Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Bellator Pros and Cons
Bellator Fighting Championships is back, and I don't know about you, but I missed it. The UFC is now seemingly running on every channel except Lifetime and the Oxygen Network, but Bellator is (are?) quietly putting together increasingly impressive fight cards and a deep roster of fighters. Here are a few pros and cons about a compelling promotion that is clearly #2 in the world right now. We'll start with the cons, because this is my column, and I do things my way (sorry, I wanted to sound like a dick for a second).
The tournament format
This harkens back to the PRIDE days, where Takanori Gomi could go nuh-night at the hands of a Marcus Aurelio arm triangle and still be considered the lightweight champion. These days, Joe Warren can show up and fight the exact same way every single time because he hasn't bothered to attempt improvements as a mixed martial artist. And guess what? He can even be brutally knocked out and still keep his "title"!
Even though Pat Curran finally put his title "reign" down for a mercifully permanent nap at Bellator 60, it's nothing short of laughable that Warren held a belt in a major promotion for so long. Even announcers Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock made no attempt to gloss this over; their call of Curran-Warren was filled with them saying things like "Joe Warren has 7 MMA victories and he's been rocked in all 7 of them!" and "This is a typical Joe Warren round; he gets rocked and somehow survives and keeps pushing forward!" Not exactly a ringing endorsement. I could go another 1,000 words on Joe Warren, but I'll spare you. The point is, the fact that you can lose in a tourney and still conceivably keep your belt is both bogus and lame. Congrats to Pat Curran.
I'll give praise to the overall roster later in this piece, but I'd be pulling wool over people's eyes if I pretended that this heavyweight division was anything other than putrid. It's a horror show. This is a division where Sean McCorkle is looked at as a big signing. The crazy thing is, in this division, he IS a big signing.
Here's where it gets ugly. When you sign with Bellator, you're with them for a hot minute. Eddie Alvarez doesn't want to fight for Bellator anymore, which is understandable considering that his name was nowhere to be found in this season's lightweight tournament bracket. Alvarez recently stated that "I still have 8 or 9 months left on my Bellator contract, or one or two fights." Keep in mind that he isn't even their champ anymore. Basically, he's in no mans land, and he found himself there because after his loss to Michael Chandler, he attempted to restructure his contract. Bad move.
If you're a Bellator champion, it gets crazier. You have to wait for an entire tournament to be over to even find out who you're fighting next. And when you don't, that's when the goofy "Lombard-Prangley" matchups take place.
Bellator has to find a way to keep their champs more active against solid competition, and I'm not sure what the solution is.
Sometimes, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. With Bellator's tournament format, there are going to be layoffs. But to me, the layoffs produce more excitement and build-up within the narrow confines of my brain. One of the downfalls of Zuffa is that great fights are happening nearly every week (which is a great problem to have, but still). There's no time to think about great fights that just happened because there's always another one right around the corner.
Allow me a comparison. Whenever I see a great movie in the theater, before I even stand up, I sit there and analyze how good the movie was while the credits roll. I think about the things I liked, the things I would have changed, and how this film is going to permeate my thoughts for the next couple of days. Maybe I'm insane for thinking this way, but I'm in no rush to experience life at someone else's pace.
Well, imagine if, in my previous example, instead of the credits rolling, another great movie started up 25 seconds after the movie I just watched ended. It's too much. TOO MUCH.
(I know that was a convoluted and absurd comparison. Just go with it.)
Willingness to make changes when things aren't working
This is a biggie. Remember Bellator's inception, when they made a concerted effort to appeal to the Mexican-American audience? They signed Roger Huerta, Eddie Alvarez and a bunch of Latino dudes I'd never heard of, and they ran on ESPN Deportes. You don't remember this, do you? The reason is because it didn't work, and instead of stubbornly sticking to their guns, they decided to just be another good MMA promotion. In other news, the UFC is unequivocally the worlds #1 fighting promotion, and they just NOW got rid of Gladiator Man. On top of this, Bruce Buffer is STILL employed. Zuffa rules the world right now, but there are still cues they could take from Bellator.
There are other examples. Last season, Bellator made the inexplicable decision to not only run on Saturday nights (which is the same night as ... well, you know), but to do so on MTV2. Apparantely, they wanted to rope in those 15 year old kids who were tuning in for "Parental Control". Anyway, Bjorn Rebney made the right move and decided to slowly make the move over to Spike TV. He also abandoned the Saturday slot and opted for Friday, which makes sense for so many reasons that I won't bore you with all of them. The right moves are being made.
I love what they're doing here. Sure, there's still the occasional "Geez, Hector Lombard hasn't fought in awhile, and the middleweight tournament hasn't even started yet ... I wonder if Trevor Prangley is busy?" (most recently evidenced by the outright silly Michael Chandler-Akihiro Gono pairing) panic move, but they're becoming few and far between.
They have a good crop of relevant veterans (Marlon Sandro, Pat Curran, Hector Lombard, Marius Zaromskis, Eddie Alvarez, Brian Foster, etc.), as well as an ever-increasing list of young guys that are improving each time out (Douglas Lima, Michael Chandler, Alexandre "Popo" Bezzera, Patricky Friere, Eduardo Dantas, Marcin Held, etc.). It's becoming a really nice balance of talent, which really manifests itself in a positive way because they do shows every week. There's a reason the same guys fight at every DREAM show; it's because there are no other options. Bellator has tons of them.
All in all, this is a promotion that is going places. They've managed to avoid being Zuffa'd (i.e. bought just for the hell of it), and they've distanced themselves from the rest of the pack quality and quantity wise (shows every weekend, good fighters, personable commentary). Bjorn Rebney is a man who knows things. I'm a fan.