Into the spoiler cave. That’s where I’ve been going for the past five weeks between Friday evening and Saturday. Ears plugged, eyes closed, and arms waving like an idiot any time someone begins a sentence with “hey, did you see last night when…” around me.
So it goes for a Canadian MMA enthusiast without the capacity to watch Bellator live, having to wait for a Saturday airing to see what neighbours to the south already know.
It hasn’t been easy. Actually, every week to this point, Bellator was spoiled. The cave provided little shelter to say the least.
But that fervent work to avoid spoilers, the commitment to viewing the events anyway even when knowing how they unfold, and on most weeks finding consistent enjoyment on a fight-to-fight basis have left one question answered for sure: Bellator has taken a bite out of the UFC’s influence on MMA programming in the past month or so.
No, not a huge bite. Not one that’s going to cripple the world’s top promotion, and surely not one that’s going to catapult Bellator to the top of the MMA heap.
But they’ve gained some steam.
People are beginning to take notice of Bellator, as they’ve consistently put on entertaining events and have used the tournament format to add a little extra flavour. Not everyone loves it, but people watch it. What else could Bjorn Rebney and Co. ask for?
Suddenly, with no other names out there to take to, guys that got no ink are making headlines. Ben Saunders, Pat Curran, Douglas Lima and Ben Askren have seen their stars rise during the UFC absence. Sure, people knew about Eddie Alvarez and Hector Lombard, but now there are other guys people are noticing, too.
The reason these guys, among a whole host of others, are getting noticed is because they’re putting on exciting fights. Every week in the absence of the UFC (perhaps save for Bellator 64) there have been fights that brought people out of their seats.
People are talking about the promotion, and that buzz is something any franchise in sports searches for constantly.
Obviously, the promotion is not without its faults. The fact the Eric Prindle won a tournament without fighting the final is questionable, but it was out of his hands. The shuffling of his meeting with Cole Konrad isn’t great, either, but it’s part of the game sometimes.
Askren is also a sore point with many fans, as his grappling-heavy approach to the fight causes many to place head firmly in hands as he grinds away.
It’s a special breed of fan who wants to watch that for 25 minutes, but Askren is still an Olympian and an incredible athlete who deserves better than to be dismissed for not being exciting.
However, overall, this has been a big stretch for Bellator. All they had to do was not be the worst live show in town for a few weeks to get some recognition, and they did that.
TUF: Live has been great to this point in terms of entertainment in the cage, and if the two were offered to me head-to-head, I’d be PVRing it in favour of what Rebney’s boys have to offer.
I don’t believe I’m alone in this. Bellator has done significant good for itself during the UFC hiatus, firmly entrenching itself as a viable MMA option and as the best non-Zuffa property in the sport.
For a while now, many have suggested this would be the case if Bellator could just catch a break. That break came, and they didn’t whiff on it.