Now that Bellator and Spike TV have officially jumped into the world of reality television, it is clear that they have every intention of going head-to-head with the UFC.
In the past, this kind of thing has drawn limited attention simply because the fans of the sport have learned that claiming to oppose the UFC is one thing, and actually being able to balance your budget and keep your company from going bankrupt is another.
And yet, no matter how many others have failed, the sport needs more than just one promotion. As big as the UFC is, it cannot employ all of the fighters that are coming into the sport.
Thus, Bellator is moving forward, slowly and surely, just as the UFC did when it was standing as the number two promotion in the world behind Pride.
Make no mistake about it; Bellator is in direct competition with the UFC, and that will see some interesting moves made by both companies.
But Bellator cannot afford to do anything for the sake of appearances; it is a far cry from having the footing necessary to make the same kind of moves that the UFC does.
So, what moves should Bellator make in 2013? Here are a few suggestions…
The saying about spending money to make money is just as true in the fight game as it is anywhere else, and now that Bellator has some deep pockets (thanks to Viacom), upping fighter pay would be an excellent way to not only attract new fighters, but keep existing fighters as well.
Not only that, it would be nice to see the company really up the ante for the winners of its tournament events, as well as the winner of the reality show.
Money is always going to be of primary concern to fighters, especially given how much they have to spend on travel, lodging and training.
By making sure that its fighters are enjoying fair paydays in addition to exposure on national television, Bellator could achieve the kind of stability in its roster that ensures that its fighters give it positive word of mouth, and that spreads fast among fight camps.
More money also ensures that its fighters are able to focus solely on training for fights—something that yields great returns in the cage, which is what a fight promotion is all about.
As Bellator continues to promote itself and its fighters, it is always going to find itself at a disadvantage when it comes to meaningful or exciting bouts—especially title fights—simply because the UFC has one of the biggest star-studded stables in the sport.
What a fight is worth depends much on the public recognition of the principles involved—in other words, a fight is worth only what the public decides, and its decisions are usually formed and informed by the biggest organization with the biggest names.
In order to get around this, Bellator should begin paving the inroads that could lead to successful co-promotional efforts with other organizations, much like what is seen in boxing today.
While the idea of co-promotion would have been a needless waste of money for the UFC, it is vastly different for other organizations that have a much smaller number of established fighters.
When co-promotion is done correctly, it really can be a great thing in that it combines audiences while delivering the kinds of fights that actually have some significance in the world outside the UFC.
If a fighter holds the Bellator, One FC and WSOF light heavyweight titles, it attracts attention and speaks to a kind of dominance that fans can identify with.
Co-Promotion, when done with any kind of true equity, also helps expand said companies and their fighters into different markets, which is always important for growth.
When the UFC was struggling and Pride FC was the top show on the planet, Dana White was all too happy to send Chuck Liddell into the Pride 2003 middleweight tournament because if Liddell won, it would give the UFC legitimacy over Pride, at least in the middleweight division.
Co-promotion does much of the same thing, but it would be a shared legitimacy between all companies involved.
And if nothing else, two or three stables of fighters will make for more fights of note than one stable alone.
This is the one sword that most of the UFC’s competition have thrown themselves on, and in the case of Bellator, it would be needless suicide, for now.
Bellator is one of the only promotions that seem to be born and raised on free television, and that is how it should stay for the time being.
It has more than enough on its plate with Fight Master and the continuation of its tournament events. A PPV—given the lack of star power on its roster—would be nothing more than a very expensive vanity exercise.
Given that the UFC would simply counter-program a Bellator PPV event with a free event or a rebroadcast of their own on Fox, the viewers would likely tune into the free event with the bigger known names.
Perhaps one of the most common complaints that fighters have with promotions is the limitations that those companies impose on fighters when it comes to sponsorship money.
While no one really knows what deals the UFC may or may not have as far as sponsorships, it is very clear that no fighter likes it when the amount of money that he or she can make via sponsorships is suddenly pulled from the table.
Unless a fighter is a big name, most of his income is going to come from sponsorships or bonuses; it might not seem fair, but that is the way it is for now.
So unless Bellator is willing to raise the “minimum wage” of fighters by a good $5,000 per fight (win or lose), allowing the fighters to supplement their incomes with sponsorship money is something that they should encourage and advocate as much as possible.
When it was announced that Josh Barnett was not going to accept the UFC’s offer, it seemed that he would be a natural fit for Bellator; after all, Barnett is everything that a smaller promotion covets.
When it was then announced by Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney that he was not interested in Barnett, I couldn’t believe how short-sighted it all seemed.
Sometimes chess games are decided one pawn at a time; in that regard, Bellator is doing well, developing and promoting a stable of good fighters.
But pawns alone don’t keep you in the game for very long—let alone win it—and when a big-named fighter becomes available, it should jump on the chance to snatch him up.
Given that the UFC is going to be making several cuts to its roster, Bellator talent scouts should be waiting at the street corner, checkbooks in hand, ready to snatch up the big-named fighters who have a head start on establishing their reputations.
Fighters like Jon Fitch and Josh Barnett should have been mulling over offers from Bellator minutes after their releases from the UFC were made official.
Fans follow fighters, and the more known the name, the more attention that they attract; this is not abstract thinking, just a simple truth.
While it may be that Bellator only wants certain kinds of fighters, right now, it is in a good position to start investing in its future, and that future is found in the width, breadth and depth of its stable.
Men like Fitch, Barnett, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Jacob Volkmann, Vladimir Matyushenko, Jorge Santiago and many others would have lent Bellator an element of legitimacy in the eyes of the common fan—a demographic that the organization needs to court in every possible way.
These are all men who have been seen on the biggest stage; Bellator wouldn’t have needed to invest large amounts of money trying to promote them because the UFC had already done that.
In order to get big in the promotional business, the need to think big is a necessity, and that means taking chances on big-named fighters, all with an eye toward the big-named fights that they could enable down the line.
As 2013 continues on, Bellator needs to be ready to pull as many established names into the fold as possible. It may seem like accepting scraps from another table, but in every serious kitchen of repute, one of the key skills is knowing how to make a great meal from the leftovers.