The pieces were all in place for what would have been one of the most legitimately insane pay-per-view shows of all time. In one corner, there was Roy Jones Junior, one of boxing's best—in the 1990's. In the other, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, one of mixed martial arts' best fighters—in the 2000's.
What would it look like when these two past-their-prime legends got in the cage together? Would it be a boxing match or an MMA fight? Or would it be some wacky hybrid, both sports bastardized beyond recognition in the names of fairness and commerce?
It looked like we were going to find out.
Earlier in the day, TNA president Dixie Carter and Bellator frontman Bjorn Rebney both teased an announcement was imminent. And so, there was a legitimate buzz in the air last night as Rampage hit the Bellator cage, the kind of buzz usually reserved for Dana White and the UFC.
Jones was cageside. Rampage was in the cage with the stick. No one knew exactly what he was going to say.
What followed was a scene right out of pro wrestling in the late 1990's, when the WWE and WCW went toe-to-toe and checkbook-to-checkbook to see who would rule the wrestling roost. Jackson teased the Jones announcement, stealing the boxer from the grasp of Dana and the UFC, who purportedly wanted him for a bout with Anderson Silva. And then—the swerve.
He wouldn't, it turns out, be fighting Jones at all. Instead, as the music blared and the lights dimmed, another man made his way to the cage, his unmistakably enormous dome leaving no doubt about his identity. The fight that 2003 forgot is finally being made a decade later:
Quinton Jackson versus Tito Ortiz.
The presentation here was masterful. Though there were teases the retired Ortiz was pondering a return with Bellator, the company had floated the Jones rumors so persistently that fans and media were all but convinced that fight was actually in the pipeline. No one was speculating about Jackson and Ortiz.
Whether that's a good thing or not remains to be seen.
Bellator has a rough road to walk in the coming months before they debut on pay-per-view on November 2. No one besides the UFC has ever succeeded in selling MMA to an American audience on pay-per-view. Not even the vaunted Pride Fighting Championship made a dent in the market.
Affliction, the t-shirt company with more money than brains, spent its way to oblivion in the attempt. Strikeforce never even got off the bench and into the game.
Can Bellator make a legitimate run with Rampage and Ortiz, both bright stars who have already begun to dim? Signs point to no. In his last UFC pay-per-view fight last year in Japan, Jackson drew just 375,000 buys for his co-main event bout with Ryan Bader. In the main event against Matt Hamill at UFC 130, he managed just 325,000 buys.
Ortiz, meanwhile, has been relegated to a supporting role in recent years. His last main event bout was in 2011, when he and Rashad Evans drew 310,000 buys at UFC 133. More importantly, he's managed just one win since 2007, a shocking upset of Bader at UFC 132. At one point, he was the UFC's biggest star. But memories are short, and Tito long in the tooth.
In support of a legitimate main event, this could be a fun fight to fill out a card. Both men are legitimate legends. Both, even today, have extensive fan support and are capable of creating interest. In truth, this is probably the biggest fight you could possibly make without reaching into the UFC's massive roster for talent.
That doesn't necessarily make it worthy of pay-per-view.
Details will come Monday at a press conference in California. The price point, the supporting bouts and a myriad of factors will help determine success or failure. But without the UFC's marketing savvy and name value, this fight is unlikely to reach too far beyond the 100,000 buy mark. Breaking even would be a minor miracle.