Bellator as a promotion is second only to the UFC in the world of MMA. Backed by the media powerhouse Viacom, it has thus far used Spike TV, one of Viacom’s own TV channels in the US, as their primary platform for broadcasting events. Spike TV was, of course, the platform the UFC used for their first Ultimate Fighter series and numerous other events in the past, thus giving the network quite the MMA pedigree. Largely due to their shows being on free-to-air TV, Bellator events have often achieved remarkable viewing figures. There has, however been a chip on the shoulders of the promotion, which was their capability to put out a pay-per-view event.
Founder and President of Bellator, Bjorn Rebney, has been nothing shy of resolute in his efforts to put together a card worthy of pay-per-view coverage. To put out a show that warrants fans paying a fee to watch it from their own homes is, in the minds of many, to reach the pinnacle of the fight promotion game. Many experts within the industry though have questioned Bellator’s strategy, being of the opinion that they should continue to use Spike as their platform to promote their brand and fighters.
Last year, Bellator tried to put on their first pay-per-view event by pitting ex-UFC veterans Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz against each other in a light-heavyweight grudge match. The co-main event was a rematch for Bellator’s lightweight title between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler. The co-main event was a far more intriguing match-up for MMA fans, but the bigger names were given main event privileges. When Tito Ortiz pulled out with injury, Bellator relegated the event back to Spike and abandoned their pay-per-view hopes.
Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez would put on a fight of the year candidate with an epic 5 round war; Alvarez eventually regaining the title he had lost to Chandler previously. Their names had been made with this fight.
Fast forward then to this last weekend. Bellator were having another crack at pay-per-view, this time with Alvarez and Chandler as the main event and Rampage Jackson vs. Muhammed Lawal supporting. Typically, Alvarez had to pull out last week due to a concussion ruining the main event, but this time Bellator kept the event on pay-per-view.
Alvarez was replaced by Will Brooks who would fight Chandler for the interim title with the winner earning a shot against a recovered Alvarez at a later date. Obviously for Bellator, it was important Chandler made it through in order to capitalise on the media intrigue around the third fight in his trilogy with Alvarez; he didn’t.
After losing the first 2 rounds decisively, the underdog, Brooks, began to turn the tide. At the end of 5 rounds opinions were nixed as to who had prevailed, but the judges awarded the victory to Brooks, seemingly derailing Bellator’s plans for their blockbuster rematch.
The co-main event was just as close but not nearly as exciting. The win was awarded to Rampage Jackson, though it was clear to all watching that these two legends of the sport were certainly at the end of their competitive career. There seemed to be a sadness about their attempts to stay relevant in an ever improving and evolving sport.
It is important that there are multiple MMA promotions. It provides fighters with an element of choice in their careers and also aids in the growth of MMA as a sport. The truth is though that no promotion, including Bellator, comes close to being competitive with the UFC in terms of fighter stable or marketing prowess.
UFC returns next weekend on pay-per-view. I will wait to compare viewer statistics, but I image they will far outdo Bellator’s pay-per-view debut this weekend.