Why Bellator MMA Still Has a Long Way to Go
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 08.07.2014
Bellator booked its best fight in Emanuel Newton vs. Joey Beltran for next month's Bellator 124, but is it a symbol that the promotion still has a long way to go to compete with the UFC? 411's Jeffrey Harris explains that's the case!
Hey everybody. This is your friendly 411mania Jack of all Trades and young wildcat, Jeffrey Harris. In case you are late to the party, the MMA's 3R's column has now been effectively retired. But I will still be providing commentary on my thoughts on the MMA world. This week, I wanted to take a look at Bellator MMA in its current transitional state and the recently announced title fight at Bellator 124.
So Bellator MMA has announced its headliner for next month's Bellator 124. That fight will be a light heavyweight title bout with reigning champion Emanuel Newton defending the belt against…Joey Beltran. While arguably the best fight Bellator MMA can probably put on for its 205 pound division, it is symbolic of the fact that the promotion still has a long way to go in becoming a true competitor or a viable alternative to the UFC.
Bellator is going through a transitional period at the moment. Scott Coker has assumed control as the new president of the company, essentially wiping away the stink of Bjorn Rebney's run on top. It is not that Rebney did a terrible job. He ultimately got Bellator MMA to where it is. The company has managed to hang in there since it started, gave other fighters a place to work and have a bigger platform than other regional promotions and eventually get a lucrative deal with Viacom. However, Bellator MMA made the mistake I believe many other MMA promotions did by trying to directly compete with the UFC. While I think Bellator MMA has some good fighters and great fights from time to time, there is really no way it can compete with the overall presentation, roster depth, and market penetration of the UFC. Instead of focusing on building its own product and improving its presentation, Bellator MMA decided to go too big for its britches. Rebney tried to act like Dana White and it ended badly for him. Bellator MMA's attempt at a reality show failed. There hasn't been a tremendous amount of ratings growth for the company. Bellator 121 and Bellator 122 for the Bellator summer series only pulled about 668,000 and 582,000 viewers respectively. Now you could argue, "hey, look at what UFC is pulling on Fox Sports 1." Well Spike TV is still in way more households than Fox Sports 1, and it is still not a well established network.
A fight like Newton vs. Beltran shows the lack of foresight, roster depth, and planning on Bellator MMA's part. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal were in the tournament. However, Rampage has essentially made it clear now that he refuses to fight Newton because of some vague notion that the two are "buddies." This is strange because while the two in no way appear to be close friends, they apparently share a coach. So Rampage ultimately beat King Mo on PPV to win Bellator's light heavyweight tournament. Hey, that's great! The big name Rampage, who also has drawn some of Bellator's better numbers, is now due for a title fight against the champion. But nope, despite winning the tournament, Bellator refuses to fight the champion. Moves like this make Bellator look bush league. They poorly planned out the whole tournament competitors on this note. It makes Bellator's title and champion look meaningless. Sorry, but I hardly believe Rampage and Newton are in some bromance like Team Alpha Male.
The Bellator tournament format was becoming problematic after the company moved to Spike TV. However, what the tournaments did do previously was provide a hierarchy for winning fights to earn a title shot. The problem is that once the move to Spike TV happened, Spike TV/Viacom wanted to promote and push certain fighters, and the tournaments got in the way of doing that. Joey Beltran is a banger and he's had some entertaining brawls, but his record does not speak of someone that has fought and earned his way to the title. His UFC record is 3-6. He was previously exposed as a cheater after failing a drug test in December 2012. His record in Bellator? 1-1. He was knocked out by Rampage last November and then he submitted Vladimir Matyushenko last April. That was his only win in five fights, provided we believe he is not cheating again. If Newton is the best the promotion has to offer for the light heavyweight champion, it just goes to show how thin and undeveloped the Bellator MMA roster is at the moment.
It is not that I am rooting against Bellator. I think having more alternatives is ultimately good for business. I think it's good for fight fans that want to see more quality fights. However, it also shows even with Scott Coker now in charge of this ship, it still has a ways to go even after the Spike TV move. The other issue is that while Coker arguably did a good job with Strikeforce, the company only did well enough to ultimately get purchased by the UFC. The company spent a ton of money to bring some names that were probably relevant at the time, but those big money-spending moves on the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, and Dan Henderson did not pan out well for Strikeforce in the long run. However, if Coker makes Bellator a more fighter-friendly organization after all the news of the bad feelings coming out of Rebney's regime, that would be good for business.