Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bellator, a No-Frills Brand Soon to Fall

Before I get where I'm going with this entry, let's first get one thing straight -- I, like most people, love free stuff. Just as much as I love the free samples at Sam's Club, I also love the free programming that Bellator Fighting Championships offers every Thursday (during the Bellator Season).

It's just that sometimes those free pigs in a blanket at Sam's club (a.k.a the Walmart on steroids) taste like paper, but I enjoy them nonetheless, at least subconsciously, because it's free -- I don't have to pull out my wallet. Likewise, when I watch Bellator it may also be possible that I'm easily satisfied with paper-tasting mixed martial arts programming because I didn't have to spend my hard-earned cash. It's a free, mid-week quick fix for my fight-starved appetite (just like those pigs in a blanket).

The truth is that in this cash-strapped economy, many of us have traded in our brand name items for no-frills --- you know, the store brand stuff. Think about it. Those Cheerios in your breakfast closet have become O's of Wheat. The Tapout tee's, you traded in for 'Snap Out' (as if no one would notice). And maybe you've substituted your regular $55 UFC pay-per-view for Thursday night Bellator fights.

Again, don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching Bellator. The production is top notch, and the format is fair. In fact, it's probably the fairness factor that makes Bellator most attractive. At a time when many of the big shows are constantly getting beat up for trading fair title contentions for more marketable fights, Bjorn Rebney and the Bellator team have stuck to their guns, keeping the fairness aspect of tournament competition as the centerpiece and theme of the Bellator product.

In addition, Bellator has taken up Women's MMA as a major agent in its promotional scheme, as it has organized an eight woman, 115lb tournament. So far, the women's tournament appears to be a potential success. Five of the eight tournament competitors are ranked among the world's top ten female junior flyweights.  Popular names like Megumi 'Mega Megu' Fujii and  Jessica should definitely help stir things up.

Sounds like a top shelf promotion, so far. So, why the 'no-frills' criticism?

Well, Elite XC, International Fighting Championships, and Bodog Fights were (or at least appeared to be) all top shelf organizations at one time, but store brand practices weren't enough to keep them afloat.  I predict that Bellator will join these organizations in the now-defunct MMA promotion graveyard because of the following short but crucial list of problems:

  • Poor matchmaking for elite fighters. While Bellator boasts a roster that includes prominent fighters Eddie Alvarez and Hector Lombard, who have they recruited to provide real competition for these athletes (okay, Roger Huerta but just keep reading)? None of Lombard's Fights with Bellator have gone the distance. His last two fights amount to a mere :44 seconds in the cage. As for Eddie A., he's managed to keep his name in the rankings by fighting in Japan's Dream promotion (which is also struggling, by the way but that's another article). Then there's Joe Soto and Lyman Good who show massive potential but are still too young in the sport to formulate an accurate assessment of how they compare to fighters in other promotions. A fighter such as Hector Lombard could probably compete with the likes of a Jorge Santiago or a Jake Shields. Simply put, Bellator will have to step up its recruitment and make matches that validate their fighter's abilities.
  • Empasis on Women's Junior Flyweight Division. Bellator's Women's Junior Flyweight Tournament places too much emphasis on a Division that receives little recognition. Yes, this is good for the fighters and women's MMA overall, but when it comes to marketability it's always safest to focus on the marketable. There's really nothing wrong with a 115lb Women's tournament. However, this tournament would have been a lot more marketable if used to complement heavier weight division. Whether Women's or Men's MMA, the heavier weight classes are always a hit!
  • Too many superfights/non-title fights. Eddie Alvarez's first Lightweight title defense against Bellator Season 2 Lightweight Champion Pat Curran was recently scrapped due to Curran's injury. Season 2 competitor and UFC vet Roger Huerta will replace Curran in a non-title bout on October 21. My question is: "why not scrap the fight altogether?" It makes more sense to put any Eddie Alvarez-Bellator fight off until Curran is healthy to compete for the title. What if Roger Huerta beats Alvarez? Then the integrity and validity of the Bellator Lightweight Championship Title is flawed. It's just not worth the risk. This is one example of the uselessness of superfights in Bellator when it involves Bellator championship fighters.

All of this, plus rumored financial difficulties, and to top it all off a highly publicized legal battle with the leading brand, the UFC, puts Bellator in a tough spot. Bellator has done all it can, format-wise, to separate itself from the norm, but it's pursuit of identifiability with cheap cut-corner methods has only produced store-brand results. Take it from Sam's Club: free samples are only a small part of the marketing scheme. Bellator will have to give up the 'Hector Lombard demolishes opponent in 3 seconds' free sample if they intend to last in this business. Unless, Bellator gets its act together, Dana White's defunct promotion tombstone will soon bear Bellator's name.

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