Bellator About To Make Mistake?

Flush from it’s recent acquisition by Viacom and the stability that it brings, Bellator is apparently looking to end non-tournament/non-championship fights from its broadcasts altogether.

This is a mistake.

There are seven weight classes in Bellator, and at any given time, they’ve been running tournaments in four of the seven classes, while adding feature fights between tournament bouts in all of the seven classes (including ones in weight classes they are holding tournaments in).

Three reasons they should keep it that way:

  1. This provides a good variety of fights for the fan.
  2. Non-title matches keep their champions sharp.
  3. Rematches!

Bellator is poised to make big gains in market- and mind-share amongst MMA fans. Now’s not the time to make a mistake such as this.

Better Variety For The Fans:
Everything a business does is ultimately to attract and retain customers. In Bellator’s case: viewers/fans. Sure, the tournament format is fun, and provides a nice change from what seems to be a fairly random opponent selection (Carlos Condit goes from Penn to GSP to.. Kozcheck???) and it gives validity to their title belts, but for the fans it can be a bit much. I mean, I like to think that I follow the sport fairly well, but the idea of keeping track of more than four tournaments at the same time seems like it’s putting too much on your viewers. (This may be a contributing reason why they’ve only got a foothold in fans’ minds in MMA while the UFC has taken charge, at least as determined by event ratings/PPV buys). These non-title fights break up the tournaments nicely and provide fans who favor particular weight classes an opportunity to see them, even if they aren’t currently part of the active tournaments.

Keep Your Champions Sharp
Not every tournament will be ongoing every season and there’s no guarantee that the tournament winner will be healthy at tournament’s end. Add to that increasing the tournaments to five a season and you may very well have long and differing amounts of layoff between bouts for the belt holder. Having them active in non-title matches while tournaments are running keeps them sharp and ready to go. There is something to be said for training, but as we’ve seen with fighters coming back from long layoffs (I’m looking at you, Mr. Velasquez), it is difficult to return to the cage as sharp as you might be while you are active and competing regularly. Sharper champions means more interesting title fights, and the possibility that a belt could be held onto for a longer time by one fighter, which helps to build a brand/promotion.

Everybody loves a grudge match. No matter which side you’re rooting for, when you see a couple of fighters get through a fight and keep jawing at each other, you want to see them face each other again. In Bellator’s case, there are two recent fights that were such total wars, MMA fans are clamoring for rematches: Jay Heiron vs. Ben Askren and Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alverez. Setting such strict “tournament only” rules eliminates the chance for these fights to occur, as it is unlikely, as good as these guys are, that the challenger will make his way through the very next tournament to face the champion.

Think about your worst customer service dealings with companies. They all tend to have a person at the other end who insists on sticking to “policy” instead of doing what’s right and/or what makes sense, don’t they? Mine sure do. Bellator is not serving their customers, their fans, by installing a policy of “tournament only” fights…