Bellator hosted their inaugural pay-per-view production on May 17th, and while it may have created many problems for the promotion moving forward, it sure was entertaining to see those problems unfold. The financial success of this pay-per-view will be up in the air until the gate, attendance, and buy rate numbers come out, as none of those numbers are public at this point in time and the event will live, or die, by those figures. When it comes to the overall implications of this event, it succeeded greatly in creating a buzz surrounding the promotion. Sports mediums have covered the Bellator pay-per-view bout equally as much, if not more than the run-of-the-mill UFC pay-per-view. When compared to the normal standards of Bellator, this is by far the most coverage Bellator has received at any time in recent memory. Whether or not this buzz will last, or if this event has an overall negative impact on the future of Bellator will unfold in the next few months, but in the short term Bellator couldn't have asked for much more from their first ever pay per view event.
Bellator has been exclusively on free television since their founding in 2008, appearing initially on ESPN Deportes before moving to Fox Sports Net, MTV2 and their current home, Spike TV. The third bout between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler was supposed to headline the card, until Alvarez suffered a concussion in training less than 2 weeks out. The card was shuffled around following Alvarez being sidelined by injury, and the grudge match between bitter rivals Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Mohammed “King Mo” Lawal for the light heavyweight tournament final became the new main event.
The Rivalry Building: Rampage, King Mo and Who's “The Man” in Bellator
Rampage knows how to sell a fight by building up a storyline of drama littered with verbal jabs and humor, and make his actions convincing with his sheer intensity and never-relenting insults. Rampage apparently snubbed a shoutout from King Mo back when Rampage was fighting for King of the Cage, and the drama built steadily while Rampage fought for the UFC and King Mo fought for Strikeforce. Both held titles at different times in their respective organizations before coming to Bellator, and teased the idea of smashing one another years ago, before a video emerged of the two interviewing with each other peacefully and humorously after both fighters signed to the same sponsor, MMA Elite. This was thought to be the end of the rivalry, but after both men won their bouts in the semifinals of the Bellator 4 man light heavyweight tournament and Rampage went on a well, rampage, calling out King Mo to say he's coming for his spot to be the man in Bellator; both fighters had to be separated and in that brief moment the rivalry was reheated. Rampage and King Mo went on to exchange insults and the verbal altercations almost erupted into physical altercations at almost every public appearance made by the two including the post-fight press conference, promotional shoots and the weigh in.
Rampage and King Mo were key signings to bring well-known fighters to Bellator, but the latter isn't going how many predicted. King Mo lost twice to current Bellator light heavyweight champion, Emmanuel Newton, and his cocky demeanor has made him into a "heel". The problem for King Mo is that to exist as a successful heel character, he needs to have the ability to win, and that isn't the case because he has yet to perform up to the standards that he sets in his owntrash talk not due to physical inability, or being beat by his opponent, but by his own mental mistakes or shortcomings. Rampage has been able to capitalize on King Mo's shortcomings by successfully embracing the monster character that he has painted himself as, defeating Joey Beltran and Christian M'Pumbu in his first 2 fights in Bellator by first-round knockout. After the 2 victories, Rampage wasn't able to contain his intensity, continuing to yell and in the latter bout, Rampage yelled at the unconscious M'Pumbu to let him and everyone else know that he's here to stay. Rampage is either loved or hated, but with either end of the spectrum he creates a draw when he fights, while King Mo is doing a somewhat poor job of being a heel. A heel is usually a character that people love to hate and watch in the hopes of seeing him get his teeth kicked in. King Mo is hated by a large number of fans who have grown tired of his act. King Mo cares too much about what the crowd perceives him as; his recent performances have told a much different story from the extraordinarily cocky attitude he carries himself with, and this gap in abilities will lead to King Mo's eventual demise provided he doesn't improve, become more genuine or fully embrace the heel character.
The Main Event and the Grudge Continues
When it came to the fight that has been building up for years, it was not the aggressive barn-burner that King Mo and mostly Rampage promised, it consisted of King Mo working his wrestling well in the first round with no significant dominance due to Rampage's ability to pop up to the feet quickly and avoid giving King Mo the comfort to do any real damage on top. In the second round Rampage was more effective in avoiding the take-down, and he hurt King Mo with his striking in a brief burst. Those flurries by Rampage were avoided by clinching, distance and wrestling over the course of the fight by King Mo, but they did the most damage by far, nearly closing one of King Mo's eyes, and the decision came down to the third round. The third round could have gone either way depending on whether Rampage and his striking that caused damage, or King Mo's effective wrestling that didn't do much more than hold Rampage down dominantly was viewed as more significant. While many media members saw the bout for King Mo, the judges all saw it in Rampage's favor, scoring it 29-28 across the board. This victory didn't come with a formal title, but Rampage, King Mo, and just about everyone else, knows that Rampage has taken the unofficial title of being “the man” in Bellator, and he has solidified himself as one of the biggest stars, and a bigger star than King Mo.
This bout was underwhelming overall and didn't turn into the hateful slug fest that it promised, but it served as a solid and well promoted main event that may have positive implications in the future. While Rampage is promised a title shot against Emmanuel Newton now, he isn't interested in facing his younger teammate, King Mo already lost to Newton twice, and the rivalry between Rampage and King Mo has not been calmed down one bit after their fight. Rampage offered a rematch to King Mo immediately after the fight, as he is humble, knew it was close and wants another chance to smash King Mo in the future. King Mo saw this humble gesture as a sign of weakness, and fired insults at Rampage for knowing that he lost the fight and that is the only reason why he asked for a rematch. Based on the insults in the cage after the fight, Rampage's critique of King Mo's wrestling approach and King Mo's critique of Rampage being a 1-dimensional fighter that would do better in kickboxing or boxing at the press conference, it may be marketable to set up the rematch, and with the lack of excitement or willingness to book a title fight from either fighter, a rematch might allow more time to solve the puzzle of who should fight for te championship next, and what to do with Tito Ortiz, which will be discussed further below.
The Co-Main Event and a Welcome Addition to the Marquee Lightweight Division
After plenty of stalling and interviews since the previous 3 bouts lasted barely 14 minutes, the co-main event saw Michael Chandler face tournament winner Will Brooks for the interim lightweight title, after Eddie Alvarez was forced out of a title defense against Michael Chandler who he won the title late last year. Chandler beat Alvarez and earned the lightweight title back in 2011, lost the title in a rematch in late 2013 and both bouts were fight of the year winner,s or candidates in many major MMA media publications. The third bout was expected to be loaded with fireworks. While Alvarez recovers from his concussion, Chandler was booked against Brooks. Brooks had another fight booked for this pay-per-view card, but that was scratched, and the interim belt was created. Whether Alvarez will be out long enough to make the interim title worth creating will be determined in the next couple months, but it appears, based on current estimations, that it won't be worth it as Alvarez should be back by later this year. Chandler was a heavy favorite over Brooks, and not many people saw anything but a dominant performance guaranteeing Chandler another rematch with Alvarez and another fight of the year candidate as soon as he is back. There is a saying that the fight that you're supposed to win is often the most dangerous fight, and this bout and the next bout that I will talk about, embody that statement to the fullest.
Bellator set up the perfect fight to add depth to this card by pitting Chandler against a crafty tournament champion for the interim belt in Brooks. The expectation for this fight was Chandler would show further potential and create a more marketable rematch with Alvarez. Brooks single-handedly obliterated that marquee match up, causing Bellator to lose out on a guaranteed fan-favorite match up. This may have destroyed a big cash-cow fight in the marquee lightweight division in Bellator, where Alvarez and Chandler are two of the only fighters that are constantly discussed, not only as top Bellator fighters but top lightweights in the world. Brooks, however, may have added depth to the current two man monopoly over the division. There are now three names that stand alone in the Bellator lightweight division with Brooks forcing his way to the top with Chandler and Alvarez, and while Brooks won the bout he didn't dominate Chandler enough to discount him at all. Many members of the media scored the bout as a draw or in Chandler's favor according to mmadecisons.com. Brooks was the winner in the eyes of 2 judges and 1 media member, but with 7 draws and 5 media members seeing the bout for Chandler, a rematch would be easy to market. The way the fight was broken down, Chandler clearly won the first 2 rounds, Brooks clearly won the next 2 with the third round possibly being a 10-8 round, and the last round was the deciding round based on the judges tendency to shy away from 10-8 rounds. One judge gave it to Chandler and the other two judges saw Brooks winning the last round, giving Brooks the split decision victory.
If Alvarez is out for an extended period of time, this is a great opportunity to give Chandler another chance to secure a rematch with Alvarez, or for Brooks to further prove he belongs near the top of the division. If Alvarez isn't out for long, it will likely come down to who he wants to fight, in possibly his last fight before making his way over to the UFC, provided the same offer that landed him in court with Bellator, because they wouldn't let him go a year ago, is still on the table. Alvarez can opt for either Brooks or Chandler, and it may be difficult to weigh out what is the best option for him assuming he only fights once more under the Bellator banner. Brooks is the more legitimate opponent in an organization that prides itself on the tournament format, since Brooks earned his shot, it is a logical sentiment that he deserves the fight. Chandler may be the more "fan friendly" fight, since the first two bouts were very exciting and he might not have won, but he had a good showing against Brooks. It wouldn't be a travesty if Chandler got the title fight, but Bjorn's criticism of the UFC's structure of getting title shots and the emphasis on the tournament structure would both be weakened by that decision. One way or another, when Alvarez comes back he has 2 incredible options for a fight waiting for him, and either one is sure to be exciting.
The Return of Tito Ortiz Creating Big Problems All Around
Tito Ortiz made his long awaited return to MMA after a 2 year hiatus since his UFC retirement, holding a record of 1-7-1 since the end of 2006 heading into this bout. Ortiz faced the Bellator middleweight champion, Alexander Shlemenko, in a light heavyweight bout, where he had a distinct size advantage over Shlemenko. Ortiz is 6'3” tall and likely cuts at least 25 lbs to make the 206 pound light heavyweight limit, and weighs in near that on the day of the fight after rehydrating. Shlemenko is 5'11” tall and likely cuts down from around 195 pounds to make the 185 pound limit in middleweight title fights, as he is known as a smaller middleweight. Shlemenko struggled to get near the weight limit of the light heavyweight division, weighing in at 201 pounds against Ortiz, and likely losing some water weight back down to the 190 pound range in time for the bout. Shlemenko was still a gigantic favorite, in the range of 6-8 to 1 over Ortiz despite this disadvantage, and with proper striking this was supposed to be a great way for Shlemenko to beat an aging legend and create buzz around his name. Ortiz was supposed to be on his way out and was not supposed to be able to implement his top heavy game over the striking game of Shlemenko, but like I said earlier, the fight that you are supposed to win is often the most dangerous.
The fight started out as it was predicted to, with Shlemenko controlling the distance and battering Ortiz effectively from the outside. Ortiz looked hopeless for all of a minute or so, until he was able to secure a take down and work his way on top. It was clear at this moment that Shlemenko was in deep water, and it was questionable if he would be able to swim out of the water against the experienced Ortiz. Ortiz took little time to work his way to a set up for an arm-triangle choke, and went for the choke with little hesitation. Shlemenko barely tried to defend the choke, only pulling on his own arm in an effort to relieve the pressure, before his limbs went limp and the referee jumped in to instruct Ortiz to stop squeezing on the neck of the now unconscious Shlemenko. Two minutes and twenty-seven seconds later, Ortiz earned his second win since 2006, this time against one of Bellator's hottest champions.
In that short time, Shlemenko's stock likely plummeted, losing this fight in which he was an astronomical favorite to an aging veteran 10 years older than him who had an underwhelming record in the UFC before moving to Bellator. Ortiz may be a crowd favorite and a legend, but his record before this bout points to the reality that he likely can't hang in there for long against elite fighters that are legitimate light heavyweights, and he can't be a draw for many more years. Shlemenko's abilities are now questionable since he lost to a fighter who has not fared well in recent bouts, and this leaves questions about the difficulty of the middleweight division of Bellator that he has shown dominance in as well. Controversial media members and common fans may also point to the possibility of a fixed fight based on how easily Shlemenko slipped into the arm-triangle choke and did little to defend the squeeze put on by Ortiz.
While it is great to see Ortiz back to form after remembering his glory days of reigning over the UFC's light heavyweight division, he clearly isn't the same, even his post-fight celebration seemed less exciting and energetic than it should have been. Ortiz has undergone many major surgeries and considers himself somewhat of a bionic man back to elite form, but we all heard this when he beat Ryan Bader in 2011 and went on to lose 3 straight fights after that. Ortiz is a fan favorite that tries to be an inspiration in any way that he can, and while this is a very genuine goal, he is a bit self-righteous in his portrayal of this, and he lacks the communication skills to clearly articulate his meaningful messages despite being in the business of selling fights and speaking in public for 15 years. Ortiz has always had difficulty articulating his enthusiasm, and this is still genuine since he speaks from the heart, but he can only do this for a couple more years at best in MMA. For now, Ortiz needs to fight a top light heavyweight to see where he's really at in the division, as his size difference might have had an impact that was far greater than ever anticipated. Bouts with Rampage, King Mo, former Bellator light heavyweight champion Attila Vegh or current Bellator light heavyweight champion Emmanuel Newton might be bouts for Ortiz to take next to keep his hype train going and use the short amount of time Ortiz has left in the spotlight. Shlemenko needs to stay at middleweight, maybe even considering a move to welterweight in the future, and at the moment try to restore his legitimacy by continuing to dominate contenders, hopefully facing well tested competition in the near future.
The Heavyweight Tournament Final, a Highly Anticipated Rematch and Remarkable Comeback
Alexander Volkov faced Blagoy Ivanov in the season 10 heavyweight tournament final, in a classic grappler versus striker battle. Volkov is the former Bellator heavyweight champion who lost his title to current champion, Vitaly Minakov, last fall, by way of first round TKO. Volkov earned a TKO and a KO victory, respectively, in his next two bouts after the loss, earning his way through the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the season 10 heavyweight tournament and securing his spot in the final against Ivanov. Ivanov has one of the most incredible comeback stories in the history of MMA, if not in all of sports, after a stabbing in February of 2012 left him in critical condition and punctured his heart. Ivanov stayed in intensive care and overcame a number of complications over his 2 month stay in the hospital. Shortly before leaving the hospital, Ivanov held a press conference in the hospital announcing that he would return to MMA within a year, and held true to his word after getting out of the hospital and back into the gym. Ivanov returned to MMA in the fall of 2013 and won his next 4 fights, 3 of those coming by way of first round submission, and his latest win by way of first round americana, a tournament semifinal bout against the heavy-handed Lavar Johnson earned him a spot in the tournament final against Volkov.
The fight between these two elite heavyweights saw a clinch battle led by Ivanov last most of the first round, with short bursts of striking from Volkov when they separated from the clinch. With the grappling advantage of Ivanov and the striking advantage of Volkov, the action in the first round was not surprising and was rather uneventful as it can be argued that either man could have won the round whether the dominance in the clinch by Ivanov or the occasional striking by Volkov that created a little swelling under the eye of Ivanov. The second round started out about the same as the first round went for the first minute, as Volkov looked to strike and Ivanov looked to clinch against the fence. Just before the 1 minute mark into the round, Ivanov mixed things up in a rather expected manner and went for a throw against the cage, and looked to get on top of Volkov. Volkov surprised nearly everyone as he slipped out from the throw and immediately took the back of Ivanov. Volkov wasted no time when taking the back of Ivanov and immediately submitted Ivanov with a rear naked choke, handing Ivanov his first loss while securing his second win by submission.
While this bout was fairly even up until the finish and Volkov is a former champion who will fight Minakov in a rematch to attempt to earn his title back in his next bout, neither fighter looked too exciting. Volkov will need to improve significantly if he is going to offer Minakov anything new and make the rematch end differently than the first fight. Ivanov didn't do anything to warrant him a place among the top of Bellator's heavyweight division, but with a bout against another hot fighter such as Cheick Kongo he might be able to earn that status Kongo is a big name that came over from the UFC and is 3-1 in Bellator with his only loss coming to champion Minakov. The heavyweight division in all of MMA has looked weak in recent years, as now being a big guy who can throw and take a punch isn't suitable to be at the top anymore. With athleticism, technical ability and size now all becoming firm requirements of the elite, the perfect blend of these traits is hard to find outside of maybe Cain Velasquez in the UFC, and worthy challengers to people who fit this mold are even harder to find.
Michael Page, a Flashy Rising Star in the Shallow Welterweight Divison
The first bout on the pay per view card saw rising star and recent Bellator signee Michael Page face off against Ricky Rainey. Page, a decorated freestyle kickboxer, made his Bellator debut in March of last year and was nothing short of impressive after winning by way of KO in 10 seconds. Page had a bout under the SLF banner after that and brought his record up to 5-0 before this bout with Rainey. Rainey also had 1 fight in Bellator before this bout and won by way of TKO in just over a minute. It was clear that this was going to be a bout of strikers sure to bring fireworks, with Page being a heavy favorite based on his elite freestyle kickboxing background and extraordinarily flashy striking. The bout played out exactly as expected, as Page taunted, fainted, danced, and struck Rainey virtually flawlessly for four and a half minutes before Rainey fell to the mat and Page earned the TKO.
Both fighters are very new to Bellator and MMA in general, so it is uncertain where each fighter will ultimately end up, but Rainey needs to be tested to see if he should stay in Bellator, and Page needs to be tested to see how fast he can rise to the top. Page already is familiar with competing at a world class level from his kickboxing career, and needs to be properly cultivated in Bellator so he rises to the top slow enough to grow as a fighter, but fast enough to gain notice of casual fans. Page needs to face significantly more difficult competition in his upcoming bouts because while his taunting against Rainey looked quite flashy, it was clear based on the boos from the crowd that his antics will not earn him fans, and against tougher competition he will be forced to strike effectively or he will certainly get caught. The ground game of Page is also a big question mark, and with a slow rise to the top, he can surely develop his wrestling and BJJ to compete at the highest level. The Bellator welterweight division saw a title fight for the vacant title in April after Ben Askren left the promotion over a year ago, and Douglas Lima continued his run through the division by beating Rick Hawn for the belt. With a shortage of contenders, Page can certainly become a very intriguing matchup for Lima, especially based on Lima's tendency to favor striking, with his last 8 wins coming by way of TKO or KO. This pay-per-view might have seen the start of an impressive run by Page that could take him to a title fight and beyond, but only time will tell.
What did you think of the fights? Please leave any feedback and comments below.