Daley were promoted as having a strong disdain, if not hatred, for each other. Given each fighter’s history, there was an expectation of explosive striking and a highlight reel knockout taking place. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, as Daley tried to actually grapple with Page for five rounds before coming up short in a unanimous decision.
Simply put, Mitrione’s low blow to Kharitonov was a fluke and happens all the time in MMA – even though not every low blow causes a hemorrhoid. Given the promotion for MVP/Daley, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect an exciting, action-packed fight. While it didn’t unfold the way fans expected, it shouldn’t be viewed as a trainwreck, either. Considering Page’s skillset and abilities, the fact Daley – who, it should be noted, isn’t a wrestler and hates wrestling, as we saw in his fight against Jon Fitch last year – was even able to get Page on the mat is a miracle.
Page’s footwork, movement and use of angles during his fights pretty much guaranteed that Daley wasn’t going to get a clean shot at him, so the course of action Daley took in that fight was really the only one he could take. Thankfully, not everyone in the Twittersphere wanted to crap on last weekend’s offerings from Bellator.
On top of certain bouts receiving unfair criticism, there were also some positive developments for Bellator last weekend that should not be dismissed. A group of prospects put on promising performances, including Austin Vanderford, Logan Storley and Bellator’s latest female-fighter-prospect-du-jour, Valerie Loureda. Even the most jaded and cynical fan should be able to admit Bellator does a good job signing and developing young fighters, and high-profile cards like Bellator 215 and 216 were good places for them to make a good impression.
If there is one trait that bonds all MMA fans with those who cover the industry for a living, for good or ill, it’s an undying love of snark and being the first to spew a “hot take” as part of a quest for likes and retweets. Many fans and writers also like to go full “LOL Bellator,” which is to say they enjoy having a laugh at Bellator’s expense for the apparent crime of not being the UFC.
Constructive criticism of the MMA product should be welcomed and encouraged. It’s the only way we can hold those who put on cards accountable. But to throw around words like “disaster” or “bankruptcy” when describing Bellator 215 and 216, or implying that Bellator risks entering dire financial straits because of the results of those cards, is at best an exaggeration and at worst, fundamentally dishonest.
Photo Credit: Bellator MMA