November 8, 2016

Bellator 163: In A Top-Heavy MMA Landscape, Bellator MMA Continues To Make Strides

By Raphael Garcia

It’s clear that mixed martial arts is a market thoroughly dominated by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The largest promotion in the world continues to put on events that bring fans the biggest names and set the path for the future of the sport, i.e. UFC 205. However, Bellator MMA cannot be completely ignored. As the promotion continues to go through growing pains of sorts, there are glimmers of hope that this promotion can become a viable alternative beyond the hardcore MMA fan base.

With Bellator 163 behind us, we now await the ratings report for the event. The show was headlined by the light heavyweight championship bout between Liam McGeary and Phil Davis, where Davis took home the title. One of the more interesting aspects of this fight was the way that Bellator promoted it in the weeks leading up to the bout. Instead of the same old interviews and press -conferences, the organization leveraged an almost comical feel in order to present the fighters to the public.

Cartoons and comedy skits mocking the presidential election put both Davis and McGeary front and center. The verdict is still out as to whether or not this translated into “butts in the seats.” However, it is still compelling to see a promotion willing to veer from standard processes in order to improve its current standing. With the announcement that Chael Sonnen and Tito Ortiz are due to meet, as well as rumors of a potential fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Matt Mitrione, Bellator has other opportunities to push fighters into the view of the growing MMA fan base.

However, that doesn’t mean that the job will be as easy as the Viacom-owned company hopes. One of the reasons that Bellator continues to lag behind the UFC is the lack of talent depth on its roster. While Ortiz vs. Sonnen will grab attention due to the circus-like nature of both men involved, an important bout between Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov at Bellator 164 could go largely unnoticed for the second time. Both Lima and Koreshkov are highly valuable to the promotion, especially Koreshkov who is coming off of a dominating win over a former UFC champion in Benson Henderson. Bellator certainly has valuable assets on its roster, but the promotion struggles to find a way to build them into mainstays that draw fans and ratings.

For every Sonnen and Ortiz, there’s a Marloes Coenen or Eduardo Dantas; both are fighters that can put on intriguing fights and promote them well, but neither has achieved a position in which spectators outside the hardcore fan spectrum really care about their performances. Bellator’s roster is filled with these kinds of competitors that are too far off from pushing the promotion into its next phase of development.

Still, as a whole, Bellator does add value to MMA. From the inclusion of the women’s featherweight division, to not shying away from the circus type fights harkening back to MMA of old, Bellator continues to offer an alternative to what the UFC has become. However, the promotion needs to find a way to offer that alternative while consistently building upon the successes of its past. And that is harder than it might seem.

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