Smaller MMA promotions tend to live very short lives. Even when one seems to be ready to jump into place to get equal footing with the UFC, they either dry up or get bought out by Zuffa. Such, though, is the nature of trendy businesses.
The slew of MMA promotions that have come and gone is no different from any given boom and bust cycle. Pride FC? EliteXC? Affliction MMA? Strikeforce? No different from Pets.com, Seagram or Sega.
While it is easy to focus in on the flops, it is important to remember that these things do eventually settle, and the landscape tends to have more than one figure present. There are at least two promotions hoping that this time has come: the Bellator and Invicta Fighting Championships.
Right now, Bellator is positioning itself to become a force for the UFC to reckon with. A direct competitor? Not quite yet. But at least for now, Bellator is on the rise.
Bellator FC was founded in 2008, and primarily features a rigid, but generally efficient tournament format. The promotion's events are divided into “seasons” where, over the course of several events, they stage tournaments in three or four weight classes to crown a new champion, while fleshing out cards with various non-tournament fights.
Starting with their fourth season, they began running weekly events on MTV2. Though Bellator has gained a strong financial foundation since being purchased by Viacom late last year, not all is going well for the them; Bellator's current season's ratings have not been strong by any standard, wildly fluctuating between 100,000-200,000 viewers. By comparison, The Ultimate Fighter: Live has consistently been pulling in more than 900,000.
A move from MTV2 to Spike TV is in the works, but will not be taking hold until 2013.
While Bellator has been around for a few years now, Invicta FC is brand new to the scene, with their first event taking place a few weeks ago. The idea behind Invicta is pretty straightforward.
A few former Strikeforce executives decided to start an all-female league when the future of women's MMA became uncertain after the promotion was scooped up by Zuffa. The doomsayers have generally been quieted, largely because of Ronda Rousey's surging popularity, and Invicta showed that there is a market for their product, drawing 250,000 viewers in their only-viewable-online debut event.
The future of Invicta is completely up in the air, though. Another event is scheduled for July, but there is no word on a TV deal at this point.
The staying power of either promotion is difficult to measure. Viacom's ownership of Bellator and the fact that they have a long-term plan suggests that they will be around for at least a bit longer. Whether or not the promotion draws more viewers when it switches over to Spike TV will ultimately be the key factor when it comes to determining its sustainability.
Invicta is less secure, however. Even though Gina Carano and Cris Santos became huge personalities, and Ronda Rousey is following in their footsteps, it remains to be seen just how receptive average MMA fans are when it comes to women fighting.
There are also plenty of questions regarding how deep the talent pool really is among women fighters. Ronda Rousey's electrifying, arm-snapping submission of Miesha Tate was rife with sloppy striking. Furthermore, given the lopsided nature of every fight involving Cris Santos, the ladies in the sport need to start upping their game.
Still, the potential is there, and if Invicta can steer clear of the potholes that tend to take the axles off such promotions (signing too many fighters or breaking the bank for star fighters), they can stick around for a while. They will likely never come close to reaching the heights that the UFC has, but by no means will that make them unsuccessful.
Regardless, when forced to choose between them, the future is brighter for Bellator simply because their product and parent company offer more security. Though Invicta certainly can grow, it is definitely the riskier investment.