Since the demise of Pride in 2007, the UFC's greatest rival promotion, many different organizations stepped up to try and fill the void. Several Japanese promotions picked up Pride's hometown hero's (SRC and Dream), Affliction attempted to buy the ronin fighters with their pocket books, and Strikeforce looked pretty good toward the end of it's independence. However, all of these promotions ended up being absorbed by the industry leader.
Bellator is the newest face on the block, and the one with the most viable chance of holding it's own. While highly doubtful they move past the UFC as the number one promotion, they have established themselves as a very legitimate no. 2. The UFC has disregarded the promotion, and it's practices, but it must noted that the UFC is no longer the lone wolf on the major scene.
Bellator, in establishing their credibility, has also opened up the fighter market. For up and coming fighters looking to make it past the uppermost echelon of the regional scene (Legacy FC to name the most successful one), there is another alternative to the UFC. For fighters on their way out of the UFC, another employer is ready to negotiate their contracts.
When the UFC and Pride were still locked in promotional battle, a fighter with name value was something to cherish. Men would come from Pride to the UFC and vice versa. Irregardless of if they could still compete with the best, men would still be put on fight cards because they were recognizable. A key example would be Pedro Rizzo, past his fighting prime, returning after a two year layoff, to suffer two first round knockouts. But he was there! Off of a UFC victory no less.
When Pride closed shop, the fighters had other options: the aforementioned Japanese promotions, Affliction and Strikeforce. Soon enough, however, the competition fell to the UFC juggernaut, and with it, so did the free lancing paydays.
But now Bellator is the newest plan B. Having already drawn UFC washouts (but still name fighters) such as Renato Sobral, Marcus Aurelio, and Marcus Davis, this point was illustrated in no greater way than the announcement of Tito Ortiz vs. Quinton Jackson. Two fighters, who for all intents and purposes, are fighting with nothing left to prove and nothing left to gain except a paycheck, have found a new home.
The interesting thing in all this is how Bellator has managed to stay so alluring to the free agent. With the public vitriol seen on message boards in the wake of the Eddie Alvarez lawsuit, it would be easy to assume that fighters would be dissuaded. But that just goes to show how well Bellator has downplayed the legal battle it is undertaking.
Bellator is the new Pride, in terms of name fighters looking to stay out of the UFC. The option is there for the taking, and it will be interesting to see who takes the invitation.