Bellator Needs To Start Valuing Its Own Talent

Bellator Needs To Start Valuing Its Own Talent


Bellator MMA’s motto is that “Title shots are earned, not given.”

Since 2009 the tournament style promotion, formerly known as “Bellator Fighting Championships”, has lived and died by that credo. That a fighter is going to have to “earn the right to fight for that championship”, as Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has been known to say.

Based on that model, competitive contracts, 100K purses and the addition of a network deal with Viacom / SPIKE, Bellator has been able to grow their business to a point where they can lay claim to being home to some of the best fighters in the sport.

Fighters such as Michael Chandler, Eddie Alvarez, Pat Curran, Ben Askren, Douglas Lima, Rick Hawn and others, are all world class fighters, and ones that wouldn’t look out of place in the UFC’s Octagon.

To the point, one of the names on that list, Eddie Alvarez, was a much sought after fighter by the senior promotion, and save for issues of contractual obligation to Bellator, Alvarez would be fighting in the UFC’s lightweight division, today.

Further, it would be easy to argue that if the UFC could simply have their way, they’d probably sign every name mentioned on that list, including a number that weren’t.  

As such and for fans that watch Bellator well know, the UFC cannot lay claim to having all of the best fighters in the world fighting under its banner, and they cannot lay claim to having a stranglehold on exciting fights or absolute legitimacy.

Actually and on this point, with the new (long term) deal that Bellator recently signed with FOX Sports Latin America and the influx of South American talent to their rosters, which will inevitably flow from it, particularly Brazilian, it’s going to become progressively harder for the UFC to make that claim.

However, for all that Bellator has going for it they seem to suffer from mental poverty; low self-esteem if you will. If not, then whoever is calling the shots at Bellator’s headquarters, and we can’t be sure that it’s Bjorn Rebney, not at least since Viacom took over, has either no marketing experience or faith in the product.

Fans can reasonably draw these conclusions, because the promotion has been demonstrating evidence of such, since the day they announced that Tito Ortiz & Rampage Jackson were not only going to be headlining Bellator’s inaugural pap-per-view, but indeed, that the pair seemed to be the reason why Bellator was having a PPV, at all.

Fans were left scratching their heads how two UFC castoffs, both of whom are well past their sell-by dates, could possibly headline a Bellator card over the promotions own young, talented fighters and particularly, when there were three titles on the line; featherweight, lightweight and light-heavyweight interim.

To be sure, the card looked to be solid and with the addition of Cheick Kong & Vinicius Spartan to it for their heavyweight final, sales or no sales, the PPV was a good card. However, the question still remains, how could Ortiz / Jackson be seen as a more marketable or relevant fight than either of the title fights, and particularly Chandler / Alvarez?

More to the point, it was slap in the face to Chandler & Alvarez and the relevance of their bout, as well as a snub of defending featherweight champion Pat Curran and his match with Daniel Straus. Further, it demonstrates a complete inability to value their title fights and the bouts that have brought them into existence, which is namely, all of Bellator’s work over the last number of years.

To be blunt, Tito Ortiz / Rampage Jackson and their collective six fight losing streak (3 a piece, haven’t won since spring / summer of 2011) added no real value to the card, but only minor interest. As such, to place the pair top of their card speaks ill of how Bellator really values itself, the fighters and the bouts they put on.

To a finer point, it also flies in the face of their motto, that “Title shots are earned”. That should be pointed out, because most would infer that to mean that card placements are also earned, and Ortiz / Jackson did not earn theirs. It was simply handed to them and for no particular cause other than a feature fight.  

However, as if the PPV wasn’t enough to make the case of Bellator’s mental poverty and inability to value its own product, the promotion announced today, that Rampage Jackson will take on fellow UFC castoff Joey Beltran at Bellator 108 on November 15th, and headline the event, over the Alexander Shlemenko / Doug Marshall middleweight title bout and the Patricio Freire / Justin Wilcox (season 9) featherweight tournament final match.

Again, to Bellator fans this really makes no sense and speaks to the mindset that is running Bellator’s operation; that they are lost in a world of belief that x-UFC fighters are of more interest and are more marketable to fans, than those that Bellator has developed on their own.

Sadly, this flies in the face of logic.

If fighters like Ortiz, Jackson, Beltran, Kongo and others were of such great interest and marketability to fans, then the UFC would never have cut them. It’s that simple. For Bellator to then turn around and sign them, believing that if they put them at the top of their title cards that they’ll either garner more viewers or greater legitimacy, is a spurious thought.

Simply put, if an MMA fan is going to start watching Bellator because of this or that x-UFC fighter being on a card, then they’re probably going to do it regardless of “where” on the card they fight.

In a nutshell, once assigned, fighters such as Ortiz & Jackson have added all the value they can in terms of draw and placing them above Bellator’s own quality talent when there are title fights on a card, makes no sense and if anything, is a detriment to their brand.  

The “toughest tournament in sports” should keep to its guns and apply the same standards to their card stackings, as they do their title shots, and place those that have earned their title shots at the top of the promotion’s cards; where they belong. As such, they will continue to honor the spirit of their brand and the great fighters that have made and earned their marks.   

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  • Zip

    A much needed article. Excellent points and really a simple fix for Bellator.

  • cranestyle

    Well said, Brian. I would also add that, having watched the first several "Fight Master" episodes, they should also have attached more value to the show.

    The concept was interesting. And while they clearly dropped some coin with picking their coaches, the rest of the show looked like a cheap TUF rip off, exactly the thing they needed to avoid the most.

    You could argue this was because it was their first season but Viacom is one of the biggest entertainment megacorps going and could easily afford better sets, production value, etc.

    If they are trying to sell the show as an alternative to TUF, and Bellator as an alternative to the UFC instead of a minor/feeder league, they have to get over the inferiority complex this article aptly points out.

    • Brian Cox

      Crane, I'm with you on all of that. I really enjoyed FM and believe with some minor tweaks, it could be a much better show.

      One thing I think we'd all like to see is more focus on training. An example of what I'm talking about would be Ronda Rousey on TUF a couple of weeks ago, demonstrating how to move or "scoot" on the ground, while on your back. I thought that was just great.

      I'd also like to see the events put on in front of a live audience. If that means a blend of a taped show and live event or simply taping a live event and broadcasting it later, great. And if the outcomes are known before the shows airing, who cares? I'd still watch the show and so would other TUF fans. Simply put, I think a live audience would add a great deal to the atmosphere of the show; a few hundred people, either at the gym or some other small Vegas venue; no photos or video to be taken; no reporters or bloggers. Perhaps the results get out, but who cares and if the UFC made it be known that they didn't want mainstream media to post the results, they wouldn't. And again, if the results did get out, who really cares. Fans will still watch the show.

      And your point about them not being the minor leagues is a good one. They are not. They're a solid promotion and to be honest, it would be very interesting to see where Bellator is in five years. With this new deal in Latin America, they are going to be flush with cash and talent. They are going to be a great option for every talented Brazilian fight out there.

      Time will tell.

      On another note, did you apply for the writers job? If not, you should.

  • nimbleweed

    100% Agree!!

    If anything the casual fans who are yet to see some of the talent outside the UFC would see a card with UFC legends on it and think wow it's not even a main event… the 3 title fights must be legit! Which they all are.

    Slightly off point but Michael Chandler has to be one of the most exciting evolving fighters in his weight class throughout promotions. I've only seen his last 4 fights but he takes leaps and bounds every time…

    • Brian Cox

      Nim, fans who miss this Saturday's show, are going to be missing a great card. To pass up on what Bellator is offering for free is simply foolish. This will be a very entertaining card and the top of it should be awesome. It certainly blows UFN Fight Night for the troops out of the water.

      Michael Chandler…I couldn't agree more. He gets better with every outing and shows constants improvements in his game.