In the looming shadow of the UFC, Bellator MMA has slowly, but surely, established itself as the second-biggest mixed martial arts organization in North America.
Bellator's savvy move from MTV2 to Spike in 2012 has thrust the brand into the national spotlight and millions of American homes. In June, Spike will begin airing Bellator's reality-based competition show, Fight Master, which will help in cultivating fresh talent for the promotion.
In the meantime, Bellator has struggled to sign and retain fighters that carry a certain level of name recognition. Bellator spent millions of dollars building an ad campaign for its Season 8 tournaments to be headlined by Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, Renato Sobral and Paul Daley.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, none of those fighters were able to live up to expectations, which left the organization desperate for a fighter with name notoriety to draw viewership until young Fight Master talent develops.
Bellator obviously needs someone with a certain je ne sais quoi. With a record of 12-4 and a rabid fanbase, journeyman War Machine (aka Jonathan Koppenhaver) certainly fits the bill.
However, War Machine is a walking, talking human expletive with a less than stellar record outside the cage. Bellator's dubious re-signing of him is a serious misstep on the way to legitimacy.
Yes, War Machine has previously had two short-lived stints in Bellator. In 2009, he was let go prior to his promotional debut due to inflammatory comments he made about President Obama on his MySpace page.
In 2011, Bellator gave him another shot. But before his Season 6 bout with Karl Amoussou, War Machine was sentenced to a year in jail stemming from 2009 assault charges.
His track record has been marred by numerous run-ins with the law and time spent starring in pornographic films. There is no doubt that War Machine is a talented fighter, having previously competed inside the UFC, but his mouth got him in trouble with Dana White as well.
In fact, just prior to his first signing with Bellator, he was cut from the UFC for making insensitive insinuations about the death of former middleweight champ Evan Tanner.
Now Bellator is hoping that the third time is the charm. War Machine was supposed to face Brit striker Paul Daley back in January, but had to pull out of that fight because of a broken ankle and torn ACL.
He is currently slated to take on Blas Avena (8-6), who is little more than a life-sized cardboard cutout of a fighter, at Bellator 96. It is without a doubt that War Machine will tear through him and inevitably earn a spot in the upcoming welterweight tournament.
It seems clear that Bellator wants to prominently feature War Machine, but given his tendency to step outside the bounds of human decency, it will only be a matter of time until he does something worthy of suspension or release.
If he goes off the deep end, it will leave Bellator scrambling for a late replacement fighter and once again compromise the integrity of the brand.
Though unlikely, War Machine could run the gauntlet of the tournament unscathed and become the welterweight champ. This is a risk Bellator is willing to take for short-term promotional gains and just goes to show how important name recognition is in fight sports.
War Machine is a ticking time bomb; it is not a matter of if, but when. He has little long-term upside, and for that reason his acquisition was short-sighted and ultimately will blow up in Bellator's proverbial face.
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