Ortiz's victory at Bellator 120, in which he wasted little time overpowering Shlemenko and choking him out, simply served as a reminder why mixed martial arts instituted weight classes in the first place. Ortiz looked a good two divisions larger than Shlemenko, a middleweight who could probably cut down to welterweight.
And it served Bellator little purpose to have their champion get run over in such a manner. Shlemenko is a solid, scrappy fighter who had been pushed as a cold-blooded killer. But if you were a casual fan who bought the pay-per-view on the basis of Ortiz or Quinton Jackson's name value, then you saw Bellator's champion get treated like an old-school pro wrestling television jobber, what would you think of the Bellator brand?
But then again, does any of that really matter?
Mismatches aside, Saturday night left no doubt that the Tito Ortiz Show still has a fair bit of air time left. The crowd at the Landers Center in Mississippi -- who booed the spectacular Michael Page, sat on their hands through much of Michael Chandler vs. Will Brooks, and resumed booing for Jackson vs. King Mo Lawal -- came to life with Ortiz's performance.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion managed to cut through the clutter on an evening as delightfully cacophonous as few we've seen in the sport since the three-ring circus that was Elite XC went out of business, an achievement in and of itself.
After the card, Ortiz did his best to try to steal the spotlight back from Rampage and King Mo, uttering the sort of malapropisms for which he's long been known. "God put me on this earth to be a tool," he said at one point. Then came "When I start sounding retarded, I'll know it's time for me to stop."
My colleague, Dave Meltzer asked on Twitter afterwards if Ortiz is the Yogi Berra of MMA. Dave may be on to something there.
So sure, the fight itself was roughly as competitive as Kimbo Slice vs. Bo Cantrell. But Ortiz was the star of the show in the arena; he got this site and no doubt others big page views; he got his company trending on Twitter on Saturday night and gave it lasting buzz on Sunday.
In other words, Ortiz provided exactly what he was signed to deliver. Which will make his next fight an event to watch. Now, let's just hope Bellator learns from its matchmaking mistake and doesn't serve up Pat Curran or Joe Warren next.
Bellator 120 quotes
"Last time I checked, it's MMA. If you want to go bang, go box. Get knocked out. Kickbox. Get knocked out. You saw what happened to Pat Barry." -- "King Mo" Lawal, at Rampage Jackson during the post-fight press conference.
"That's Pat Barry. That ain't me. Look at your face. Look at you, man. Look at the mirror before you start talking about someone getting knocked out. You was on queer street..." -- Rampage's response.
"UFC, take me off your list. Take me off your Hall of Fame, each and everyone one of these people will remember this the rest of their MMA life." -- Ortiz, never letting go of a grudge.
"I think some people got in Mo's head and got Mo very amped in a very emotional setting where he lost the fight and got him very very excited and got him to say things he didn't mean." -- Rebney, in an interview with MMAFighting's Luke Thomas, on Lawal's incendiary comments toward his boss.
Up: Michael Page. I don't throw around phrases like this lightly, but let's call this for what it is: We're looking at a potential superstar in Page. Big, big emphasis on potential. Eventually, someone is going to catch him showboating, tag him, and leaving looking up at the lights. That even happened to Anderson Silva, after all. In the meantime? We should encourage Page to continue being his brash, bold, cocky self. Week after week, month after month, the Bellator conveyor belt spits out card after card filled largely with fighters who are solid talents, but never click with the audience on any sort of emotional level. Page has the talents and the attitude to cut through all this and make his fights must-watch events. He can become Bellator's first fighter who people tune in because half the crowd loves him and the other half wants to see him get knocked out. So don't change, Michael Page. Do your thing.
Down: Alexander Shlemenko. The Bellator middleweight champion has been plugging away for a decade, fighting a mind-numbing 58 times since 2004. This past week was basically the first time, after all this toil, that he had started to gain name recognition of any meaningful sort, at least here in North America. And he got rolled by a fighter who had been out for two years, and had only won one of his previous nine fights before stepping away. That's a tough thing to bounce back from.
Down: King Mo Unless something drastic goes down, the book on Mo appears to be all but written. He got off to a great start in this sport, but there's a clear line of demarcation before and after the period he was both busted for steroids and suffered a horrible staph infection. Since then, he's never quite shown his old explosiveness. The spinning backfist loss to Emmanuel Newton can be chalked up to getting caught. The rematch loss to Newton and last night's loss were the difference between the old Mo and the new, the one who couldn't quite impose his will enough to get his decision. Given his rep for jumping from camp to camp, and his age, it's hard to see how things get better from here.
Up: Will Brooks. There's no better way the shut up your detractors than to back up your words with actions. Brooks did exactly that Saturday night in his biggest career spotlight. I don't think Brooks won the fight, per se: I scored it a 47-47 draw, with Chandler taking rounds 1, 2, and 5, and Brooks winning 3 and 4, with 3 as a 10-8 round. But regardless of how the scorecards came down, Brooks showed he belonged. He shook off Chandler's strong start, asserted himself and nearly finished the fight in the third, and showed wonderful tenacity late when it appeared Chandler was going to get the job done in the closing minute. Will Brooks is a big-time fighter who delivered, big time.
First off, let's discuss the judges, whose decisions appeared to give a nod to the fight's host state, Mississippi, and its perennial status at or near the bottom of the nation's education rankings. Two of three judges sat there and watched Chandler nearly finish Brooks in a furious final flurry, after a back-and-forth first four minutes ... and gave the fifth round, and thus the fight, to Brooks. Likewise, and while this is much less severe a mistake, Lawal basically imposed his game on Jackson in the final round, but the judges reward Jackson for stalking Lawal around the cage in the final minute and mostly missing wild uppercuts.
Then there was the matter of the event's pacing, with some insanely long delays in between fights, particularly in between the heavyweight fight and Ortiz-Shlemenko. Bellator gets a bit of a pass because this was the company's first PPV event. But going forward, take note, guys: This isn't a formatted basic cable show. You don't have to filibuster to reach two hours if the fights go short. If your first two fights run short next time, you can just go on to the next fight, or at the very least, plug in a taped undercard fight with a winner you'd like to highlight. This ain't rocket science.
Fight I'd like to see next
I don't know that I've ever come out of a card seeing such a confusing tangle of directions in which a promotion could go. Rampage won the decision against Mo, which hypothetically matches Jackson up with sometimes-training partner Newton in a title fight. But Rampage instead asked for a rematch with Lawal, the guy he just beat. If they're talking about setting the two up at a podium and letting them get into a diss battle, hell yeah, I'll watch. Watching them fight again, though? Not so much.
Meanwhile, there sat a grinning Tito Ortiz at the podium, talking about how he could take on any lightweight in Bellator and taking a playful jab at Rampage. Could we end up with Tito-Rampage after all?
At lightweight? Well, let's see. Brooks is now the interim lightweight champion, which in theory means he meets Alvarez for the belt when the champ gets healthy and ready to return. Except, Rebney made it very clear that Alvarez has a contract clause that gives him the right to demand the Chandler trilogy fight next. Rebney wouldn't have gone so far out of the way to make that item public from the outset if that wasn't the direction he was leaning in. So I say, let's go ahead and do it. Give us the trilogy fight we were expecting to get to begin with. If Alvarez then leaves Bellator, you can sell the Brooks-Chandler rematch either way. Whether Chandler wins or loses, Alvarez is likely gone afterwards, so you can go from there to the Brooks rematch. Sure, it defeats the purpose of an interim title, but it's the cleanest path out of a messy situation.