Blood Sport: Can Bellator overtake UFC?

Max Hamid

Bellator is clearly the little brother longing for attention whilst the UFC grabs all the headlines. But step by step, year by year, Bellator is stitching together a squad composed of top quality UFC challengers and big name veterans. There are young lions raring to go as well, who Bellator boss Scott Coker is intelligently building and building to a crescendo. The way the UFC is going about business is alienating not just their own product but also pushing their fans away. Of course, there is a lot of catching up to do. Bellator is still a brand that casual MMA fans would struggle to recognise. But who’s to say what the state of MMA will look like in five years’ time…

Making waves at Bellator

Scott Coker, a sort of well mannered, respectful version of Dana White has realized that to catch up with the UFC, Bellator need to start making statements. Bellator 180 at Madison Square Garden was the organization metaphorically tapping the UFC on the shoulder and reminding them they are only a few steps behind them. They threw the kitchen sink at that card, stacking it with any and every familiar name in their ranks.

The double knock down between Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emilanenko eptiomised the mayhem unfurling at Bellator events. Fans took notice and suddenly Bellator seems to be dangerously encroaching on the UFC’s space. Whilst the UFC has been light years ahead of its competition, the company has plateaued shockingly in recent years. People have recovered from the original shock of MMA in general. As the UFC remains stagnant, it is Bellator that is reaching new heights and splashing its way to an upward trajectory.

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A promising second generation

The youthful potential is definitely one area where Bellator will feel they could have parity with the UFC within the next 2 years. The 20-year-old James Gallagher is riding a seven-fight win streak, with six submission victories. Coker has put two and two together and decided to expose him on the biggest Bellator cards. The kid is a young, brash, tattooed Irishman. Remind you of anyone? It’s a proven formula. Even Conor McGregor himself is a big fan

Then two years older, at the age of 22 is AJ McKee. Another featherweight who has already equaled the record for most consecutive wins in Bellator. Two of the hottest prospects in MMA on a similar trajectory could potentially engage in the most heated and continual rivalry in the sport. Bad blood can really capture the imagination of the media if they both continue to hype the fights with snide remarks and trash talk. It just takes one of these guys to blow up on social media or in the news to spark interest in Bellator. One man can carry the whole organisation into the public eye.

Bellator the circus act?

Coker has made no bones about allowing older, celebrated fighters competing in Bellator. Chael Sonnen is a former pay-per-view king. 40-year-old Fedor Emilianenko is widely considered the greatest to grace the cage. Both of whom are past their prime and would get ripped apart in the UFC. But at Bellator, they embrace the much discussed ‘legend fights.’

Sonnen fought Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva, both of whom are over 40 years old. So, does the circus act work? To an extent, yes. At times, the build up and trash talk can be cheesy, bordering on ridiculous. But fans love the WWE-style facade that old fashioned fighters like Ortiz and Sonnen rely on.

As sad as it is to admit, Kimbo Slice (RIP) was a bigger draw than the pound-for-pound greatest of all time Demetrius ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson. Fans are not yet intricately familiar with the ins and outs of MMA yet in the same way they understand say football or basketball.

UFC Champions Amanda Nunes and Tyron Woodley have received a lot of unfair criticism for putting too much emphasis on retaining the belt and thus fighting too defensively. At their core, fans want to see blood, not the technical striking clinics that diehard MMA fans love in the UFC. Coker has delivered this in spades, evidence that Bellator appeases the fans.

The Fighters

The UFC is letting some of its best talent leave to join their rivals. This seems like a bizarre business plan, as fighters like Gegard Mousasi, Rory MacDonald, Benson Henderson and Michael McDonald are all title challengers who will undoubtedly become the new faces of Bellator.

Rory Macdonald is a Canadian icon and responsible for THE bloodiest war in UFC history against Robbie Lawler. Why let him leave?! How on earth can Mousasi, who is coming off a huge win over Chris Weidman and holds a record of 42 wins and six losses be surplus to requirements? Ryan Bader and Phil Davis could be the saviours of the UFC’s dying light heavyweight division but they weren’t offered fair deals.

Bellator is welcoming this top quality talent with open arms and licking their lips. Not to mention the stars they have nurtured from the outset like the unorthodox Michael Venom Page and Jiu-Jitsu maestro Neiman Gracie.

Lastly, Bellator has half as many fighters on their roster; there are only nine bantamweights to keep tabs on. Fans don’t have to revise the rankings every time there is a card. The youngsters trying to break through don’t get lost amongst the crowd, they are front and centre, waiting to explode.

The Woes of the UFC

It has become public knowledge that since the UFC was sold for four billion dollars, the welfare and care of the fighters has not been the priority. Unless your name is Conor McGregor. It seems that Dana White has put all his eggs in Conor’s basket and left his other champions to stew with disgruntled complaints.

Scott Coker at Bellator is notoriously welcoming and sympathetic to his fighters. Whereas White has criticised Nunes, Johnson, Woodley and countless other fighters.The fighters should always come first in the fight business and there are fears that White’s ego is overshadowing the marketing of his product. Since the company has been sold, the sole focus has been on the spectacle and trying to claw back some profit.

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