All That Could Have Been – A Eulogy For Bellator

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For years, I’ve been a fan of Bellator Fighting Championships, for their tournament format, for their underdog status, for their steadfast refusal to not make the mistakes that so many MMA organisation have, of promoting washed up former top tier stars over their own products, of not trying to run before they can walk.

No more. It’s over.

It’s not one thing that’s led them here. It’s a lot of things. In no particular order…

Repeatedly trying to load tournaments so that their preferred fighters get the W – which finally worked out as Muhammed Lawal won the reduced Summer Series Light Heavyweight crown.

Doing what they always accused the UFC of doing and attempting to low ball fighters while strong arming them into staying with them or doing as they wanted – see Eddie Alvarez, Tyson Nam and others…

Having their (real) fighters involved with the (scripted) TNA Impact Wrestling show on a regular basis.

Upon deciding to embark on a pay per view experiment despite generally weak ratings for their televised shows, they break their code of promoting, young exciting talent to sign two past it guys best known for being UFC fighters who are each on 0-3 streaks in the UFC and promoting them as a bigger deal than all the guys they’ve been building up through their tournaments.

Then, the final straw…

Having forced Eddie Alvarez to extremis by dragging out the litigation between themselves and Alvarez over how Bellator CANNOT match the UFC’s contract offer, effectively removing him from paid employment for a year, they break their company’s one truest unique selling point…

‘Where Title Shots Are Earned, Not Given.’

… and hand a title shot to a non-tournament winner.

Sure, Alvarez is on a two fight win streak, over quality fighters Shinya Aoki and Patricky Freire which makes him easily ‘next’ in any promotion that doesn’t have an established tournament format. Two wins isn’t enough, it has to be two (or ideally three, in a full sized tournament) TOURNAMENT wins in order for the company to not make themselves massive hypocrites.

On the cuff booking is fine, hell it’s what the UFC do and what most other smaller promotions do out of nothing more than expedience. Bellator’s whole selling point was their tournaments.

Their broadly understandable, credible way of deciding who earned a title shot, with the persistent implication that here, almost alone in all of high profile MMA was a company where merit and merit alone got you to the top of the card. Where a loss could be redressed by a streak in the next tournament, where your card position was more about your fighting ability than your ability to self promote.

After all, this is Mixed Martial Arts, not pro wrestling!

Funny then, that the rot set in with almost direct proportion to Viacom’s (owner of TNA Impact and Spike TV) stake in and control over the company?

Funny that Bellator’s long game, interest in credible, sustainable growth became less and less important the more money was involved, the more that folks with their eye on bright lights and bottom lines, rather than the good of the sporting side of things came to the fore.

Bellator have more money, more exposure and more opportunity to really see through all the promise they one had, but they’re short term thinking and a lack of appreciation for what makes MMA so appealing as a sport has stripped them of so much I once found appealing.

Once upon a time, Bellator were poised to be an alternative to UFC in the mid to long term.

Lets remember that they invested airtime and money in WMMA and the lighter weight classes long before the UFC.

It seemed that Bellator could become top flight MMA organisation that offered something tangibly different to the Dana Fucking White show, an organisation that could co-exist with the UFC but not be wholly outshone by them, a true ‘other’ MMA organisation for fighters who’s face didn’t fit in the UFC or who’s mere existence would improve the bargaining position of free agents in both camps and elsewhere.

Competition that would be good for both companies and the sport.

As it is, Dana and the Fertittas must be watching Bellator’s increasingly desperate moves with nothing short of amazement. For a while there, it looked like we might have a fight, but no more.

I do not enjoy saying this – in fact it pains me. I want to see Bellator succeed, I want to see recently signed British fighters like Rob Sinclair and Michael Page given a chance to succeed in a truly credible and forward thinking organisation. I want to see the likes of Pat Curran, Michael Chandler and Ben Askren given their due credit as amongst the very best in their weight class.

I want MMA as a sport to be a competitive, varied scene, for the benefit of all involved.

However, every time I see ‘Bellator superstar appears on TNA Impact’ or Tito Ortiz headlining a PPV in 2013 ahead of Michsel Chandler, that dream died a bit.

It won’t be overnight, indeed Bellator will likely be with us for years, probably making greater and greater missteps as their paymasters despite to recoup their investment in the face of increasing failure grows more desperate, but as of right now, their notional place as a credible alternative to the UFC is void.

Look instead to Cage Warriors, Invicta and Resurrection Fighting Alliance. That’s where the future is.

Postscript –

I see now that Bellator have released Jessica Eye, Jessica Aguilar and Felice Herrig. Releasing popular, top ten ranked, young fighters in a division which is undoubtedly on the up is never a good sign.

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