Bellator officially ended their foray into women's MMA on Tuesday with the release of their few remaining athletes. It was the right move for Bellator, the fighters and the sport.
Far too often the focus is on a promotion's failures. There is a lot of negativity, but rarely any positivity in regards to moves organizations make. Bellator deserves a pat on the back for their recent move.
Bellator joined the fray of promoting women's fights early on, and they even brought over Megumi Fujii as part of their 115-pound tournament in 2010. It looked as if Bellator could corner the market for women's MMA. They had a selection of talented women, but they failed to seize the opportunity.
Between 2012 and present, Bellator has put on 38 fight cards and only nine have featured a women's bout. In total, Bellator only put on 10 female fights of their hundreds of bouts. Something had to give.
Their fight cards left little room for female bouts. They had several tournaments in line to give their champions challengers to face. And then came signings of significant free agents like King Mo and Rampage Jackson.
Simply put, Bellator shifted the focus of their matchmaking and the women were caught in the middle. Bellator tried to keep their fighters as active as possible, but Bjorn Rebney knew it wasn't enough. He issued a press release confirming the news and reason behind releasing the athletes:
"I’ve said many times that fighters need to fight and fight often. Given our current focus, we are not in position to provide these very deserving women regular and reoccurring fights on a large platform," Rebney stated. "And, I felt it was best to let them go and secure options that did. I genuinely wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors and will be rooting for each of them wherever they fight.”
No. 2-ranked flyweight Jessica Eye is one of the biggest free agents in the sport now. She spoke with Steph Daniels of Bloody Elbow about her recent release:
First and foremost, I want to make sure that Bellator gets no disrespect from others for releasing me or the other girls. They did exactly what they said they were going to do at the time, and our relationship was good. They treated me like a princess while I was there, and I have nothing but great things to say about them.
The focus of women's MMA now shifts to Invicta FC and the UFC. Who will sign where? Eye, for example, can move up in weight to bantamweight and sign with the largest MMA promotion in the world if she so chooses.
On the other hand, if Invicta lands all of the former Bellator employees they will have virtually cornered the market on all non-bantamweight female divisions. It is a big opportunity for the all-women's promotion to boast about having the top talent outside of the UFC's 135-pound division.
The all-women's fight promotion headed by Shannon Knapp has generated a lot of buzz, and a lot of great fights. For the first time in professional MMA there is a significant buzz around women. Plural, not singular. Getting the likes of Eye, Michelle Ould and Jessica Aguilar signed to exclusive deals would further strengthen the organization.
The coming days and weeks will be exciting for women's MMA. But in the meantime Bellator gets a tip of the cap.
The Viacom-owned organization did right by the athletes. No longer will they be on the shelf waiting long periods of time without a fight, and wondering if their next opponent will be a significant challenge.
Tuesday was a win for women's MMA, and Bellator should get a little bit of praise in that. They could have found singular fights for their fighters, but they chose instead to sever ties and let them participate in active divisions. It is what is best for them and the sport, and Bellator made it possible.