By Schwan Humes
Michael "Venom" Page burst onto the MMA scene and quickly developed a following, as many fans were drawn to him as a result of his personality and more importantly his unique and dynamic fighting style. Page, or “MVP,” as he is often referred to as, was a guy who didn't come up under the traditional MMA styles (wrestling, boxing, jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, etc); instead he had a style rooted in the traditional martial arts and made his name in the national and international point fighting circuit. This makes him somewhat of an anomaly in the world of MMA.
Even in the year 2016 there are very few martial artists with his background fighting at this level in MMA; even more rare is a guy with that type of background who actually uses the specific techniques from those systems, specifically the flashier ones. On top of that, you have a fighter who has a sense for the showmanship aspect of MMA in regards to ring walks and pre- and post-fight interviews.
So you have a fighter who checks off all the boxes -- athleticism, unique/exciting style, showmanship, and a look -- that are needed to create a superstar to be the face of a division and an organization. But there is one area where Page has come up short, and it’s the most important area for a combat sports athlete, and that area is fighting.
UFC's Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson. In Thompson we have another athletically-gifted, charismatic and uniquely-styled traditional martial artist. Unfortunately, for Page, that is where the comparisons stop. In the four years both have been competing in the big leagues, Thompson has worked his way up up the ranks; in the the same amount of time, Page has made his name fighting the type of guys Thompson was beating in the early stages of his UFC career. While Page has made his name beating Jeremie Holloway, Rudy Bears, Santos, Charlie Ontiveros, and Ricky Rainey, Thompson has been beating Rory Macdonald, Johny Hendricks, Patrick Cote, Robert Whittaker, and Jake Ellenberger, doing so in devastating fashion. Even if you're a neophyte in regards to your knowledge of MMA, you know how big of a gap there is between their respective levels of opposition.
This creates a conundrum for Page and for Bellator. Part of Thompson's progression has been the middle class fighters he faced. These guys provided a variety of styles, technical skills, amounts of experience, and physical tools. He took a loss as a result of this approach, but one that ultimately forced him to progress and flesh out the various aspects of his game that failed him in that fight. Due to the number of fighters in the UFC, Wonderboy was allowed to stay active and slowly integrate these skills into his toolbox, which is something Page has not been able to or allowed to do, as Bellator lacks a welterweight middle class that can present the sort of tests that encourage the personal development of a young/inexperienced fighter, the sort of development we have only seen brief flashes of in Page's MMA career.
This less than stellar progression in level of opposition and negligible technical or strategic growth has left us asking: "Who is Michael "Venom" Page? Is he a wunderkind who can push the sport forward or is he a fraud, a showman who has developed his name feasting on lower-tier fighters?"
We don't know as of yet, and unless Page demands better opposition or Bellator can bring in guys who occupy that middle ground in regards to skill, experience, and physical tools, we won’t ever find out. What we do know is he has been poorly developed, while being superbly promoted, which unfortunately for Page means he will have to make a very big jump in level of opposition that he may or may not be ready for. If you wonder what happened the last time a well-hyped but poorly-prepared fighter made the leap from fringe contenders to elite fighters, I will direct you to Paige VanZant vs. Rose Namajunas, and that will tell you all that you need to know about the fighters who become star fighters before they become legit fighters.