November 29, 2016

The BJB Breakdown: Bellator's Biggest Problem

By Schwan Humes

Bellator MMA has long been the number two organization in the North American MMA scene. Regardless of how many other organizations have come into the world of MMA, Bellator has maintained its position as a viable alternative to the UFC. However, the question has now become: Can Bellator ever draw even with the UFC, or surpass the UFC in terms of popularity and/or quality? To the first part of the question, I say no. The UFC is so ingrained in the world that it's almost impossible to replace it in the collective minds of casual and hardcore fans. So the second part of the question comes front and center: Can Bellator replace the UFC in regard to the quality of fighters/fights?

The answer to that question is "maybe". In regards to its champions and top contenders, Bellator is comparable to or equal to the UFC as far as talent is concerned. The guys who are in the top three or four spots in the rankings are all capable of winning and/or contending in the UFC. Michael Chandler, Phil Davis, Daniel Straus, Douglas Lima, and Eduardo Dantas, all Bellator champions, are capable of being ranked and contending for titles in the UFC. Consider the case of Phil Davis. Here we have a guy who had multiple wins in the UFC and was still considered a Top 10 light heavyweight at the time he left the promotion for Bellator. Let's look at some of the contenders in various divisions: Cheick Kongo, Benson Henderson, Liam McGeary, Patricio and Patricky Freire, Pat Curran, Joe Warren, Andre Galvao, Andrey Koreshkov, Rory Macdonald, Josh Thomson, and "King" Mo Lawal. Kongo, Henderson, and Macdonald already have multiple wins in the UFC. Macdonald challenged for the welterweight belt and soundly beat the current UFC Welterweight Champion, Tyron Woodley, while Thomson stopped Nate Diaz, and Kongo was a longtime staple in the heavyweight division. The other fighters, while lacking UFC experience, are all more than capable of putting together wins in the UFC and contending for titles.

So, if at the top end of their respective talent pools, there isn't much of a gap between the UFC and Bellator, why isn't Bellator more of a contender against the UFC? Top-level talent is only one aspect of an organization, albeit the one that gets the most attention, headlines cards, draws eyes, earns big paydays, and generally pushes organizations and divisions to great heights. What defines the divisions and provides an organization with stability, however, is the second and/or third tier guys who fill out the divisions. In other words, the depth of the organization as a whole and the depth of the individual divisions within the organization are tied together, and this is where Bellator unfortunately falls short. This that will keep it from ever being a real competitor to the UFC, instead of just an alternative to it.

By being bigger than the sport it promotes, the UFC has first shot at all the elite, second tier, and third tier talent, established and still developing. This, in turn, gives the promotion access to an endless number of other organizations trying to get fighters into the UFC, or fighters in other organizations hoping to use their runs in said divisions as a springboard into the UFC. They have a countless number of resources in regards to manpower. In fact, they have so much manpower that they have to cut fighters, put them on hold, or outright deny them entry into the Octagon. The benefit of that is great for a few reasons: The main reason is that you have more consistency in regards to the quality of the fighters competing on fight night, which provides more entertaining and competitive fights for the fans. As much as stars draw in PPV buys or ratings, having a weak undercard is no help when trying to get fans to consistently tune in. The second benefit to the organization is that you have guys you can use to help develop prospects and rehab fighters who are coming off of title losses or particularly punishing defeats.

Because Bellator doesn't have this kind of depth, it won't be able to truly compete with the UFC. Until the promotion has roster of legitimate and competent fighters, it will never truly gain the goodwill of fans or of the sport as a whole. Without depth the organization can't provide consistency, without consistency the organization can't develop trust , and without the trust of the fans and the media, Bellator cannot be a legitimate competitor to the number one organization in North America, The Ultimate Fighting Championship.

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