If something is considered the biggest, does that also mean it is automatically considered the best?
McDonald’s is the biggest fast food chain in the world. Does that mean it makes the best burgers and fries? Most people would probably say no. Budweiser and Bud Light are considered the biggest (i.e. the most widely sold) beers in the world. Are those considered the best beers around? Most beer snobs and neckbeard hipsters would probably also say no.
The UFC is the biggest game in town in mixed martial arts. This fact is indisputable. It puts on the biggest events, and its roster is full of the biggest names and some of the very best fighters in the world. But does that mean the UFC is always the best game in town when it comes to MMA, hands down?
I would say no.
Bellator MMA has established itself as a viable alternative for fight fans that tire of UFC’s inconsistency, politics and inclination toward style over substance. The UFC frequently hands out title shots and interim titles like party favors, with little to no rhyme or reason behind it. However, Bellator is catering to the true fight fan by crowning champions the old-fashioned way – in the cage.
However, Bellator is also taking a unique and fun approach to crowning some of its champions by holding Grand Prix tournaments, in the vein of K-1 and the former Pride Fighting Championship. Bellator used the Grand Prix to crown a new heavyweight champion in Ryan Bader and might have new welterweight and featherweight champions, depending on how those Grand Prix tournaments turn out.
Prior to Bellator President Scott Coker coming on board, Bellator would find out who its champions are in the standard tournament format. But it introduced a twist to its Grand Prix format this weekend at Bellator 228, when the featherweight fighters who advanced past the opening round were able to either choose the date of their next fight or their next opponent in a “Dating Game”-style format, complete with a stage, Mauro Ranallo playing emcee and the Bellator ring girls putting on their best game show performances.
Can you imagine the UFC ever doing anything like that? Thinking outside the box while paying homage to what many consider to be the glory days of combat sports? Bellator’s Grand Prix tournaments have already led to some memorable moments, including Bader winning the heavyweight title with a first-round knockout of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko and Michael “Venom” Page suffering his first career loss after being knocked out by Douglas Lima.
In addition to Grand Prix tournaments and mimicking game shows, Bellator has become a place for fighters who feel like they didn’t receive opportunities elsewhere – mostly in the UFC – and finally have a chance to shine. Fighters like Bader, Phil Davis, Gegard Mousasi, Rory MacDonald, Benson Henderson and Valerie Letourneau have found new life in Bellator and in many cases, finally put a title around their waist.
While the UFC is loath to fully embrace the “double champion” concept and basically forced Daniel Cormier and Conor McGregor to relinquish one of the title belts they held simultaneously, Bellator has not displayed any urgency in having Bader give up the light heavyweight title he already held after he won the Heavyweight Grand Prix earlier this year, and featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire appears in no hurry to give up the Bellator lightweight title, which he won after knocking out Michael Chandler in May.
The UFC is home to some of the best fighters in the world, like Cormier, McGregor, Stipe Miocic, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Max Holloway, Amanda Nunes and Jon Jones. But the narrative that the UFC is the only organization with good fighters could not be farther from the truth.
Bader and Pitbull are firmly in the discussion for best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Bellator has plenty of talent who may not be known to a wide MMA audience, but who are still on the rise, including Ilima Lei-Macfarlane, Rafael Lovato Jr., Neiman Gracie, Ed Ruth and Tyrell Fortune.
The false narrative that MMA only truly exists in the UFC’s universe also includes the MMA fanbase itself. It would behoove large swaths of MMA fans to expand their horizons, stop drinking Dana White’s Kool-Aid and take in a Bellator card or two. They might see MMA as it’s truly meant to be – the best fighters in the world finding out who the best actually is the traditional way, while also incorporating some new twists to make MMA truly fun to watch.
Photo Credit: CBSSports.com