It’s a rare thing that Bellator gets out in front and really, truly pushes the UFC. It’s even more rare that it all happens on the same weekend, with both promotions reeling off fight cards in hopes of securing fan interest.
It happened this weekend, though. And, perhaps shockingly, Bellator came out on top.
Possibly a lesser shock is that they did it in the most Bellator fashion possible.
Their success wasn’t pure. It wasn’t a product of excellent matchmaking or a deep card filled with a collection of Fight of the Year contenders. And it wasn’t even a true success in some ways.
Their success, such as it was, came from unadulterated zaniness. It was the result of steering into the waves of unpredictability and chaos that one will only find in MMA.
Heather Hardy—a boxer-turned-mixed martial artist with alliterated H’s that might make one think she’s the promotion’s answer to Holly Holm—got some (bloodied) face time on her way to a scintillating TKO win late in her debut.
They slapped Lyoto Machida’s brother on Spike TV against a poor man’s Conor McGregor and had them jerk the curtain for two UFC washouts main-eventing for the light heavyweight title.
Delightfully, the whole thing was called by Mike Goldberg, because who else is right to call MMA on Spike TV?
When the pay-per-view portion started, only the second of its kind in Bellator history, things began with an entirely-too-serious title fight between Lorenz Larkin and Douglas Lima. Lima won an interesting bout between two legitimately excellent welterweights before things turned weird again.
Moments later, Brent Primus dethroned the face of Bellator, Michael Chandler, when Chandler rolled his ankle and couldn’t continue. In getting to that point, though, Chandler almost KO’d Primus on one leg and then had someone comically pull his corner stool from underneath him during a typically inappropriate mid-fight NYSAC regulatory charade.
All of that happened before Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen locked up to end the evening, a bout that saw Sonnen maul Silva with takedowns and aggression before boldly claiming he hates New York only seconds after being declared the winner.
It was all wonderful in its own silly way—the type of enjoyment that you’ll never find in a UFC event but that remains worth your $50 anyway.
And that’s the rub.
In order for Bellator to win a weekend away from the UFC, they have to pull everything they have out of their bag of tricks. Out of that, almost every outcome they could account for must be undermined and everything they ruled out has to happen, just so people can enjoy the preposterousness of it all.
Only then will people pay attention, and it’s still close even with the UFC running a card of relative unknowns headlined by a “not-quite-contenders-now-but-maybe-someday-they-will-be” bout in Oklahoma.
It shows the gulf between the entities in the MMA market share, and it shows how far Bellator still has to go. This was a nice weekend for them, and there’s reason to think there might be a few more such successes coming down the line. But it’s the UFC’s world right now, and everyone else is living in it.
Still, as the likes of Freeman, Primus, Mitrione and Sonnen might tell you: A win is a win is a win.
Bellator landed one this weekend.