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Bellator and the Curious Case of Mission Creep

I honestly don't remember how I got into MMA. I've been watching it a long time. Back in the late 90's/ early 00's I was aware of the Gracie Family Super Awesome Show UFC, but I wasn't an avid consumer. The first fight I truly remember watching was in a bar in Korea. I was stationed there, at Camp Casey, and I didn't go out much, but when I did, I didn't like dealing with the the prostitutes and club scene. I wasn't nearly as social minded back then as I am now, so the exploitation of poor Asian and Russian girls didn't register, but I did know I wanted a beer without having some overly aggressive girl trying to empty my wallet to buy her juice. So, I frequented a place called Mojo's. It was a biker bar owned by some American ex-pats. And they played VHS tapes of fights. The first fight I watched was some tall, black dude in purple Vale Tudo shirts stomping on some white guy's head. No idea who they were. But I was hooked. There was so much testosterone I could have impregnated half a dozen women that night and still been wound up.

These days, I'm a casual consumer. I don't have Spike or FS1. I occasionally buy fights or, more likely, go to a bar and watch the fights. For the most part, I've been a steady fan of the UFC for all it's good and bad. When Bellator came along, I was excited. It was new. It was that something fresh that the UFC lacked: new talent and a tournament. And they did it well. My hat is off to Bellator for finding that niche, that something missing in the world of MMA.

Mission creep is defined as the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. That's Bellator's problem right now. They've gone from marketing the new and fresh to trying to compete with the UFC for numbers. To do that, they have to build fighters as a brand, instead of Bellator as the brand. Don't get me wrong, I love how Bellator has exposed us to some exciting fighters like Alvarez and Chandler and Pitbull and Lima, but they need to go back to their roots.

How do they do that? For one, focus back on the tournament. We don't need to be fed the narrative of Lima or Pitbull or Alvarez coming back for a second shot at a title. That will play itself out regardless. The tournament has to be the story. Secondly, instead of a PPV card modeled after the UFC, the PPV's need to be one night tourneys. Here's how it works: the regular broadcast becomes more of a Challengers type setting. You fill it full of guys who are fighting to get into the tournament. Then, you have a PPV, the culmination of the regular broadcast, with those winners fighting a one-night iron man tourney and a ME of the previous tourney winner fighting for a championship. By that time we're hooked. We've seen them sweat and bleed for three months just to fight in the tournament and now we get to see who the last man standing is and live.

Bellator needs to get back to its roots. The man behind the belt doesn't matter. What matters is that the man behind the belt is marketed as the top of the mountain.