MMA fans have mixed reactions when it comes to the smaller promotions of the sport, save for Bellator Fighting Championships, which has been seen as the one of the top two promotions in the world for great MMA action from start to finish.
Aside from Bellator, itself a smaller yet prominent promotion, some MMA cards, like the first Super Fight League card, hit with some fans but missed with the majority of fans because while it was fun to watch newcomers in action, it was quite the bust to see any promotion sell James Thompson vs. Bob Sapp as the rather predictable headliner of their card.
In contrast, the second Super Fight League event saw Neil Grove vs. Todd Duffee in the main event and turned in a pretty respectable night of fights, while both of ONE FC's cards delivered greatly for fans of the sport of MMA, let alone the fans and followers of the Asian circuit.
Now, a lot of these smaller promotions deliver great MMA action before, during and sometimes after the action provided by Bellator and the UFC, but why does MMA need other smaller promotions when the UFC is constantly finding various ways to deliver more MMA action to its fans by the moment? If smaller promotions don't exist and all we have is the UFC, can't the UFC brass just scout talent from the amateurs and help them to go pro with simple training? If the UFC always has the best fighters in the world and they put on all of the best fights in the world, wouldn't they be able to have the good eye for all the fighters who are ready to showcase their talents for the MMA world?
Actually, the answer to both of those questions is "no."
It's always cool to see a fighter impress in the amateurs, and a first glance might convince a fan that a fighter is good enough to make their pro debut in the UFC, whether on a pay-per-view or an Ultimate Fighter finale, but the reality is that not everyone is UFC-ready right off the bat. Every MMA fighter, whether they even go through an amateur career or not, needs a place in which to blast themselves off and make the whole MMA world notice them. Without that platform on which to make the MMA world notice who these bodies are that are trying to find success in the world's fasting growing combat sport, no one can know for sure if they will find success in the UFC.
That's where the smaller promotions are needed. They are the launching pads that most fighters use in order to earn their call to the UFC roster, and they are the stage on which most fighters go to get noticed so that they may earn their reputation as well as their arguments towards finding success in the UFC, the "major leagues" of MMA in most heads. They are not seen as competition to the UFC or Bellator in any way, shape or form, but with the types of fights that these promotions provide, that lack of competition is not a bad thing.
Take Tachi Palace Fights, for example. Many know Tachi Palace Fights as the promotion which put the flyweights on the map in the US circuit, and in addition to being the promotion which has provided an outlet for fighters like Ian McCall, Darrell Montague, Ulysses Gomez and Jussier Da Silva, TPF has also launched fighters such as Giva Santana and prospects Dustin Ortiz, Bubba Jenkins and Eddie Yagin.
Not only that, but also above all else is the fact that TPF prides itself as being more of a "national supershow" type of promotion and less of a company that's trying to top UFC attendance records, UFC event ratings and so on.
That's the one key thing about the smaller promotions and their purpose, which fans must understand about the smaller promotions like ONE FC, Tachi Palace Fights, Legend FC, Super Fight League, Dubai FC, KSW and even the most prominent of these "smaller-time" promotions, Bellator Fighting Championships. Sure, they are alternatives to the UFC, fans sometimes find their fights a bit more entertaining than some of what they see in the UFC or Strikeforce and the supply of prospects accentuates the fun of watching the promotion's events while the action camouflages the fact that a lot of these rising stars are facing just that: prospects.
Does the abundance of prospects mean that the fighters are not impressive simply because the matchmakers are trying to comb the circuits in search of what some shifty spectators might consider "legitimate competition?"
Not at all. If anything, the deep pool of prospects should represent the future of the sport of MMA and not just "the best of some 'no-name' promotion." That is why "national supershows" like Tachi Palace Fights, Legend FC and XFC, among others, exist.
As national supershows for the MMA world, the primary purpose of these smaller promotions is to provide a launching pad for some of the best prospects from a region or country, while also showcasing (more often than not) fighters who are veterans of the sport, and therefore, familiar faces to more mainstream audience.
Without them, a lot of these prospects may lose their luster before they're ever able to prove their worth and earn their shot at the big time. Without a second home in which to entertain the masses, the veterans who fight on to make a living would incidentally be unable to make a living doing what they know how to do.
At the end of the day, the art of fighting and the execution is the only thing that a lot of these smaller-promotional fighters know how to do and have fun doing while making money off of it, and it's true that they all will dream of getting the call to fight in the UFC, but if they go straight for The Octagon, how will we know if they're really ready or not unless someone posts up their amateur career or prior experience up on YouTube?
The reality is that we will not know unless they start somewhere, and for any fighter coming up in the sport, there's no other "somewhere" that satisfies the need to get UFC-ready than in the SFL, Bellator, Tachi Palace, any promotion in the Asian circuit or any promotion not mentioned thus far, because we all know that unless it's Randy Couture, BJ Penn or anyone from the first five UFC events that we're talking about, every great fighter starts off as just another promising fighter from "some smaller promotion", but if not for those smaller promotions, how can we be sure that these could ever be held in as high regard as we hold them now?