There’s no denying that the UFC remains the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, but fight fans also need a change of pace from time to time. This is especially true when the UFC’s saturated schedule is taken into account. It’s rare to have a weekend without a UFC card. While some may not see that as an issue, some have also been critical because events can often feel stale and repetitive. Sure, there are still “big” UFC events that have a special aura around them, but these cards seem to occur less frequently than they did in the past. Enter Bellator 237.
Lucky for fight fans, other promotions have begun to gain steam in recent years. These promotions offer different perspectives and a breath of fresh air to the fight game. In fact, Bellator did this when the promotion hosted Bellator 237 at the famed Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan for the very first time. Here’s how the promotion did it:
Co-Promoting With RIZIN
The sport of mixed martial arts was born out of a simple question: ‘which fighting style is the best?’ In the early days, this meant pitting a striker against a grappler, a boxer against a wrestler, a kickboxer against a jiu-jitsu artist, etc.
As the years have gone by, and fighters have begun to evolve, MMA has become more about simply finding the best fighter. And while the UFC has entered a “money fight” era of sorts in recent times, the promotion has typically done a solid job of matching the best against the best.
However, it must be noted that many different promotions are now home to high-level fighters. It’s incredibly difficult to determine true supremacy with fighters being divided by promotional barriers.
It’s that reason that makes the working relationship between Bellator and RIZIN so special. Unlike many other promotions, the two organizations have begun to co-promote, matching up fighters from both promotions against each other.
That was the case at Bellator 237. While Bellator and RIZIN certainly didn’t book any fights involving the absolute best of each promotion facing off, the mixing and matching of a larger pool of fighters certainly provides a different level of excitement. This is especially true when it’s not being done anywhere else.
A Stacked Card From Top To Bottom
Given the tremendous amount of UFC cards, it’s near impossible for the promotion to stack every card. And while a fight can turn out spectacular regardless of what it looks like on paper, many events simply lack depth.
That wasn’t the case with Bellator 237, however, as the two organizations filled the card with big names and intriguing fights. And, the fights themselves turned out to be a hit, as all but one main card bout ended in a finish.
Submission ace Goiti Yamauchi kicked things off with a first-round rear-naked-choke victory over well-known UFC veteran and RIZIN standout Daron Cruickshank. Kana Watanabe followed that up with a third-round stoppage of her own, defeating Ilara Joanne.
Next, top welterweight Lorenz Larkin put on a clinic, outclassing Keita Nakamura to earn a clear unanimous decision. Then, Michael “Venom” Page and Michael Chandler, two Bellator mainstays, delivered back-to-back knockout victories.
And finally came the main event–a bout between two legendary combatants in Fedor Emelianenko and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. While some may be against the booking of aging fighters, this bout represented the perfect fight for each man. And it took place in the perfect location.
Overall, Bellator and RIZIN put together a card filled with exciting fights between some of their most well-recognizable names. In addition to that, the production and atmosphere of the event were second to none.
One factor that plays into UFC events feeling stale at times, is the lack of expression allowed by fighters. For example, each fighter is fitted in the same Reebok uniform. The entrances of fighters are also rarely unique. This simply limits the possibilities of an event.
Bellator has always tried to do the exact opposite of this, allowing fighters to wear what they want and attempting to make entrances more exciting. At Bellator 237, this was especially true, specifically regarding the entrances.
For the event, a massive jumbotron was on display behind a long ramp that led to the ring. Each fighter had a montage to go along with a song of their choice and any type of outfit they had elected to wear.
It felt fitting. It felt exciting. And it felt different.
And not only did it resonate with fans, but it was clear that the fighters felt it as well. Larkin, for example, turned around and looked at the screen as he made his entrance, taking everything in. Page, always the showman, meanwhile, was decked out in unique attire and made the most of his walk as well.
And when the main event rolled around, the most hardcore of fans couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia. Emelianenko and Jackson made entrances reminiscent of their glory days in Pride.
Overall, the event delivered in all aspects. It felt special and provided a much-needed breath of fresh air to the ever-changing, yet often stagnant fight game.
Here’s to hoping more of the same follows, as we enter 2020 and beyond.