For almost four years, the men and women of Bellator Fighting Championships have floated just beneath the radar of most casual MMA fans.
Sure, they've had 84 fight shows, but almost all of them in smaller venues, in smaller cities and broadcast on television non-entities like ESPN Deportes and MTV2.
All that is about to change.
Thursday, Bellator makes its long-awaited debut on Spike, the network that together with the UFC made MMA a hot property on cable television. For many, it will be their first exposure to the product, and there are a few things, and people, they need to know going in.
First and foremost, this isn't the MMA you are used to with the UFC. You know how the UFC books fighters into title bouts, record be darned, giving Frankie Edgar and Chael Sonnen shots at the belt coming off of losses, and in weight classes they haven't competed in? How fighters are given high-profile spots based on their ability to move tickets more than their ability to win bouts?
That's the UFC way, and it has worked for them. That's not the Bellator style.
Promoter Bjorn Rebney believes in a tournament format, comparing it often to the NCAA's iconic basketball tournament. All title contenders, no matter how big a name, must earn their shot at the championship by winning a tournament that plays out over the course of a season, usually a couple of months.
These tournaments, in a number of weight classes, will continue to be Bellator's focus. Title bouts are also sprinkled in throughout the season, with winners of previous tournaments getting their shot at gold. These bouts will all appear live on Spike and not PPV. For now, Bellator is exclusive to Spike TV.
That's the lowdown on the sole national survivor, the UFC's last competitor.
Good. Now let's have a look at five fighters you'll need to know for the big Spike debut.