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Bellator 120 fight card: What's at stake?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

At this point, I'm nauseous from all of the breathless speculation about what's in store for Bellator's first foray into pay-per-view from fans and media alike. My longstanding position is the company isn't even close to ready for the climb, but the leap is happening, my (and your) analysis be damned.

I'm as equally fatigued by the bold, public proclamations of boycotts of this Bellator event by both fans and media, as if solidarity in those ranks is some sort of statement of authenticity. It's not that declining to purchase it isn't acceptable. It's more than fine. I'm not going to lose sleep at night one way or the other. If the card isn't up to personal standards, no one is under any obligation to ignore them in the service of MMA. But some of the paraded positions of extreme resistance have trended into outright hostile histrionics. That reveals more about the weird proclivities of the flag wavers than anything Bellator is trying to do

My only concern is about whether this pay-per-view's failure, which is not a remote possibility, means anything for Viacom's commitment to MMA. Spike brass have said no, Bellator's not going anywhere even if the pay-per-view bombs. OK, but what kind of Bellator? A Bellator that's spending money trying to acquire talent, visit mid-major markets and stage substantive events? The kind of Bellator that can compete in a space for the Gilbert Melendez's of the world? Or a reduced Bellator, one that's happy to showcase regional-level talent at penny-slot casinos in Flat Earth America for regional-level prices as a consistent fixture on Friday nights?

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I don't know what the answer is. And still, no one is obligated to help Bellator be something more than what it is. Either a company earns your dollar or it doesn't. It's the game we all play. They are pushing the pay-per-view before there was any demand for it. They have to accept the consequences. I just wonder if failure means we're throwing out a little bit of baby with the bathwater.


Quinton Jackson vs. Muhammed Lawal

At stake: a tale of two careers. The marketing put on by the folks at Viacom/Spike/Bellator may have focused to an almost unhealthy degree on whether Lawal and Jackson don't like each other, but there's something far more ominous afoot. This truly is a make or break fight for Lawal and even Bellator brass are willing to admit it.

Lawal was once and maybe still is a prodigious talent, but his collection of scalps and trophies was supposed to be heavier than it actually is. In short, he's accomplished quite a bit in his career, but not what was expected of him. To date, the win over Gegard Mousasi is his best and while a very noteworthy accomplishment, this was a fighter who many once (however erroneously) believed could dismantle UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones should their paths ever cross. That possibility now seems as remote as one can fathom and for reasons that have nothing to do with them competing in separate organizations.

Beating Jackson - a 35 year-old Jackson - isn't going to thrust him into rarefied air, but it would halt what some believe is the steady, accumulative and inevitable decline of Lawal. After suffering what now appears to be nothing short of a life-altering, catastrophic injury to both blood and bone, Lawal has struggled to regain himself. He's shown some signs of incremental progress while simultaneously disappointing with (completely understandable) languid efforts.

Jackson is who Jackson is, and a loss might hurt his drawing power, but wouldn't serve as a referendum on his career. He's already reached the highest highs. All of this is just gravy, for as long as it lasts, anyway.

Michael Chandler vs. Will Brooks

At stake: Bellator's biggest fight and then some. If Brooks does the impossible (according to the oddsmakers), he'll basically ruin the most important fight Bellator can stage. In the process, he'll also claim for himself an interim title, and a title unification bout. For a young fighter looking to make noise and, as he put it, 'shake things up', consider that outcome as both shaken and stirred.

Chandler, on the other hand, is just trying to preserve status quo. He needs to get through Brooks to get to where he was before Brooks so he can get to Alvarez. That's quite a tax to pay just to remain in place, but there's just a touch more to the story. Brooks is a respected, if developing talent. Chandler is expected to bash him from pillar to post, but despite that potentiality being anticipated, beatings and great demonstrations of violence are always appreciated. It's probably unfair to say his name value took a hit against Alvarez, but there's nothing like molly whopping someone to reinvigorate a brand in mixed martial arts.

Alexander Shlemenko vs. Tito Ortiz

At stake: a (popular) future. I'm like most of you in that I can't believe I'm still writing about Ortiz fighting and what's at stake for his future. That's true for a host of reasons, not least of which is that none of us - including Bellator brass - are even sure he has one insofar as being a competitive fighter is concerned.

That's just it for Ortiz. Does he have a future at all past the Shlemenko bout? If he wins, probably. If he looks impressive, most likely, although even those aren't givens. Should Ortiz collapse under the metric ton of pounding pressure Shlemenko is sure to put on his solor plexus and liver, one has to think Bellator will cut him loose. If Ortiz isn't even capable of beating a fighter from a division below the one he occupies, then who can he defeat? Yes, Shlemenko is no ordinary middleweight. Sure, Bellator (or any future promoter) could put Ortiz in against some anonymous stiff, but that's not an arrangement that makes sense for all of the parties involved. Ortiz is literally fighting out of his weight class and if that doesn't work now, I'm not sure anything will.

Shlemenko, by contrast, well, the world is his oyster. He's developed a cult following of sorts, but hasn't converted that into real popularity. Beating Ortiz and taking what's left of his name value would help to change that dynamic considerably. And if he loses? So what? He lost to a fighter significantly bigger who wrestled him to death. No harm, no foul.

Blagoi Ivanov vs. Alexander Volkov

At stake: a title shot against Vitaly Minakov. Let's be candid about what's happening here. It's hardly an insignificant bout, but it's also not one that moves heaven and earth. A win is, of course, better than a loss, but neither of these fighters are being cut any time soon, nor or they on the cusp of molting into a celebrated fighting figure.

The one notable wrinkle to this is the continued climb (for now) of Ivanov, a fighter once of great promise whose trajectory was rerouted when his internal organs served as a sheath for the blade of a homicidal club patron. It's still far too early to say with any sort of certainty if he'll even beat Volkov, much less return to any lofty position of great expectations. Still, beating Volkov and continuing the long march forward is as essential to the rebound process as anything else. If he can get past the Russian and capture the Bellator heavyweight title later, he'll have accomplished a minor miracle given the circumstances.

Ricky Rainey vs. Michael Page

At stake: a bit of hype. This one is fairly straightforward. Page has a bit of hype, which a win tonight will only produce more hype should he emerge victorious, especially if he dispatches with Rainey in the same vainglorious ways he's ridden himself of his previous opposition. What he can do with that hype is fairly limitless when you take the long view. As for Rainey, he wants Page's hype. I doubt even with a victory Rainey can ever assume a position on the same mantle as Page just given how unicorn-esque Page's striking style is. But he at least can turn a few heads while he stops Page's momentum. That's enough promotional juice to give him a jolt that another opponent in Bellator simply can't offer.

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