Fightweets: Is Bellator a real rival to the UFC?

Esther Lin

Bellator vs. UFC. Dana White vs. Bjorn Rebney. Dan Henderson vs. Vitor Belfort. Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate. Judges vs. reality. Bobby Green's foot vs. yet another unsuspecting groin.

So many matchups. So many questions. Let's get right to it.

UFC vs. Bellator

@torontoufcfan: Has Bellator become a real competitor to the UFC or is this just a one off event that did so well?

If Bellator was a real threat to the number one spot, they wouldn't have pulled out of a pay-per-view slot (think cable/satellite providers were happy that a first-timer in the PPV game left them with a gaping hole in their big-money Saturday night live-event timeslot?). They also wouldn't have had about 10,000 empty seats at Long Beach Arena for a card that was advertised for a long time as being headlined by two huge names with deep local ties.

Bellator is experiencing the same sort of growing pains that every MMA company which has made the big plunge into the deep waters over the past several years has faced. Elite XC had a network television clearance and plenty of buzz. They laid all their bets on Kimbo Slice and it backfired in a spectacular manner. Early Strikeforce was the model for how to run a strong regional promotion, but they had to adapt to a changing game as time went on. They made their best attempt at going big by signing Fedor Emelianenko and Henderson in order to get strong ratings on Showtime, and it didn't work out in the long run, even though fans got memorable fights in the process.

Rebney got Bellator as far as he did by running a tight economic ship; running sold shows to casinos; making TV deals that made sense each step of the way; and developing talent organically.

Then Bellator got onto Spike and things changed. That's when you started seeing the stuff that didn't fit in with the original Bellator plan. That's when the splashy names like Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz were signed. That's when we ended up with tie-ins to a second-tier pro wrestling group, which doesn't bring in nearly enough new fans to offset the number of existing MMA fans who resent the crossover of real and phony. That's when we ended up with a company that used to make a big deal out of not signing UFC fighters turning around and signing recent UFC cuts to main-event fights.

And while other promotions over the years were the darlings of super-hardcore fans, you don't win that audience over when you have public spats like the one you had with Alvarez, even if you're technically in the right. So they've never really even had the anti-UFC fans, who would seem their most natural allies, on their side.

The fact that the Chandler-Alvarez rematch was an amazing fight -- and that, let's face it, if a third bout lives up to the first two, it will go down as the greatest trilogy in MMA history -- is giving Bellator plenty of leeway for the moment. But the fact that Bellator and Spike seem to be in "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" mode has the potential to be one of the industry's lingering stories in 2014.

White vs. Rebney

@omaresco02: Is there more to Dana than he lets on about Bellator? He never talked much about Strikeforce in the past that i remember

Whether you want to believe it or not, White generally doesn't publicly mess with people who don't start with him first. Someone like Affliction comes along and starts talking trash about how they're going to take over the MMA world? That's when the gloves come off and you end up with a free fight card featuring Anderson Silva going head-to-head with your pay-per-view card. In Strikeforce's case, White always stated his admiration for Scott Coker and the way he went about his business. When Strikeforce became Showtime's MMA outlet, the war of words were between Showtime types and White, not White and Coker.

Likewise, White did the same with Rebney and Bellator for the longest time. You didn't hear White say much when Bellator was on ESPN Deportes. Once Bellator got under way on Spike, signed Randy Couture out from under the UFC, and especially once Ortiz started yapping about the UFC ... and yapping ... and yapping some more, then finally it started to get personal. Now that Rebney is starting to up the ante (including that Twitter ratings dig that made for a tremendous sound byte, but was an apples-to-oranges comparison), I expect White will ratchet it up further.

Eddie's deal

@dpop2: Doesn't Alvarez disclosed pay and the fact they cancelled the ppv prove that bellator contract wasn't a match?

Nah. Bellator agreed on a settlement in their dueling cases which superseded the previous deals. Once that happened, the old deal was history. Alvarez made it clear in the run-up to the Chandler fight that he took whatever Bellator was willing to offer simply to get back to fighting instead of watching sidelines as his career prime slipped away.

Hendo's options

@2girls1Marcus: If Henderson looses over the weekend should he retire or move to another weight division?

I'm not sure about retiring, but if Hendo does lose to Belfort on Saturday night in Brazil, he's going to have some choices to make. That's the last fight on Henderson's contract. He's 42. If he loses, he'll have three defeats in a row. That's obviously not going to help him score a big next deal in the UFC. Henderson has done as well as anyone not named Josh Barnett in playing the contract game over the years. Question is, could he get big money from Bellator? Obviously this year they haven't minded paying big money for aging names on losing streaks. If yes, good for him, but if Bellator and Viacom have turned off the spigot, then Henderson will have to decide whether he wants to return in the UFC at a sharply reduced rate.

What is Ronda runs over Miesha?

@BeeandOkie: If Ronda Rousey rips through Miesha Tate, will the women's division lose steam?

I'm not sure how it would. Granted, the best thing for business at UFC 168 would be Tate winning the title and making this as real a rivalry in the cage as it is outside, one which would force a trilogy fight.

But if Rousey scores another one-sided win? Then they just go right back to marketing her as a female Mike Tyson who uses armbars instead of knockout punches. And if the past month or so has taught us anything, it's that the women's bantamweight division is even deeper than we suspected. Jessica Eye is legit. Amanda Nunes is legit. Alexis Davis is legit. Cat Zingano is legit, and presumably next in line for a title shot.

Of course, there's a chance your question implies "What if Ronda rips through Miesha, then takes off for Hollywood?" In that case, unquestionably, the division takes a big short-term hit in star power. But look at it this way: Everyone thought women's MMA as a headline entity was basically through when Gina Carano left after losing to Cris Cyborg in 2009. It only took a few years for Rousey to emerge. Eventually, someone else will bubble up, and given that the talent pool is deeper than it used to be, it might not even take as long this time.

What's up with Li'l Nog?

@crazedfishuk: With the quick Gustaffson fight announced then cancelled-where about does perennially injured Nogueira figure?

Well, let's see. Since Antonio Rogerio Nogueira fought and lost to Phil Davis in Seattle in March 2011, he pulled out of a fight with Rich Franklin; fought and defeated Tito Ortiz; pulled out of a fight with Alexander Gustafsson; pulled out of a fight with "Shogun" Rua, which set off the dominoes on the legendarily cursed UFC 149; and again pulled out of a fight with Gusty. That's four times out of five Li'l Nog hasn't been able to go; three of them in planned main events.

Ordinarily, I'd say that such a track record would mean you wouldn't be trusted with a main or co-main anytime soon, and your next loss would get you your walking papers. But the biggest thing working in Nogueira's favor is that he's a big-name Brazilian fighter at a time when the UFC needs as many viable Brazilian headliners that they can find as they continue with an ambitious schedule in that country. So my best guess is they ease him onto an FS1 or 2-type headliner or co-headline spot in his homeland when he's ready to go. Or, at least, when says he's ready to go.

Scorecard issues

@kalamity113: Can't a fight be so close that two of the three judges can see it 30 -27 or 50-45 each way and it not be a controversy?

In theory, yes. The thing about using a 10-point must system is that a 10-9 score can mean wildly different things (particularly given judges' disinclination to hand out 10-10s or 10-8s). If someone clearly and convincingly wins a round? 10-9. Someone wins a round by a whisker? Still 10-9.

Look at Chandler-Alvarez last week: In round 2, Chandler outwrestled Alvarez, but Alvarez came back late and rocked Chandler. Alvarez wins a squeaker, 10-9. Round four, Chandler lays a g ‘n' p beatdown on Alvarez for a borderline 10-8 round. But that also went in as a 10-9, equal on the scorecards to the close round two.

So, yes. As long as we have the system we have -- and I don't have the inclination right now to rehash all the suggested changes to the system which have been debated to death and won't be implemented any time soon -- then, hypothetically, a fight can have three razor-thin rounds with opposing 30-27 scores and yes, it could be justified. But, what happens more often than not are fights like last year's Melvin Guillard-Jamie Varner bout, in which two judges got the clear-cut 30-27 correct for Varner, but Adelaide Byrd awoke from her 15-minute nap and decided on 30-27 for Melvin. When fans remember such abominations, it makes the occasional opposing 30-27 scores that are actually justified seem off. As for opposing 50-45s in a split decision, I can't recall ever seeing one. Readers?

Bobby Green vs. James Krause

@hot_pokket: Think John McCarthy is tired of watching guys move their package around after a low blow?

Ehh ... Big John was a member of the LAPD during the Los Angeles riots of 1992. I'm sure if you get through that, a nut shot here and there is nothing.

Got a question for a future Fightweets? Go to my Twitter page and leave me a tweet.

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