With Bellator’s polarizing fight card Friday night drawing record-breaking viewership numbers — which fell in lockstep with the record number of complaints issued — watching the aftermath play out over the week was like watching a dog chase its own tail.
Perhaps the biggest story coming out of Bellator 149 was that Dada 5000 —extremely out of shape and short of experience — reportedly went into cardiac arrest after his co-main event grudge match with his Miami street rival, Kimbo Slice. He is now recovering in a Houston hospital. Meanwhile, in the main event, a 52-year old Ken Shamrock couldn’t overcome an early groin shot that the referee missed, and — boom — the 49-year old Royce Gracie got his arm raised.
This kind of carnival event is a problem you say? If it is, then you’re just as much to blame for perpetuating it.
That’s according to Bellator’s color commentator, Jimmy Smith, who along with Sean Grande called the action from the Toyota Center. Smith didn’t hide his discomfort while watching the spectacle unfold. And during an appearance on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, he said we’re all complicit in bringing these types of fights to television.
"What everyone keeps forgetting, and I’ve seen this over and over and I’ve said it to anyone who will listen, when Kimbo fought Ken, 2.1 million people watched that fight," he told Ariel Helwani. "And when I see ratings like that, I got to tell you at home I kind of went and smashed my head against my desk a couple of times when I read that, when it first came out, because at the end of a fight like that, networks and promoters and the people in charge don’t change policy because of YouTube comments. They don’t care what you say on the blog, they don’t care what you tweet — they care what you watch."
The actual numbers for Bellator 149 did even better, averaging 2.4 million during the Kimbo-Dada 5000 fight, and peaking at 2.7 million. Those numbers shatter Bellator’s normal Friday night cards, even when titles are at stake. Case in point, Smith pointed out a recent event that was centered more on merit than freak show tenants.
"When you see ‘Vengeance,’ which is a card we had — [Daniel] Straus versus [Patricio] Pitbull, they went to war, Michael Chandler knocks out Caveman [David Rickels], we had amazing fights that night…Will Brooks defeats Marcin Held…with real, legit, young, hungry talent, and it got about 800,000 viewers. Peaked about a million. Which wasn’t bad. Kimbo/Ken doubled that.
"So when fans ask me, why do they put on these fights, why do you think they put on these fights? It’s because you watched it. That’s what you asked for. It’s like a buffet, we lay out all this stuff, and what you eat the most of, that’s what’s for dinner. And I ever tell fans is look, we have six months of cards coming up. We have the main card, with King Mo versus Phil Davis. We have Michael Chandler versus Josh Thomson. We have a title fight this week. We have Koreshkov versus our brand spanking new signing at 170 for the title shot, that’s huge. If you don’t want to see Ben Henderson take on Koreshkov April 22, if those don’t get numbers you’re going to see more of the kind of fights that do get numbers."
Smith was refreshingly candid both during the telecast, not sugarcoating anything or trying to further sell a bill of goods. After the event he tweeted "F…M….L…" as if to pound home the point.
He was also refreshingly candid on Monday’s show. Upon hearing the many outcries from fans and media alike about the circus show that nearly came up tragic, he said it’s up to fans to support legitimate talent, who are fighting in the primes of their careers.
"That’s why I try and tell fans, man, help us out," he said. "Watch the fights that have legit guys, and if those numbers are high, that’s what you will see again. And so in a sense it kind of feeds on itself. When that’s what you watch that’s what you’re going to get, and then you turn around and complain that that’s what you get, well, come on.
"When we show real, legit guys make those numbers high and that’s what you’ll get again. Scott is responding to what the fans are telling him. And like I said you can scream, you can tweet, you can whine, you can do whatever you want — viewership is what drives what you see in Bellator. The fans are in charge of what they see. And if you support the young, hungry talent, then you will see young, hungry talent.
"And that’s what everybody forgets, man."