Whenever a new division is created in MMA, fans are excited about the possibilities to come for all the different fighters that could potentially compete against one another.
Well, the combat organization Bellator MMA, which plays second fiddle to the UFC, seems to be rolling the dice on an unofficial “Legends” division, headed by former UFC top contender Chael Sonnen, who fought Anderson Silva for the middleweight title twice, and Fedor Emelianenko, a heavyweight great who is universally loved by fans.
While the idea of a “Legends” division sounds good at face value, because it embodies a group of competitors who have had a lot of success and pits the fighters against one another to decide who’s the best of the best, there are a lot of unanswered questions that come along with this idea.
First of all, will there be weight divisions separating these fighters? Obviously, every fighter is not the same weight, so are they all going to be forced to make the same weight, or will they just agree to catchweight bouts?
Second, will there be a “Legends” championship belt? The division seems kind of pointless if there is no belt to win. At the same time, when you’re a legend, you don’t really need to prove yourself by winning a title, so the existence of a belt seems fairly redundant.
Third, will these legends be considered in Bellator’s overall ranking system, along with fighters in the other weight divisions? It seems like they would have to be.
Clearly, there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding how all this will work. From an outside observer, there doesn’t seem to be much structure to it. Bellator probably thought it was going to be a lot simpler than it is, but creating a whole new division in MMA is difficult, unless you have something to build upon.
For example, both the UFC women’s bantamweight and strawweight divisions were built upon strong, valiant, popular champions — Ronda Rousey and Joanna Jędrzejczyk, respectively — who went on to build a strong fanbase that not only loved their performances, but also appreciated the talent coming from their challengers in the rest of the division.
That’s the main formula that has been used when creating a strong division in combat sports.
Many people also remember the earlier days of UFC divisions, when the former openweight format was shifting to a set of weight classes including welterweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, where champions like Matt Hughes, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, respectively, flourished. These were all divisions that were created on the backs of these strong champions. Without those fighters at the helm, it would have been hard to cultivate these divisions into what they are today.
To Bellator’s credit, the company is working hard to compete with the UFC. Its idea of this unofficial “Legends” division is certainly an attempt at something new, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great idea and that people are going to want to tune in to watch. It’s going to be pretty hard to get a lot of fans excited for a fight between two men who are much older than the others competing in the organization. For the most part, it can be regarded as a filler fight before the rest of the more interesting bouts air.
Either way, it’s hard to see much success coming out of this venture. It’s very short-sighted, and it doesn’t really consider the fact that these legends aren’t going to get fans excited, especially when they seem to be at the latter end of their careers. These are also fighters that can’t compete at the level of the UFC anymore, which is why they go to Bellator to revive their careers. They need to save their legacies somehow, and Bellator is embracing their desire to keep fighting well past their primes. However, it might be a lost cause.