Bellator MMA is the second-largest mixed martial arts promotion in the United States. With this in mind, the UFC seems…no, is light years ahead in offering a superior MMA product to mixed martial arts fans across the globe. Why is this? We will explore that today and consider five moves for Bellator to improve their mixed martial arts product.
5 Moves For Bellator to Catch Up to the UFC
Ditch the Tournaments
Tournaments are cool. There is a reason that the UFC grew in vast proportion during their ‘one-night tournament era’. However, that era is long over. In 2021, tournaments in MMA are more gimmicks than anything. Consider the Professional Fighters League. PFL’s entire production is based upon a regular season (much like football or baseball) where fighters compete to earn points by winning fights that will grant them the ability to compete in a ‘playoff’ style tournament in hopes of being crowned the champion for the year. PFL presents tournaments well, Bellator does not. It’s old and repetitive and provides no real reason to watch them beyond the title fights. Bellator needs to ditch the tournaments and reinvest those monies into a new avenue.
Rethink the Broadcast Team
To preface, this is by no means to say that the UFC’s broadcast team is perfect or ideal. However, Bellator’s broadcast team does need to work. To start, it almost always seems that the color commentators, whether it be “Big” John McCarthy and Mauro Ranallo or somebody else, try to educate viewers about each fighter rather than addressing the nitty-gritty details of the fight happening before them. Perhaps a small critique, but one that matters to viewers who prefer fight analysis over addressing the background details of every fighter on the prelims.
In addition, Bellator’s support crew feels a bit laboured. Josh Thompson does an okay enough job to earn a passing grade, but Jenn Brown, who’s been involved in TV for more than 15 years, often feels like she does not belong.
Gareth A. Davies, who has had a long-time place in European combat sports, provides ‘analysis’ work for Bellator, but when the camera is on him he seems to swell into a character of his own and provide little of substance to the actual fight being discussed. Bellator needs to address their broadcast team to provide fight fans with an optimal watching experience.
Invest in the Women’s Divisions
There is no reason to watch the women’s divisions. Let me say that again. There is no reason to watch the women’s divisions. Okay, there definitely are some reasons to watch the women’s divisions, but in terms of competitive depth, the UFC blows Bellator out of the water. Fighters like Cris Cyborg, Denise Keilholtz, Cat Zingano, Liz Carmouche, Diana Avsaragova, and Sumiko Inaba highlight each of their respective divisions, but the talent depth is incredibly vast across the women’s featherweight and flyweight divisions. There is no reason to ever, unless there is a vast issue in talent depth, to book Cris Cyborg vs. Sinead Kavanaugh. Ever.
Sell Out at 205
In its current state, Bellator arguably has a better light heavyweight division than that of the UFC. Ranging from seasoned vets like Melvin Manhoef and Phil Davis to young blood like Alex Polizzi and Karl Albrektsson, Bellator’s light heavyweight division is incredibly skilled.
Scott Coker and company need to capitalize off this and book, book, book. Feature light heavyweight fights on big stages like main events or co-main events. Highlight the young talent of the division by pitting them against each other. Take big names like Yoel Romero and Lyoto Machida and create super fights. Bellator has done this, and the result has been a very interesting 205 lb. division. If Bellator sells out for the light heavyweight division, only good can come of it.
Book the (Right) Big Fights
Bellator has a thing for booking less than exciting main events. Take, for example, Bellator 269: Fedor vs. Johnson. This, hypothetically, was a huge fight for the heavyweight division. However, does forty-five-year-old Fedor Emelianenko need to be headlining the card? Does ex-UFC washup Tim Johnson need to be headlining? How does this look in comparison to the UFC’s heavyweight bookings?
We had already discussed Cyborg vs. Kavanaugh earlier, but the same concept applies. Main events sell shows. Scott Coker, a man who has been in the business of combat sports for more than thirty years, should know this.
Bellator 272: Pettis vs. Horiguchi is a perfect example of an incredible main event. In a cross-promotional effort, newly crowned Bellator bantamweight champion Sergio Pettis will defend his 135 lb. title against Kyoji Horiguchi, Rizin’s Bantamweight World Champion. Considering the relationship between Bellator and Rizin, and Horiguchi’s history with both companies this fight not only makes sense but will also be an incredibly exciting matchup considering the fight prowess of each man.
Bellator needs more of this. Big fights. Fights that matter. Stop investing main event time in old guys.
Bellator is still a young promotion and there is room to grow. This list, although in critique, is simply a route to growth. In what ways do you think Bellator can grow as a company and improve their product as a whole?
Embed from Getty Images