On Nov. 2, 2013, Bellator MMA was prepared to host the biggest event in the history of the rising organization. With a card headlined by former UFC fighters and current TNA superstars Tito Ortiz and Quentin Jackson going toe-to-toe, the potential was there for an extraordinary rise in popularity.
With Ortiz being forced to pull out of the event with a neck injury, however, the future of Bellator has sustained a devastating blow.
Ortiz and Jackson are the biggest names in the history of Bellator, and even past their respective primes, were expected to draw ratings. Unfortunately, the fight will not happen, as Ortiz has suffered a severe neck injury mere days before the event was expected to be held.
No matter what you may think about Ortiz as a fighter, it's foolish to blame him for refusing to fight with a fractured neck.
THIS JUST IN: Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson's November 2nd showdown has been cancelled after Ortiz suffered a fractured neck in training.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 25, 2013
At 38, the likelihood of Ortiz recovering and facing Jackson at a future date is slim.
This all adds up to Bellator losing what would've been the biggest draw in the history of the young company. It may not have the draw value of a Jon Jones fight, but the presence of those two men would've been an attractive feature.
Now, Bellator is stuck in recovery mode.
As one might imagine, losing the main event to a heavily-promoted card has resulted in Bellator losing potential viewers. Unfortunately for Bellator, it didn't just lose its top star, but it lost another well-known name to an injury.
Jason Chambers reports that Karo Parisyan will also miss the event.
Karo Pariysan out of Nov 2 #Bellator bout with back injury. Heal up brother!!— Jason Chambers (@FollowMMA) October 27, 2013
Even still, that isn't the biggest loss of the event. That would be the event itself.
Per the official Bellator Twitter feed, the pay-per-view has been canceled and the event will now be held on Spike TV.
Devastating is an understatement.
There are still fights worth talking about, but Bellator was given the chance to rival UFC with a pay-per-view show. Instead, the event was cancelled and Bellator is back to hosting television events while Dana White's organization puts together some of the highest-grossing cards in all of athletics.
It may be unfair to compare Bellator to the MMA organization that has ruled the craft since the 1990s, but UFC has set the bar. For all of the hype that it's received, however, the loss of the pay-per-view is a significant setback.
The question is, how can it recover?
Potential Replacement Opponents
Call me an optimist, but I don't believe that Bellator's future is entirely decided by the loss of the pay-per-view. It's an unfortunate twist of fate, and it does create an uphill battle, but there's still time for the company to recover and improve the trajectory of its path to rivaling UFC.
In terms of making a leap toward UFC's level, however, that opportunity has been lost.
The key moving forward will be for Bellator to maximize the value of the fighters it presently has, and most specifically, finding Rampage Jackson a fight in the near future. His clash with Ortiz would've garnered the most headlines, but that doesn't mean there isn't a strong potential opponent.
According to Dave Meltzer of MMAFighting.com, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal is willing to fight Jackson on short notice.
"I found out everything today. I told ‘em I'd fight Quinton, too," said Lawal, who's slated to rematch Emanuel Newton for an interim strap on the event's main card. "I think this whole thing is weird."
Lawal has a fight that's already scheduled, but a clash between the two is a possibility that's worth exploring.
Will Bellator ever rival UFC?
Like Jackson, Lawal is a member of TNA Impact Wrestling, which creates the opportunity for an elevated level of promotion and exposure. Both organizations are working with Spike TV, and the opportunity to pit new TNA superstars against one another is promising.
If not Lawal, options truly are limited when it comes to finding a fighter with name value. Bellator is a rising promotion, and without Ortiz and Jackson going toe-to-toe, it will need to trust a relatively unproven commodity's ability to rise up for a stellar performance.
One way or another, Bellator must act fast to limit the damage done by the loss of Jackson versus Ortiz.