LOS ANGELES — Toward the end of the Bellator 192 pre-fight press conference Thursday on the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood, Bellator president Scott Coker had to essentially tell reporters that it was time to move on from questions about the bout order for Saturday night’s card.
Whether Bellator likes it or not, one of the hot topics of fight week leading into the promotion’s first card on the newly re-branded Paramount Network has to do with a surprising change in which fight would actually go on last.
All along, it seemed like a welterweight title fight between champion Douglas Lima and challenger Rory MacDonald would be the main event of Bellator 192, which takes place Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. But last week, Coker told The Sporting News that it would actually be a heavyweight tournament first-round matchup between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Chael Sonnen going on last. Coker has called it a “double main event.”
On Thursday at the press conference, Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV) executive Jon Slusser attempted to explain the rationale behind moving the two fights around, which MacDonald has described as “disappointing.”
Basically, Slusser said, it all comes down to making the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament stand out more.
“We’ll creatively differentiate the main event card and the grand prix in many different ways,” Slusser said. “We want this creative differentiation to make the heavyweight grand prix feel like a separate and unique event to the audience and that’s why it ends the night. And moving forward, all of the Bellator tentpoles in 2018 will end with a Bellator grand prix event.”
Slusser said it’ll be obvious when Lima vs. MacDonald ends and when “Rampage” vs. Sonnen begins what he’s talking about. From a production point of view, it seems like the tournament matchups will all look differently than the rest of the Bellator product.
“It’ll make sense to you, because what we’re doing is really creating another — it’s like a show in a show,” Slusser said. “It’s an event within the event. And we’re really creatively differentiating between these two things in a big, big way. You’ll see it Saturday and we’ll give you all the surprises, but I know it’ll be a great time and it’ll be a very, very entertaining night.”
Bellator 192 tickets and parking passes all say Lima vs. MacDonald. The back drop for fight week media festivities has Lima and MacDonald above Jackson and Sonnen. And the fight poster certainly makes it seem like the welterweights are in the main event.
There’s a reason for that, Slusser said. The final decision of putting “Rampage” and Sonnen on last only came last week.
“Obviously, the grand prix has been in the works for a long time,” Slusser said. “Creatively how we lay out the show, which is what this is about, was just — I think it was a week ago. Yes, it was quick. It was recent, it was very recent. So, things happened fast, for sure.”
The timing, especially, seems to be what upset MacDonald most. But he said Thursday that it’s becoming less and less of an issue for him.
“I was disappointed,” MacDonald said. “It didn’t affect my sponsors or affect me more than that, but the day I got the news, I was disappointed. I felt upset. But I just put it out of my mind. I have a job to do, which is going in the cage, fighting and fighting well. That’s all I can control, so I’m focusing on that. I’m not even thinking about that anymore. I’m not worried.”