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Fightweets: Are Bellator’s new signings game changers?

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UFC on FOX 18 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It’s a rare light weekend in the mixed martial arts world -- although Saturday night’s Invicta card on UFC Fight Pass looks well worth your time — but that doesn’t mean the week was without its moments. So let’s get into another edition of Fightweets.

Bellator’s new signees

@Johan_Zen_Fghtr: How about @MaydayMcDonald joining @BellatorMMA ?

@RuckerYeah: Bader and Larkin signing with Bellator ... who’s next?

In a short period of time -- during a stretch in which there are no UFC events for three weeks, no less -- Bellator has made a spate of aggressive moves including the notable signings of Lorenz Larkin, Ryan Bader, and Michael McDonald, all of which came in the span of just over a week.

The UFC’s in no danger of losing the sport’s top spot any time soon. But the moves clearly indicate that Bellator is ready to take its real shot at making this game a legitimate, two-horse race.

Going into 2017, the main criticism against Scott Coker’s version of Bellator going was that it had gotten a little too reliant on old-timers to drive its cable ratings. It hasn’t used the big audiences their name value provides to help get new talent over, build up their divisions, or give any sense that their product is building to something bigger.

But the signs seem to indicate the company is starting to get it. Out of Bellator’s recent free-agent acquisitions, the UFC letting a prime Larkin walk was the biggest head-scratcher. Larkin is coming off wins over Neil Magny and Jorge Masvidal and owns a victory over Robbie Lawler. Unlike some of Bellator’s other signings, there’s no feasible way to discredit Larkin, a welterweight who is entering his prime.

Larkin meets Douglas Lima for the Bellator welterweight belt on the June 24 Bellator NYC card, a month after Rory MacDonald meets Paul Daley in London. A mini-tournament among the four, with the winners of these two fights squaring off, is as interesting as anything the UFC is going to be able to serve up at 170 pounds for the rest of 2017.

In the case of Bader, you can at least understand the UFC’s thinking in not matching Bellator’s offer. Bader’s been given multiple stabs at breaking through to a title shot and come up short more than once. But he’s still viable, popular fighter with a name, and by letting him go, they’ve handed a Bellator a Bader rematch with Phil Davis which should be good for a strong cable rating all on its own.

As for McDonald, there’s no denying he had pretty well maxed out in the UFC, as he was finished each of the three biggest fights of his career. But signing with Bellator still makes sense. McDonald has undeniable raw talents and a change of scenery could do him well. And in a division that’s been lacking in star power, Bellator bantamweight champ Eduardo Dantas could use the boost a matchup with a fighter of McDonald’s name value provides.

At the end of the day, there’s little danger the UFC is ever going to cede the sport’s top spot to Bellator. But if you consider where the company was back when Scott Coker took over the reigns -- with a tournament format which had more than run its course, talents like Ben Askren allowed to walk and Eddie Alvarez itching to get out, an so on -- to where it is now, there’s no denying Coker has gotten this company into a position where it can take advantage of the new UFC ownership’s decisions to make drastic cuts. How far Bellator can run with this will be one of the most interesting ongoing storylines over the next couple years.

Bellator NYC/180

@ThatKiddSwiz: What are your thoughts on the Bellator MSG card?

@christopher_kit: Main and co main for Bellator PPV announced. If you were a fan - would you pay the $50 mark?

I got these questions and several others related to Bellator NYC/Bellator 180 on June 24 (the promotion says the PPV portion of the card is Bellator NYC and the undercard stream is Bellator 180, which is a little weird, but hey).

When the date at Madison Square Garden was first announced, with Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva the only fight billed at the time, this seemed like a cut-and-dried proposition.

Fans have proven they will tune in, en masse, for legends fights as part of their basic cable package. Whether they will pay more money on top of their regular cable bill -- and a good portion of my feedback indicates that an equally good portion of you are waiting to see where the price point lands on Bellator NYC before deciding whether to buy -- remains to be seen.

Since this initial wave of opinion, of course, we’ve seen Bellator add several more fights to the card, from the rebooked Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione matchup, to Michael Chandler’s lightweight title defense against Brent Primus, to the smoking-hot Lima vs. Larkin bout, to top prospect Aaron Pico’s undercard pro debut.

All this changes the mix considerably. Now, in addition to a main event in which, despite what you might think now, come fight week, Sonnen is going to talk you into wanting to see the fight (we’ll take a leap of faith for now that Silva will actually make it to fight day); we’ve got Emelianenko’s New York City debut; one of the top talents in the sport in Chandler; and what promises to be a barnburner in Lima vs. Larkin.

I’ll never tell a fan that they’re obligated to spend their money on anything. What you do with your hard-earned money is your call. But given some of the lineups that have been presented on pay-per-view in the past year or so across the combat sports spectrum, it seems like you can do a whole lot worse than what Bellator’s putting out there.

Dreams of Luke Rockhold vs. Fabricio Werdum

@bourassaruob: Is Rockhold vs Werdum realistic? Or would Rockhold be giving up too much weight?

Oh man, what a spectacular tease the idea of this fight was. Maybe it’s because this was otherwise a pretty slow week for UFC news, but the notion of the former middleweight champ vs. the former heavyweight champ, who have a beef dating back to when both guys were in Strikeforce, lit up my Twitter timeline like nothing else.

Sure, I know all the reasons why this fight is potentially wrong. The obvious one being the on-paper weight mismatch. And the only slightly less obvious one being that this would be a fight which would keep two guys who are in the thick of their title pictures out of the fray.

Fine. But let’s dig a little deeper. Rockhold is an enormous middleweight who could easily compete at light heavyweight. By many accounts, he’s engaged in gym wars with Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier behind closed doors that were better than a lot of fight cards fans have paid for over the years. Werdum’s not a huge heavyweight, he’s come in as low as 230 and doesn’t need to cut weight. The weight difference here isn’t a as big a deal-breaker as it seems at first glance.

Now consider that the middleweight picture is held up with Georges St-Pierre getting a title shot; Werdum hasn’t fought since September and we’re still a ways away from Stipe Miocic’s next title defense, and just the fact Werdum turns 40 this summer and the clock is ticking.

In an age where the UFC seems more about putting together money fights now and worrying about the long-term health of the sport later, this fight is so wrong that it’s right.

Unfortunately, Werdum has seemed to squash all the fun by saying he doesn’t want the fight. But so many strange things have happened over the past couple years that this fight barely registers as strange, so let’s hold out hope on this one.


@Riccikitchen: Has the MMAAA disbanded now GSP is back??

I mean, let’s take a look at how things have gone. First, there was the giant splash of a press conference late last fall, featuring the likes of Bjorn Rebney, Georges St-Pierre, Tim Kennedy, Cain Velasquez, Donald Cerrrone, and T.J. Dillashaw. After making a huge first impression, the backlash began. Cerrone and Kennedy, who both fought at UFC 206 a couple weeks later, instantly backpedaled. Velasquez and Dillashaw have barely uttered another word about the matter. Kennedy mentioned his MMAAA work when he announced his retirement, but hasn’t said anything in public since. The MMAAA hasn’t tweeted anything itself since Dec. 22 or RTed anything since Dec. 26. Rebney’s only tweet since Dec. 9 was one giving an RIP to the late J.J. Binns Jr., son of the former Pennsylvania state athletic commission executive director.

GSP, meanwhile, put No. 1 first and resigned with the UFC, which sends its own signal. He’s still saying the right things about the MMAAA still being around. But the group already made it’s big first impression, then vanished. That’s going to make it an uphill struggle if they try to get their act together a second time. One can’t help but get the impression they were handed the ball and fumbled it away.

Conor’s pals

@EaglesDaKid: Is it a forgone conclusion that Artem Lobov is the next big thing in the UFC?

I think I’m being trolled here, but on the off-chance I’m not ,it’s a foregone conclusion that if your buddy is the biggest pay-per-view draw in the company, you’ll be given every chance to succeed. What was the combined UFC record for the non-Ronda Rousey Four Horsewomen, again?