We, the unassuming fans were blind-sided Wednesday night during Spike TV’s airing of Bellator 97. For the past several days, rumors had spread like wildfire of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s interest in fighting boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. in an exhibition match. The fight was whispered to be the main event of the very first Bellator PPV, supposedly taking place on the same night as the UFC’s year-end event, Silva vs. Weidman 2.
All the hub-bub of a Bellator boxing match received a marginal welcome from fans. The fight appeared to be more of a circus act than a legitimate contest. The comparison of James Toney’s UFC debut immediately came to mind. Just how competitive could it be?
The fight was said to be officially announced during the July 31st event, and true to the word, Quinton Jackson made his entrance in between fights. The audience whooped and hollered as Rampage took center cage. While fans awaited the official announcement of the exhibition match, the scene seemed oddly familiar. Like Bellator stole a page out of the WWF’s playbook. There was a fighter rambling on in the cage, when suddenly music began to play. The entire crowd turned to see a familiar face, though not the one they were expecting.
Out walked Tito Ortiz, adorning his customary United States/Mexican flag, marching towards the ring like “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. The first words out of my mouth were, “Holy shit, no way”, as my wife scowled at me from the across the room.
It turns out that all the Roy Jones Jr. talk was a rouse, a trick to get the fans to drop their guard. Nobody saw it coming. For years Bellator has built its reputation on bringing in relatively unknown talent, and developing them into well respected fighters in a tournament format. Their business model has never been one that catered to accepting UFC cast-offs. This has seemingly changed.
Why was this fight such a punch in the back of the head? Why didn’t we see it coming? Even after Tito hinted on twitter of a return, there wasn’t much buzz… mainly because nobody cared. The fact is, since December 2006, Tito has amassed an abysmal record of (1-7-1). He retired, entered the UFC Hall of Fame, and we all thought (or at least hoped) we’d never see him in the cage again.
The truth is, this fight is something that would have made sense in 2007. Since then, both the demand and relevance of these men squaring off has decreased each year. Rampage exited the UFC on a three fight losing skid, and has looked less and less like the feared striker he was. He claims to be training hard now, but how may many times has he said that recently? Bellator is banking on Rampage’s and Tito’s “big names” bringing in fans. The major problem is that casual fans and passersby of the sport pay no attention to the organization.
Bellator has built its brand by being a resilient and unique promotion. Since the Spike deal, it’s a wonder if Viacom has taken steps in the wrong direction. Company men such as Pat Curran and Michael Chandler are being pushed aside for fighters who are most famously connected with the UFC. It seems counterproductive to indirectly promote the organization’s largest competitor.
It’s yet to be seen what matches will fill the rest of the card. Although it has already blown stacks of cash on two “has-been” superstars, the company is talking big names. Scheduled for November 2nd, the PPV will be avoiding competition with all currently scheduled UFC events, which has probably been the only smart move Viacom’s made in this endeavor.
Profightingfans.com Staff Writer