In the MMA world, the last 10 years or so have been heavily dominated by one promotion: the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Many organizations have come and gone with little to no success over the years. Meanwhile, the UFC consistently grew and expanded. Some promotions have been able to stay relevant and make a name for themselves as top-tier organizations. The clear No. 2 promotion, especially in North America, is Bellator.
The Viacom-owned company has been one of the few MMA promotions — at least since the UFC’s skyrocketed towards the top of the heap — to consistently provide high-level events. Just like many of the other promotions that have set out to compete against the UFC over the years, the question is often whether the fighters in Bellator would do well if they competed against UFC fighters.
If we are judging based on this past weekend, then answer is obviously a resounding yes. Who could argue?
Former Bellator lightweight champ Will Brooks finally stepped inside the UFC’s Octagon and took on the always-tough Ross Pearson on relatively short notice. It wasn’t a beatdown or a thorough domination by Brooks, but given the circumstances, he did pretty damn well. There have been plenty of fighters that have looked great outside the UFC, but they post lackluster performances in losing efforts once they get to the UFC. Brooks, on the other hand, passed the first test with relative ease. He will only get better as he gets comfortable fighting under the famed bright lights of the UFC.
One night prior to Brooks virtually defending his Bellator lightweight belt against Ross Pearson — remember, Brooks never actually lost the belt, but instead vacated it when he left Bellator — another longtime Bellator lightweight kingpin, Eddie Alvarez, became a UFC champion.
Not only did Alvarez claim the UFC’s lightweight crown, but he put on a beating, which eventually led to the first-round finish of a fighter many pegged as a guy who would hold the belt for the foreseeable future. People were quickly made to forget just how scary good Rafael dos Anjos has looked over his last four or so fights. It did not matter to Alvarez, who clipped the champ early and followed up with beautiful combinations to claim the belt from the Brazilian.
With their special performances on back-to-back nights, as well as the fact that both men left Bellator as champions, the chatter naturally started. Are Bellator fighters on the same level as UFC fighters?
This is a silly question, and a very easy one to answer.
Yes, some of the top fighters in Bellator can and do perform well in the UFC. The problem lies in the depth of the promotions. If we took the top 10 UFC lightweights and squared them off against Bellator’s top 10, the overall outcome won’t look good for Bellator. Even though some of the UFC shows have become watered down over the years and the talent in the lower prelims isn’t what it once was, the UFC still packs a lot more talent up and down a card. On any given Bellator card, even the big tent-pole events, the promotion employs local fighters who barely boast a pro record.
Bellator is a great promotion. Their aggressiveness in the free-agent market deserves praise. The company is going after big names from the UFC, and this will only increase the credibility of the brand. However, it’s simply not fair to compare Bellator to the UFC on a talent basis. In most of Bellators divisions, it’s reasonable to think that perhaps the top three or five guys can legitimate compete with the elites of the UFC. That’s it. The crème de la crème in Bellator will do well in the UFC, but those are so few and far between that it’s not worth it to even start comparing UFC’s talent to Bellator’s talent. What Alvarez and Brooks did this past weekend was impressive, but they are not representative of Bellator’s roster as a whole.