First, let me say I think Bellator's tournament format is a spectacular idea. It instantly differentiates them from the UFC, and despite some recent rumblings from hardcore fans who complain about a supposed similarity, it differentiates them quite significantly. Having a unique product is key when competing in the marketplace.
Tournaments immediately give credibility to otherwise unknown commodities who challenge for their titles. Also, it adds intrigue to each event as the fights all mean something specific and tangible, and are not just random bouts between unpronounceable Eastern Europeans who can't speak a word of English and have 20 wins yet have never fought a wrestler, against the category of white-trash club fighter which supplements a permanent and uncorrectable lack of natural talent and athleticism with a full body coat of horrible tribal art and MMA brand name tattoos. Even if sometimes, that's what the tournament fights are in the end of the day in the early rounds. (not that the UFC doesn't have this at the prelim level, subbing in Brazilians who have never fought a wrestler and can't say anything in English besides "i so happeh") It makes these fights mean something, and allows the cream to rise to the top in a more visible manor.
A win over the above mentioned tribal-tapout-tattoo'd-Terry instantly means more for an up and coming blue chip prospect if it is in the first round of a tournament than it would otherwise. It puts a little stank on an otherwise drab fight.
The tournament system has created stars like Michael Chandler, Rick Hawn, Pitbull, Shlemenko and Pat Curran, who are now well known and highly ranked commodities. Otherwise, starting at the prelim level in the UFC, it would have taken years and many more fights for these fighters to achieve the acclaim and profile they achieved in months through Bellator. This gives Bellator a huge advantage over other promotions who try and scratch a living off the UFC's scraps using standard fight promotion.
But, that said, there have been some major flaws which create strange contrasts and cognitive dissonance. Specifically, inactive champions and meaningless headline bouts. It is strange to see a fighter have to fight 3 times in 3 months, only to win a title and then defend it once a year, if that. Chandler burst onto the scene in 2011 with his dominant tournament run and fight of the year type performance against Alvarez, only to fight once in 2012, with no defenses until 2013 and no major injuries.
And while every under card tournament bout means something, when the champions do fight to stay busy in between defenses, they fight a notable but safely washed up name at a catch weight in meaningless squash matches that headline the card. Chandler's one fight in 2012 was a lopsided beating of the now retired Akihiro Gono. When Hector Lombard won the Bellator 185 pound championship, he was 21-2. When he left Bellator, he was a 32-2 and had defended his title exactly 1(one) time.
These meaningless non-title fights also have an utterly disastrous side effects : sometimes they completely kill your champion.
You wanna know why I omitted M'pumbu from the list of fighters who Bellator has created? Because he took a fight against a journeyman he should have crushed - AND LOST. This took almost all the stank off him.
You know why I omitted Eduardo Dantas from the list of stars and high profile commodities? Because he had to take a fight outside the promotion and got knocked the flying fuck out. This took almost all the stank off him.
Another flaw is that occasionally, as pointed out in another recent fanpost, the tournaments feel watered down, and lack intrique. I don't find it as much of an issue, but I can certainly see where other fans and casuals would. Especially in situations where the known names, free agents, former champs/tournament winners lose early.
Which brings us to the final flaw ; a lack of storylines. Combat sports, be it boxing, MMA or the faux combat sport of pro wrestling need storylines and drama. Fight sports need to be "true sport" but unlike team sports which have a level of loyalty to the team, regardless of record, MMA needs to put a little stank on it. While a small but annoyingly vocal segment of the hardcore fanbase has a paranoia about this, the vast majority of hardcores, MMA journalists, mainline and casual MMA fans react better to fights with story behind them. Let me be clear so there is no confusion in the comments : This isn't to say Bellator needs only storyline in place of competition(Jones/Sonnen), but the fights that sell the best, have competition and marketable pizazz as well(Rashad/Jones, Rampage/ Rashad, Sonnen/Silva, Lesnar/Mir, Liddell/Ortiz, GSP/Diaz, JMM/Pacman, Tyson/Holyfield etc)
So, how can they correct these flaws before they come back to haunt them in front of the Spike audience? Here are my suggestions :
1. They need to continue to loosen up their restrictive title fight models, allowing for some more tried and true fight promotion techniques to supplement the tournament model. They've made a good start by instituting rematch clauses for title fights. This will allow them to capitalize on fights like Alvarez vs Chandler in the future.
Bjorn has stated that 145 is too stacked for an immediate rematch between Pitbull and Curran, and that is fine, but it will be promotional malpractice of the highest order to not have Pitbull take care of his unfinished business with Joe Warren, with the winner of that bout preceding to a title rematch with Curran. Both are former tournament winners with exciting title fights with Curran, there is a storyline of "unfinished business", and it will prevent one/both of them from being lost in another tournament.
One-off title eliminators between former champions and title contenders doesn't cheapen their model.
2. Institute 4-man tournaments. A potential roadblock is this causing a hang up when trying to negotiate free agents to enter 8 man tournaments if they'd rather do a 4-man, but the biggest names don't want to do 8-man 3-fight tournaments anyway. It is much easier to get Rampage to sign on to a 4 man tournament than an 8-man tournament. It is also cheaper if those names command bigger purses. A 4-man offers quicker rewards for fickle fans. There is less room for injuries to muck things up. They can be completed much faster, sending up title contenders in faster order. They also can be structured to where big names and stars have an easier road to finals and title fights, helping with storyline and super-star management.
I think a 4-man Master's Brackets featuring former tournament winners/finalists, former champions, higher profile signees/free agents, legends, higher ranked talent and long term Bellator commodities would be a great way to build intrigue and draw public interest and still allow for tournament qualified competiton to be quickly generated.
3. Ditch the new bracketing system in 8-man tournaments. Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to make rigid brackets in 8-man tournaments? The promotion needs flexibility to schedule the right names, create
tournament fights which create the best buzz, avoid bad style match ups which could lead to unpleasing fights, and manage their biggest draws. It gives them a measure of promoter's flexibility while still comfortably shielding them from accusations of giving easy fights - you still have to win in the tournament.
Comparisons to team sports ring hollow. This isn't a team sport where Giants fans tune in regardless of the names on the field. If Bellator is to rely on tournaments, they need to be able to manage them and create the fights the fans want to see. This is not the NCAA, and a rigid bracket is not a promoters friend.
Feed back is greatly appreciated! Does anyone else have any ideas on how Bellator could improve their already great product?
I'll call my shot - See you in the morning report ;)