Ryan Bader (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Is Bellator MMA Where Fighters Go When They Can’t Make It in the UFC?

I love this sport. I respect every guy and gal who’s willing to step into a cage or ring and get punched in the face. That’s why it hurts me to downplay certain fighters, who might not be as good in their craft as others, for not being good enough to fight in the best combat organization in the world. Instead, they have to settle for second best. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

That’s how it is for fighters in the UFC who end up going to Bellator because they just weren’t the best fighters. It’s like baseball players who get demoted to the minors to tune up their skills. To be fair, there is a good chunk of fighters that either don’t want to fight for the UFC, because they don’t like how the company is run, or they just feel loyal to Bellator, for whatever reason.

There are a lot of good fighters in the Bellator MMA organization, and a lot of them have never fought in the UFC. Joe Warren. Patricky and Patricio Freire. Daniel Straus. Pat Curran. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. Attila Vegh. Douglas Lima. Emanuel Newton.


Meanwhile, there are a number of fighters who have made the crossover. Eddie Alvarez. Josh Thomson. Rory MacDonald. Phil Davis. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Ryan Bader. Josh Koscheck. Ryan Couture. Cheick Kongo.

It definitely seems like the list of fighters who have fought in both organizations mostly couldn’t make it in the UFC. Bellator appears to get all the leftover fighters from the UFC. Meanwhile, it’s become somewhat of a given that any organization not called the UFC is basically not good enough.

This sets a really bad standard for the sport. We, as fans, can’t seem to appreciate every organization equally. We mostly focus on the UFC, since that’s where many of the best fighters reside. There’s a belief that the UFC has a monopoly on the sport and crushes every other promotion to dust, just so it doesn’t have to deal with any formidable competitors.

Unfortunately, when it comes to running a business, the smaller and weaker companies are going to be at a disadvantage. However, there’s a larger issue with Bellator MMA. The owners — Viacom, for those not in the know — don’t know anything about MMA or how to run a business that sells combat.

Nobody has done it better than Dana White and the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank. Even though they may have gone out of their way to crush their competition, it wasn’t the only way they were able to be successful. Their marketing techniques were always great. Their commitment to putting on great fights was second-to-none. Their fighters were always the best since day one, even before Zuffa took over.

The UFC has always come across as the best at all the things listed above. The company did everything right, while the rest of the organizations lagged behind when it came to quality. Not only does the promotional brass have to be fans of the sport, but the company has to work really hard to sell the product and make sure people get what they want.

A few years ago, shortly after the UFC was purchased by Fox Sports and Bellator went to Spike TV under Viacom, it felt like Bellator might start to gain some recognition and become a threat to the UFC. That never really got close to happening, but it had the potential to happen. After Viacom ousted Bellator founder and president Bjorn Rebney, the company didn’t have a chance. The move led to dysfunction. Viacom hired former Strikeforce President Scott Coker to take over, but the promotion hasn’t really recovered to find its own footing.

Even though Bellator was never a huge competitor to the UFC, Rebney had gotten the organization to the point where it could have put up a good fight — especially when White and Rebney were having their little feud on the side, which created a bigger rivalry. However, when Rebney left, the rivalry went away as well.

Now, Bellator isn’t looking all that great. The company serves as little more than the minor leagues of MMA. For every 10 MMA fans you ask, it’s safe to say that seven or eight of them will agree with this sentiment. Whether that’s the fault of the UFC, for creating a monopoly on the sport, or Bellator, for not having good business sense, is up for debate.

However, there is nowhere for Bellator to go but up. The company certainly has the financial backing to improve its brand. Bellator has some decent talent coming over from the UFC, which will gain them some notoriety.

Bellator will never be better than the UFC, though. That’s just the unfortunate reality. If Bellator wants to get away from the reputation of being the minor leagues of MMA, the company needs to take a hint from a lot of what the UFC did back in its heyday to become popular.