When Bellator began, they had to know that theirs would be a tough road; they were basically born out of the ashes of the UFC’s relationship with SpikeTV and that is one large shadow to toil under.
Now, countless televised events later, they are still no closer to locking up a firm grasp on second place and their first ever pay-per-view event proved it.
For starters, they took a big gamble on one of their most legitimate champions, Alexander Shlemenko, letting him step up in weight to face former UFC champion, Tito Ortiz.
The results were damning; Ortiz made Shlemenko look like a novice, submitting him in under three minutes. While the powers that be at Bellator will no doubt try to spin this as a win, the fact is the value of their title belts was greatly diminished.
Had Shlemenko made a serious fight out of it, things could have been different; instead, he was put into a bad position and he honestly looked clueless on how to defend it.
But even then, it was terribly honest; Bellator was willing to put themselves up for public display, fully aware of the risks and in doing so owned the situation, for better or worse.
And it is probably for the worse. Ortiz is not a star of the future—that was supposed to be Shlemenko’s position. Now, he’s a middleweight champion that was essentially stomped, with shocking ease, by a UFC-castoff who hasn’t won a fight of any significance since his upset victory over Ryan Bader.
Tito Ortiz won a MMA fight. In 2014. Not autocorrect. It actually happened.— Jason Perdue (@jason1040) May 18, 2014
Now, Shlemenko goes back down to middleweight and although he is still the champion, his loss to Ortiz puts him into a position of starting over. It could be rough going for Shlemenko as he tries to erase that bad first impression with the pay-per-view audience.
But that is the no-frills foundation that Bellator has built itself on. Granted, they have tried to engage in some fluff in the promotional side of things, but their format has seen the fighters who win rewarded more often than not, which is a good thing in many ways.
Then, Bellator tried to take lemons and make lemonade by matching Michael Chandler against Will Brooks for the interim Bellator Lightweight Championship. Brooks was a substitute for Eddie Alvarez, who had to pull out late due to a training injury.
Originally, Chandler was to face Alvarez for the title in a bout that would give us what promised to be a thrilling final chapter in one of the better trilogies in MMA.
And so, Chandler and Brooks went at it hard for five full rounds. It was honestly a great fight and worthy of any PPV; both men did a lot of damage and fought hard, coming back from moments of serious adversity in order to regain advantage.
In the end, Brooks was awarded the split-decision victory, possibly putting an indefinite hold on Chandler-Alvarez 3, which was one of the few fights that Bellator could honestly provide that had true divisional merit.
Michael Chandler sure looks beat up.— Josh Gross (@yay_yee) May 18, 2014
Brooks will now face Alvarez to unite the titles and even though Chandler falls in the rankings, the fight itself was excellent. These things happen in the combative sports; it isn’t scripted and it doesn’t always follow fortune, but it’s honest and that is what this sport is all about.
@yay_yee would've been bananas if Chandler finished him with a minute left. Ruins trilogy fight but there is depth now other than the big 2— Michael Stets (@Michael_Stets) May 18, 2014
Finally, Bellator put their other big price-tag fighter, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, in against “hated rival,” Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal.
They had invested a great deal of time and promotional expense in selling what looked to be a true bad-blood bout. For their efforts, we were rewarded with a lukewarm effort that fell far short of living up to the billing.
Remember that time Quinton "Rampage" Jackson called for a rematch against the guy he just beat no more than 5 minutes earlier. #Bellator120— Shoe's Mustache (@danshoetx) May 18, 2014
Jackson was awarded the victory but it could have gone either way. Lawal then made it known he would like to be released by the promotion and accused them of favoritism, per MMA Junkie; not exactly the ending they would have liked, to be sure.
And so their first ever PPV event ended with their biggest fights unfolding in directions contrary to their best interests.
They can say they’ve gotten their first PPV under their belts and their next effort will be smoother, but given their position, how far will another PPV get them?
At best, a fight between Rampage and Tito would be sellable and perhaps the bout between Alvarez and Brooks, but that is about it for now.
In fact, their only PPV event would have been ideally placed on SpikeTV, where it could be appreciated by a wider audience that has grown fond of the Bellator brand. If they could put names like Rampage, Ortiz, Alvarez and others on a card for network television, they would likely be better served in the long run.
As of now, if this event has proved anything, it is that which does not kill them only makes them stronger. Since the fallout of the Shlemenko-Ortiz and Chandler-Brooks fights have not really settled, we don’t know just how much the worth of their titles has been diminished.
The minds of MMA fans are fair yet unpredictable, knowledgeable yet dismissive; predicting how they are going to react is nearly impossible. Thus, the waiting game begins for both Bellator and the fans.
And if we are going to wait, it should be in front of our television screens, watching on free television.
It may seem like a bitter pill to swallow for now, but the fact is, the UFC succeeded in no small part because they had no real competition. Bellator does not enjoy that position, so they need to make use of what they do have: SpikeTV.
They could do a lot worse; after all, it was considered a major coup to get the UFC on free television, and that was less than 10 years ago.
Perhaps Bellator can re-imagine another television program that put on some of the greatest fights of its time—The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, which showcased some of the greatest boxing matches to be found on television.
It might not seem as grand as PPV, but it’s gotten them this far; what could be more honest than that?