Before ESPN killed the website Grantland after jettisoning its founder, Bill Simmons, the site would publish a regular feature where movies, TV shows, musicians or albums, etc., were labeled “overrated,” “underrated” or “properly rated.”
Basically, the writer determined whether a piece of pop culture received far more acclaim than it deserved, received far too little acclaim or received just the right amount of acclaim. Call it the Goldilocks and the Three Bears effect — if Goldilocks wrote for a quasi-hipster website that made observations about pop culture and sports that almost no one else did, that is.
It might be interesting to do a piece like that on Bellator’s Michael “Venom” Page. Undefeated in his career at 10-0, Page appears to be the man Bellator seems to want to make into its next big homegrown star. The narrative surrounding Page is his flashy style inside the cage and out. Only once in his career has his fight lasted beyond the first round, which is also the same fight that didn’t end in a knockout or submission victory. Nah-Shon Burrell took Page the distance in 2014, but came up on the short end of what turned out to be a unanimous decision victory for “MVP.”
Burrell has a solid 13-6 record now and was coming off a first-round knockout loss to current Bellator welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov before facing Page, so he has nothing to be ashamed of. But let’s look at the names of some other fighters Page vanquished in his career, shall we?
Ryan Sanders. Rudy Bears. Charlie Ontiveros. Jeremie Holloway. These are not exactly household names, are they? The combined winning percentage of Page’s 10 opponents is 59 percent, which seems on the low end of the quality of competition for a fighter with Page’s reputation.
There’s no doubt that Page is extremely talented. You don’t notch nine victories of your 10 total in the first round if you don’t have some skill. Page won his most recent fight against Holloway in the first round via an Achilles lock, which is a submission rarely seen in mixed martial arts and is just a small example of Page’s vast potential.
Then there is Page’s personality inside and outside the cage. He’s brash. He’s a trash-talker. He sometimes dances in the cage during his fights, openly mocking his opponent. He wears flashy jewelry that might remind fans of other athletes, like Floyd Mayweather or Adrien Broner. But is all this hype and flashy jewelry really befitting of a fighter who, despite his undefeated record, has yet to be truly tested in the Bellator cage?
There is something to be said for bringing fighters along slowly and not pushing them to the front of the line before they’re ready (see VanZant, Paige and Northcutt, Sage). Bellator seemed to be taking the same approach with another welterweight, Brennan Ward, that the company has so far taken with Page. Ward was also being promoted as a star on the rise in Bellator before he was submitted in just 30 seconds by Evangelista Santos in April.
The fact Ward was so soundly defeated by a veteran like Santos might make you think Bellator would be skittish about booking Page against an equally dangerous fighter. But Page’s next fight was supposed to come against Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 158 in July, in Page’s home country of England. However, Gonzalez has been pulled from the Bellator 158 card, this time with Bellator citing visa issues, and a search is underway for a replacement fighter to fill in and face Page.
Gonzalez has 38 fights on his resume and is currently on a five-fight winning streak. He was also supposed to face Page at Bellator 151 earlier this year, but Page withdrew for unknown reasons. Gonzalez accused Page of dropping out in order to “protect his record.” So, to summarize, no one really knows if or when Page and Gonzalez will actually square off.
Is Bellator “protecting” Page by booking him against relatively unknown and unheralded fighters? No. Bellator is using the slow and steady approach with a potential star that the UFC failed to adopt with VanZant and Northcutt.
Gonzalez would be Page’s stiffest challenge to date, I’m sure of that. Bellator’s welterweight division has a great mix of talent besides Page, including Ward, Santos, Gonzalez, Josh Koscheck, Paul Daley, Benson Henderson and the champion, Koreshkov. If Page were to defeat an opponent like Gonzalez, there’s no reason why “MVP” shouldn’t step in the cage against Daley or Henderson to see if he’s truly ready to be the star Bellator wants him to be.
To put it in a paragraph full of horribly overused clichés, Page has been a big fish in a small pond so far in his Bellator career. He’s feasted on a steady stream of guppies that make for good hors d’oeuvres, but aren’t the big meal that he must conquer to be considered one of the best in MMA. Page has to start swimming with the sharks.