Bellator Featherweights Are Great, But Will Anyone Notice?

As I look ahead to the upcoming three-event Bellator Fighting Championships summer series, it's with a mixture of excitement and disappointment.

Excitement because the fights Bellator has booked in its featherweight division are guaranteed to be spectacular. And disappointment because I know hardly anyone is going to watch.

The Bellator summer series kicks off on Saturday, June 25 with four first-round fights in an eight-man featherweight tournament, and the fights look like a lot of fun. Particularly exciting is the North American debut of Marlon Sandro, the former Sengoku featherweight champion who's among the sport's truly elite featherweights, as well as being one of the most exciting fighters in the world in any weight class.

So why won't anyone notice?

Saturday, June 25, is smack dab in the middle of the busiest time we've had all year in MMA. It's one day before a UFC card on Versus and one day after a Strikeforce event on Showtime. It's one week after a huge Strikeforce event and one week before UFC 132. Even hard-core MMA fans are starting to overdose on MMA right about now, and if they're going to skip an event, it's not going to be a Strikeforce or UFC show. It's going to be Bellator.

Give Bellator all the credit in the world for the way they've acquired talent, put together exciting fights, and consistently delivered tournaments that reach their conclusions as scheduled -- never an easy task in MMA. But no matter how good Bellator's product, it's really, really hard to gain traction in MMA if you're outside Zuffa. The UFC is the top dog in MMA by such a large margin that it's easy to forget there are any other dogs -- and especially easy to forget Bellator when it's sandwiched between Strikeforce and UFC events, and on a network (MTV2) that most MMA fans can't find without spending a few minutes searching through their channel guide.

If you're one of the truly hard-core MMA fans -- and there's a good chance that you are, if you're reading this -- you'll seek out Bellator. I know I will. But I also know I'm in a tiny minority of something around one-tenth of 1 percent of the TV viewing public. If 300,000 people watch Saturday night's Bellator card, that would represent a success by Bellator's standards, but it would also represent less than 0.1% of the American population. MMA promotions have gone bankrupt while drawing significantly larger audiences than Bellator draws.

I hope Bellator succeeds. I enjoy their fights and I think it's good for MMA to have a viable national promotion outside the UFC. But it's going to be tough, and starting the summer series right now, when MMA fans have so many other options, won't make things any easier.

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