September 30, 2019

Bellator MMA Featherweight Grand Prix Highlights the Promotion's Continuing Innovation

By Raphael Garcia

Innovation is key in business. Organizations that continue to try new things stay ahead of the curve and give their consumers something to look forward to. With its featherweight grand prix and other ideas, Bellator continues to make its case for being an innovator in mixed martial arts. And although these innovations haven’t pushed the organization ahead of its competitors, trying new things has helped Bellator pique the interest of fans in ways that other groups haven’t.

Bellator 228 was widely considered the best card of the past weekend. One of the reasons that was the case was that the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix was front and center. In the card's co-main event, current double champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire defeated Juan Archuleta via unanimous decision to close out the first round of the tournament. What occurred afterwards was a "selection show" whereby the remaining fighters randomly drew numbers for the opportunity to select either their opponent or the card on which they would fight in the next round. Pitbull, with his “Champion’s Choice” was able to select last out of the bunch, and supercede the choices of the other fighters.


This selection process sparked interesting conversations about when fighters would decide to fight and who they were confident in facing. The opportunity for gamesmanship that the selection show afforded has been praised widely across the MMA space as a captivating wrinkle to tournament matchmaking. With innovations like these, Bellator's Grand Prix is helping build new stars for the organization like AJ McKee, while continuing to raise the stock of Freire, easily the organization’s biggest homegrown star.

However, this isn’t the only way that Bellator is innovating; it is also doing that with its signing practices. The company is making a concerted push to bring in prospects who have a following of their own from other combat sports disciplines and developing them in-house. Many have talked about the signings of Aaron Pico, AJ Agazarm, and Ed Ruth, but the organization has also brought in Taekwondo standout Valerie Loureda and former WWE Champion Jake Hager (known in pro wrestling as "Jack Swagger") as part of its attempts to cultivate the sport's next big crossover star. And earlier this month, Bellator reportedly made an offer to former WWE Cruiserweight champion TJ Perkins, a professional wrestler with no professional fights or formal grappling competitions on his resume. And while signing pro wrestlers to compete in MMA fights is nothing new, Bellator's strategy, which balances high-profile exposure with deliberate and conscientious development of these fighters as prospects, stands in sharp contrast to the Ultimate Fighting Championship's "shark tank" approach.


Looking for stars in places other organizations may not initially look is a tactic that hasn’t paid off quite yet, but it is certainly possible that the promotion could find a diamond in the rough by searching places that their competitors aren’t searching, and polish that diamond until it shines brilliantly under the brightest lights.

Innovation is one approach that an organization can take to overcoming its competitors. But the hallmark of innovation is constantly asking “what’s next?” And the answer to that question is often hard to figure out. There are changes Bellator could make regarding main events, testing out new rules to govern fights on foreign soil, and other steps that its leadership could take to continue to push the envelope. In many ways, it seems like Bellator President Scott Coker is open to trying anything at least once. It will be interesting to see how his leadership continues to push the sport in intriguing directions, and it will be even more interesting to see what the promotion has planned for 2020 and beyond.

Bellator 228: Pitbull vs. Archuleta took place September 28, 2019 at The Forum in Inglewood, California.

Click HERE for more Bellator 228 Post-Fight Analysis


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