By Jason Moles
This past Saturday, Bellator Fighting Championships came to Michigan for the first time in the promotion’s nearly four-year history with its 82nd event. It’s been said that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and I’m not sure this was what CEO Bjorn Rebney had in mind, despite the obligatory smile on his face. Don’t get me wrong, the night could have gone worse — but it could have also went so much better. But I’m just a hack “journalist,” so what do I know?
I know demand for Bellator’s Michigan debut was low. Although the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort was pretty full for the main card fights, it was by no means a packed house. This just wasn’t one of those ‘standing room only’ functions, which probably explains why one of the more popular local watering holes* didn’t show Bellator that night.
When asked about the decision in the hours leading up to the fights, the response from one of the employees was an apathetic “Because we’re just not.” Not one of their dozen or so TVs would be allowed to show the second largest mixed martial arts promotion. Not one. I wonder how much of this could have been prevented with a proper main event — you know, the kind where the two guys set to throw down are ones you’ve heard of before or maybe even seen on the cover of a magazine.
I also know that all MMA events are improved with at least one matchup featuring two “Let me bang, bro!” type of guys. And while I thoroughly enjoy a great display of BJJ and wrestling, watching two highly skilled ground specialists do their thing, not everyone shares my opinion.
What Doug Marshall did to the crowd at Bellator 82 when he viciously knocked Kala Hose unconscious can be likened to what a package of Mentos does to a bottle of Diet Coke. The place went nuts. Sure, there were other stoppages earlier in the evening, but you know how it is with fights on the undercard — empty seats abound. Impressively, this fight was on the televised portion of the card and was seen by tens of thousands thus preventing the frustration of having the KO of the Night come from a dark match. If there’s one thing Michiganders, or anyone watching on MTV2 for that matter, will remember from Bellator 82 it’s going to be the return of the “Rhino.”
As hinted at earlier, Bellator needs better talent. This isn’t about quality vs. quantity or anything like that; it’s about the x-factor. Michael Chandler is a talented young champion, but little is known about the man who has yet to defend his title in the year he’s held the strap. Ben Askren is the definition of a dominant wrestler, but the undefeated champion is as crowd pleasing as Arianny Celeste on open mic night.
Seven seasons in and we’re still getting cards where fights like Lyman Good vs. Andrey Koreshkov masquerade as main events. Bellator FC’s biggest detractors argue they need bigger stars while others suggest having stars period would increase their ratings and live gate. With the departure of Hector Lombard and the inevitable parting of ways with Eddie Alvarez, Bellator is hurting for names to put on the marquee that interest casual fans — especially ones they can pronounce.
Fans came. Fans saw. Fans bought tee shirts. Fans were treated to a moderately priced night of dudes punching each other in the face. Some cheered. Some booed. Some were indifferent. Some will look back fondly at the night they saw a few good fights with a few good friends. Maybe that’s exactly what the Bellator brass wanted.
I’m not sure what each fan thought of the show overall, but I hope what they saw Saturday night in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan is the potential Bellator has to make a major impact in the world of MMA. Beginning next month, Spike TV will be the new home of the Newport Beach based promotion and will increase the exposure of the company and its fighters. A larger platform located at a more favorable spot in the channel lineup is just the tip of the iceberg.
The fans in attendance might not have been aware of this, but if they hoped for just a little bit more that night — excitement, interesting fighters, storylines — then they must’ve noticed just how little it would’ve taken to make Bellator 82 on par with its UFC counterpart. Just like the Israelites on the shore of the Jordan River, the Promised Land is within reach.
Below are a few other notable things that I noticed on press row:
- The crazy lady on the floor who kept screaming at one of the fighters in the main event turned out to be Lyman Good’s mom and she was featured in the picture-in-picture on the broadcast. Isn’t that spot reserved for whoever is fighting the winner?
- Speaking of Good, the dude couldn’t have picked a worse place to chill after his loss to Koreshkov. He showed up at the same shoddy bar we were at and the band played some of the most inopportune sad songs ever topped off by the worst cover of Chris Isaac’s ‘Wicked Game.”
- Speaking of Jade, she gave me an interview that will be up later this week.
- Cornermen were prohibited from entering the cage in between rounds until after the cameramen had entered.
- During the final round of the main event, I realized that Ben Askren must have been at home watching the same fight, thinking to himself, “piece of cake!” Turns out, I was right.
* Name withheld, but try the prime rib.