February 18, 2016

Bellator 149: Booking For Ratings Instead of Rankings

By Raphael Garcia

Mixed martial arts is an industry that sometimes teeters between sport and spectacle. More often than not, MMA fans are presented with competitive battles between two capable fighters, well-trained in multiple disciplines. Then, they are presented with Bellator 149. This weekend’s helping of MMA action is certainly more spectacle than sport, and Bellator MMA wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anytime there’s a card that features Ken Shamrock fighting Royce Gracie, alongside a bout between Kimbo Slice and Dada 5000, fans and media alike are going to roll their eyes in disagreement. At one time, Gracie and Shamrock were names. They carried an amount of cache that brought attention and allure. However, that time is more than a decade in the past.

Gracie and Shamrock boast a combined age of 101 years. It’s been nearly six years since either man has won a fight; Shamrock picked up a win in 2010 and 2007 was the last time that Gracie experienced getting his hand raised. Still, Bellator made the calculated risk of creating this and the Slice versus Dada bouts to attract ratings in spite of competitive rankings.

Look back to 2015 for the key reason why these types of fights are booked. Bellator 138 featured two of the four aforementioned fighters in Shamrock and Slice. Their matchup headlined the card and the promotion reached a ratings record of 1.58 million viewers. The highest quarter hit 2.1 million overall. Much of this allure came from the fact that Slice and Shamrock are two personalities that mainstream and hardcore fans know for reasons inside and out of fighting. Do they have the MMA “validity” of fighters such as Will Brooks, Michael Chandler and the newly signed Benson Henderson? The answer to that question is clearly “no,” but they are easily larger draws than any of those three men.

Proving that point within the realm of Bellator MMA is very easy. The rest of 2015 proved to be a struggle for top fighters to gain attention on their own. Bellator 144 reached 555,000 viewers, the lowest in the Scott Coker era. Even Bellator 142: Dynamite hit 800,000 which was considered a disappointment. Bellator doesn’t have the roster to create enough interest in all of their events, which causes sporadic ratings and overall damage to the brand.

That is why Bellator 149 with Gracie versus Shamrock and Slice versus Dada 5000 is so important. Early expectations are for this to be a successful event. Alex Solano of the LA Times reported that Coker is expecting “millions” of viewers for this weekend’s event. While Coker is an exceptional promoter, that number would go a long way in validating this type of booking for a promotion that is dead set on doing all it can to bring viewers to the Spike network. Whether fans want to agree or not, mixed martial arts is a business in which improving the bottom line is always the end goal.

Bellator 149 is set to be an interesting litmus test. Even though UFC Fight Night 83 is set for Sunday, the Bellator event on Friday is the most attractive of the bunch. If this show brings in the millions that Coker is expecting, fans, fighters and media alike should expect much more of the same through 2016 and beyond.



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