Bellator's New York City Debut Was the Night Everything Went Wrong

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterJune 25, 2017

Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

In life, there are those magical nights when everything goes according to plan.

Other times, literally everything goes wrong.

And not just wrong in a normal kind of way, but in the kind of way that makes you think someone close to you crossed a deity of some sort.

Wrong in the kind of way where you rolled into the Big Apple with a full head of steam and a heart full of dreams, only to find yourself leaving town the next day, muttering under your breath.

Because when things go wrong in mixed martial arts, they usually go all the way wrong. For Bellator MMA, there's no better place to begin than at the end, because the main event at Bellator 180 between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva was, for lack of a better word, the most normal thing that happened Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Which is to say that Sonnen essentially dominated Silva—while also getting dropped by Silva's strikes, because it wouldn't be a Chael Sonnen fight without him nearly giving up the ghost in a bout he's handily winning—and then cut a heel promo on the New York crowd before getting pushed by sore loser Silva on his way out of the cage.

This was fine, and it was a fine result. I guess the most notable part about the main event was Tito Ortiz—in a move that surprised literally nobody—doing everything in his power to get on camera and make himself the center of attention because that's what Tito Ortiz does.

Here's a little story about Tito that also won't surprise you: I was in Boston a long time ago to cover a UFC event, and we were hanging out at the hotel after finishing work one night. Tito Ortiz, who isn't even on the card, comes down to the lobby, wearing his fight shorts, an awful Punishment T-shirt, tube socks and running shoes, and he proceeds to do sprints. In the hotel lobby. Back and forth he went, making sure every fan and athlete there could see how hard he was working and how Tito Ortiz he was being.

And I say all of that to say this: Ortiz acting like a buffoon and making everyone hate him? Well, that's just kind of what he does. The man is retired and still doing the Tito thing.          

But at least Tito was entertaining, which is more than anyone can say about Ryan Bader's light heavyweight title win over Phil Davis. Both of these fighters promised us this bout wouldn't be like their first meeting, because it was awful in a way few fights are awful. They promised an exciting fight. They were lying.

Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Wanderlei Silva (red gloves) fights Chael Sonnen (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

But at least Bader vs. Davis was kind of what we expected, which is more than we can say about Aaron Pico's professional mixed martial arts debut. Friends, I bought into the Pico hype. I was overwhelmingly excited for this kid's debut. Poor Zach Freeman, the new Bellator version of Barry Horowitz, right? And then Pico gets dropped by the first punch thrown his way and tapped out. The super prospect with an intense media glare and unprecedented hype gets dusted in 24 seconds. That was less than ideal for Bellator.

But at least it was quick and clean for Pico, which is more than we can say for Michael Chandler and his Oh My God Look At His Ankle It's Flopping Around Oh I'm Going to Vomit. That fight between Chandler and Brent Primus sure was exciting for the couple of minutes it lasted between the first bell and me trying not to throw up after watching Chandler’s ankle just flopping around as he tried to stand on it.

And then, after the fight, came the perfect way to illustrate Bellator's night in New York City. Chandler, full of gusto and courage, stood up from his stool to show the doctor that yes, my ankle might be nonexistent at this point, but I am ready to continue fighting even with this one good leg I have left. And then he sat back down but not before his corner pulled the stool out from under him, sending Chandler sprawling on his ass.

Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Phill Davis (red gloves) fights Ryan Bader (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

I felt bad for laughing, but then I thought: This is MMA, and it plays no favorites.

Even if you are The Last Emperor, beloved by fans for nearly two decades, you are not special. Matt Mitrione unceremoniously finished off Fedor Emelianenko with some ground-and-pound after a near-double knockout just over a minute into the first round in the co-main event.

Even if you are Bellator, the little guy trying to do something different in a fight against a monolithic industry titan, you are not special. Even if you are a 20-year-old wunderkind who has prepared every day since the age of six for this moment, you are not special.

Bellator will be just fine over the long haul, and it'll keep improving its product wherever it goes. But on this night, in that sacred arena, it learned it will take a little more than just fun fights and a good underdog story to make it in New York City.


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