Bellator, oh Bellator, what do we make of you?
On one hand, the company has a roster of champions consisting of proverbial homegrown talent that has yet to step foot in the UFC. At the same time, it’s taking the leftovers of its rival and making that an integral part of the growth process. So, which direction is Bellator really going in?
Whatever rakes in the gold on any particular day.
Do you remember your first thought when the fight between Kimbo Slice and Ken Shamrock was announced? Did you check the calendar to see if it was April 1? I know I did. It reeked of a celebrity boxing match in which we’d see Dustin “Screech” Diamond take on Joey Buttafuoco. Am I getting old? Does anybody even know who those two guys are? But I digress. The Slice-Shamrock tussle was promoted by Bellator as a top-tier fight, but it felt like everyone was in on the joke except for the two guys fighting and their promoting company.
The result of Slice and Shamrock? Oh, nothing — just Bellator breaking its ratings records by averaging nearly 1.6 million viewers. That bested its previous ratings records, set when Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar lugged themselves into the cage last November, by over 25 percent. The reasoning is simple: the pairing tugged at the heartstrings of fans, who still want to see match-ups that may not have title implications but still bring together fighters who we once loved to watch. Are you telling me if Bellator somehow organized a fight between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, that it wouldn’t shatter cable television records? Fans need a break from the structured world of MMA that we have today. Honestly, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a promotion give these aging stars a chance to perform on such a large stage.
The latest thing brewing within Bellator may be a rematch between Josh Koscheck and Paul Daley. Their first fight was back in 2010 and signified the last time Daley would step foot inside the Octagon after he sucker-punched Koscheck nearly 10 seconds after the final horn. Since the incident, their careers have taken opposite trajectories. Daley has gone 13-4, including wins in seven of his last eight. Koscheck has since lost six of eight, and he is currently winless in his last five. Daley appears to be reaching the potential many thought he had, while “Kos” is hanging on to whatever dimming star power he has left.
Koscheck is under the impression that another fight with Daley will “break records” (referring to Bellator and Spike TV ratings). Daley reiterated the prediction on Twitter, saying the fight will happen and will break records. While the rematch will create some buzz, fans who have been following the sport over the last few years understand that Koscheck has no business fighting Daley today. Koscheck’s time has come and gone, whereas Daley is making a legitimate run toward his goals. Quite honestly, it’d be surprising to see Koscheck-Daley II approach the ratings success of Slice and Shamrock.
The Slice-Shamrock affair was a novelty and it featured a name to draw in fans of old-school UFC, as well as the fans that came on board seven to eight years ago to see the lore of a street fighter. For many a casual fan, Slice and Shamrock served as gateways into the MMA world.
Koscheck is a name people might recognize from watching the UFC over the last decade, but Daley isn’t going to pull in a casual fan. They are both banking on their feud and the “cheap shot” to propel their fight to the levels of a huge moneymaker, but it won’t happen, especially when the UFC counter-programs with something big of its own. It has to be expected that UFC President Dana White is going to really stick it to “Kos” and Daley, and the UFC will come out on top that night, of course.
Even without a counter-programming effort from the UFC, Koscheck-Daley II won’t be huge for Bellator. It’s not a fight that fans are itching to see. The beauty of Slice-Shamrock was that it came about so unexpectedly. If Bellator is going to go in the direction of booking these one-off fights, it needs to make them special. It will have to bring in a couple of guys who moved the needle many years ago and who still want another shot at performing in front of millions. Bellator has to give more of a “this is going to be fun” impression, rather than just throwing in a couple of guys like Koscheck and Daley who aren’t going to do much to stand out from the crowd.
Bellator needs to be careful about trying to build up a huge rivalry around every major fight it puts out, because sooner or later the act is going to grow tired. One of the many reasons the UFC works is because the tension we sense from the athletes doesn’t feel forced. Does anybody believe Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes text each other before the weigh-ins to coordinate their actions in an effort to build up their fight? Not a chance. The same can’t be said for Koscheck and Daley. The timing of Koscheck’s signing and the immediate jump into a Twitter war has too many red flags that signal a lack of sincerity. If this happens with every Bellator main event going forward, it’s going to hurt the company’s overall product and staying power.
MMA is a sport that needs to develop organically. As fun as Bellator can be at times, it can also be maddening to see the direction the company appears to be going in. That is, if there is any actual intended direction at all.