This article originally appeared on WrestlingObserver.com on 9/14/13
From its inception Bellator has prided itself on being the only true meritocracy in MMA. It's right there in the company tag-line: "Where Title Shots Are Earned, Not Given." Thanks to this meritocratic philosophy Bellator is a company where young athletes have a chance to rapidly rise to the top, provided they can rack up W's in quick succession.
Which must be why two aging ex-UFC stars coming off three straight losses apiece are headlining Bellator's inaugural pay per view this coming November.
But these aren't just any aging ex-UFC stars coming off three straight losses apiece mind you. Oh no, this is Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz we're talking about. Never mind that these two have a combined record of 3-8 between them since 2010. After all, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away both men once wore the UFC light heavyweight championship.
You'll only be killing your own buzz if you get hung up on the fact Jackson lost his belt in 2008 and Ortiz his in 2003. Also please do your best to forget Jackson was defeated for the title by Forrest Griffin, who has since retired, and Ortiz's title reign came to an end at the hands of Randy Couture, who has also long since hung up his fingerless gloves.
C'mon, let's focus on the bigger picture here folks: no less an authority than the Spike TV website once described a battle between these two former champions as "the last true dream match the UFC could put on." Granted that was back in 2008, but you can't expect all your dreams to come true overnight. These things take time after all.
Which is exactly why Bellator had no choice but to build their PPV debut around Rampage vs. Tito. Guys like Michael Chandler, Eddie Alvarez, Pat Curran, Muhammed Lawal, and Emanuel Newton might be some of the top talents in the company, but it's just not their time to shine yet. However, given a few years, plus the rub that comes from being on shows headlined by ex-UFC champions, and these diamonds in the rough just might be shining as brightly as bonafide superstars like Tito and Rampage.
If you aren't convinced by the above arguments then congratulations: you evidently have better promoting instincts than Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.
There are few signs less promising for a distant number two promotion's future than to see them looking to the past instead of focusing on the present. Unfortunately this is exactly what Bellator is doing by pushing Ortiz vs. Jackson as the main attraction of their first PPV.
Sure, an argument can be made Ortiz and Jackson are by far the two most recognizable names on the Bellator roster and the company would be foolish not to hype their fight up as a big deal. I agree to a point, but there's a difference between heavily promoting a fight and featuring it in the main event. Jackson and Ortiz may be the two most famous fighters in Bellator, but for years what they've both been famous for is losing.
The idea of two men who dropped their past three fights in a row headlining the most important show in the history of the company "Where Title Shots Are Earned, Not Given" would be delicious in its irony if it wasn't such an ominous sign for the promotion's future.
Bellator thinks they are giving their most marketable fighters a chance to become bigger names by fighting on the same card as two "legends," but slotting a pair of UFC has-beens higher on the card than Bellator's homegrown champs sends an implicit message to fans that fighters like Chandler and Alvarez aren't a big deal. How could they be when they're playing second fiddle to two guys who can't hang in the UFC anymore?
What's most baffling about this situation is that even if Rebney doesn't understand this, executives at Spike should be well aware what happens when you tell fans the stars that need to carry your company are less important than aging main-eventers from another promotion. After all, they've been seeing the effects of this mentality first hand every week on TNA Impact for years.
Now I know pro-wrestling may be anathema for some MMA fans, but this is such an illustrative case it bears taking a look at even if you're the type who can't bring yourself to accept how inextricably linked the history of MMA is with pro wrestling.
Over Impact's eight year run on Spike, TNA has prominently featured a number of one-time stars who made their names in WWE and WCW in the 80's and 90's. The idea was these aging main eventers' star power would rub off on younger wrestlers who would in turn end up carrying the promotion. Eight years later the company still revolves around these names from the past, with the result being no lasting growth to speak of.
Despite their lack of success, TNA has been kept afloat all these years by Panda Energy, a highly profitable company owned by TNA promoter Dixie Carter's father. This means the promotion doesn't depend on generating revenue through traditional means like PPV or house shows. However, the question with TNA has always been when does Panda say enough is enough and decide to pull the plug on what has been a money losing venture for the majority of its existence?
Similarly, Bellator is owned by Spike's parent company Viacom, which gives them time to turn a profit for the multinational media giant. They could do this either through traditional means like PPV and live gates or by becoming a hit show that draws great numbers for Spike. So far they've got a long way to go by either metric.
Any would be number two promotion faces an uphill battle to get to the point where they can call themselves legitimate competition to a dominant industry leader like the UFC or WWE without being scoffed at, but focusing on the number one promotion's cast offs is a surefire way to typecast your organization as bush league in the eyes of fans.
That's bad news for those of us who want the most exciting product possible from Bellator, and even worse news for fighters who would like to see a viable big money alternative to the UFC.
In promoting, just like in life, it's impossible to move forward if one keeps living in the past. Whether or not Bellator learns this lesson will go a long way towards determining if they have a chance of making it as a legitimate money drawing promotion.