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 411mania » MMA » Columns

What To Expect From Bellator 2.0
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 06.24.2014

Gone is the founder. Tournament-filled seasons are now a thing of the past. Along with it, the "real sport" format where title opportunities are earned, not given evaporated. It's certainly not business as usual in Bellator MMA.

Bellator founder and former CEO Bjorn Rebney considered the tournament format to be the backbone of the company. It was what differentiated Bellator from UFC, and in another day Strikeforce. In theory, the tournaments gave sense to the matchmaking and legitimacy to champions and their challengers. The real sport format was Bjorn's baby and the basis of the promotion, and when his stronghold over the company began to slip away, so did the format.

Media conglomerate Viacom purchased a controlling stake in the company in October 2011, but its impact on Bellator was not felt publicly until the promotion went to Spike TV in January of last year. The tournaments remained, but matchmaking tilted towards star fighters. When the company's big stars were involved, tournaments halved from the customary eight participants to four. Established stars, or "UFC washouts" as detractors would say, were signed as Bellator became more a star-driven company than ever before.

On Wednesday, Rebney was ousted from the company. It was no sudden occurrence; there had been rumblings of such a move for close to a year. Shortly thereafter, Strikeforce founder Scott Coker was officially announced as President of Bellator MMA. While Coker runs the day-to-day operations, the big boss is Spike TV President Kevin Kay.

The Coker hire is a smart one. Scott Coker is one of the few promoters to be successful on a national level and has experience at building stars. He took Strikeforce from the most successful regional promotion in the country to a legitimate number two to the UFC. There were certainly mistakes made failing to put together big matches like Fedor Emelianenko vs. Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz vs. Jason Miller, the Nashville debacle but overall it was a positive experience. Plus, Coker is liked among fighters and managers.

Changes under the Coker regime (although it really is the Spike regime) will be noticeable. Seasons will likely be a thing of the past a relic of the tournament era. However, tournaments will not be abandoned entirely. Coker's heavyweight tournament in Strikeforce brought a great deal of attention to the promotion, and prior to the Zuffa sale there were talks of tournaments in the middleweight and lightweight divisions. Bellator's tournaments failed to make stars because they were not special there were too many tournaments to make any one feel overly important and many tournament winners failed to achieve much success past that. Focusing on one tournament makes it a special attraction, and fans tune in to see special attractions.

Moving toward a "superfight" format, as Coker put it, will be somewhat difficult with Bellator having few big stars and a limited number of top talent. The recent promotion of James Thompson vs. Eric Prindle and more recent flirtations with Kimbo Slice indicate the Bellator is already taking itself less seriously than the days when it trumpeted "real sport" above all else. Instead of using the tournament format to brand itself as a more serious alternative to UFC a difficult sell when the wide majority of top talent is in the UFC why not become the more fun alternative?

UFC's style is a straightforward "we put on the fights fans want to see," which is not "real sport," but it's also no spectacle. Each match is confined to an eight-sided cage, each event is formatted the same, and most commercials look the same. Bellator has the leeway to take the opposite route. Fiddle with the rules for one show in an area without an athletic commission. Do a one night tournament. Not every commercial has to have nu metal with dudes getting punched in the face at the sound of each crashing of the drums. Giving each show an individual identity, whether by the rules, location, presentation, or even matches, makes for much more interesting viewing.

Bellator may not go full Super Hulk on us, but Coker has shown interest in gimmicks in the past. With Strikeforce, he signed former football star Herschel Walker, ex-WWE star Bobby Lashley, and was in talks with Dave Bautista when Zuffa purchased the company.

It's the dawn of a new day at Bellator. The Rebney-led "real sport" Bellator is dead, and the Spike era promises to kick into high gear with Scott Coker at the helm. The changes to Bellator will be noticeable and likely for the best. It was the star-driven format, not the tournament, which caused the promotion's debut pay-per-view to draw better than expected at 100,000 buys. By making events unique, Bellator can affectively differentiate itself from the UFC.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at plunkettdan@yahoo.com.


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