For a long time, I’ve been pretty loud in my praise of Bellator’s tournament format, pointing out that the elimination model is widely understood and accepted throughout all of sport and it means their method of deciding #1 contenders is as credible as it comes. Win the tournament, get a title shot. Easy.
Of course, due to roster shortages, injuries and not running a tournament in every weight class in every season, there have been problems with champions sitting on the shelf, competing in non-title matches and elsewhere which has devalued the cache of Bellator a wee bit, although these were always issues I felt they would address once they we more established and could start running seasonal tournaments in every weight class.
Instead, now that they have Viacom’s money and the platform of Spike TV, it seems to be going the other way…
Firstly was the idea that maybe you didn’t need to win a tournament to get a title shot, brought about by the enduring Eddie Alvarez court case, with the shift to allowing former champions to get a shot without proceeding through a tournament made wholly to enable the extension of that cock measuring legal posture.
There was even some debate as to whether Patricio Friere, who has never held the belt, should get a rematch with Pat Curran due to the closeness of his split decision loss to the champion.
What is this, the UFC?
In fairness, title rematches aren’t the most controversial ideas, and following his win over Shinya Aoki I doubt that few would have begrudged Alvarez another crack at Chandler, so long as it didn’t leave a tournament winner on the sidelines.
However, when tournament brackets are so clearly set up with a specific goal in mind, you have to start calling foul on the process.
Back at the start of the year, we all looked at the brackets for the Season 8 Light Heavyweight tournament and saw that Bellator were clearly hoping for a final between former Strikeforce champions Renato Sobral and Muhammad Lawal.
Of course, Mikhail Zayats and Emanuele Newton ruined those plans by KOing the favourites and ended up contesting the eventual tournament final.
So we come to the Summer Series, and Bellator shrink the tournament size from eight fighters to four fighters, meaning the tournament win comes after only two wins, rather than three. This is purely down to time constraints and so they can fit in a heavyweight tournament as well. Of course.
Look at the brackets for the Summer Series 205lb tourney and they are a tad familiar. Yep, all four competed and lost in the previous season, with two of the competitors having been eliminated in the first round.
The biggest name and tournament favourite, Muhammad Lawal is booked to face Seth Petruzelli, a fighter best known for knocking Kimbo Slice out in 2008 and having gone an incredible 4-3 since.
I wonder how that’s expected to go.
In the other semi final, veteran submission specialist Renato Sobral faces Jacob Noe, the man who lost to Sobral’s victor (Mikhail Zayats) in the previous season, via submission. Hmmm.
So, for the second time in succession, within six months, Bellator have sought to force the tournament final of their choice, tried to pave the way to a championship belt for their chosen marquee fighter (Lawal) and have actually made it exponentially easier for him to achieve this – by removing a fight from the process and curiously not asking Russian wrecking machine, Zayats back to the dance after his underdog run to the final.
The credibility of their booking has been one of Bellator’s unique selling points, but such recent willingness to mess with that format, as well as accusations of contractual hijinks (from Eddie Alvarez) and a lack of drugs testing (from current champ, Ben Askren) are eating away at that.
I can understand the allure of pushing for the biggest fights possible, especially with the promotional and financial base to really make something of them at long last, but Bellator would be wise to remember to dance with the attributes that led them to the top, to remember their own much vaunted tag line.
“Where title shots are earned, not given.”
After all, it says ‘championship tournaments’ on the banner, doesn’t it?