Remember: The real champion is the guy on the right. Seriously. Both images via Sherdog.
For those of you who haven’t noticed, Bellator’s Light-heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu lost his non-title super fight against journeyman Travis Wiuff on Saturday night. Yes, a champion actually lost one of those super fights that are supposed to show the general public how badass he is. Now that we’ve had an additional twenty four hours to digest the incident since we first reported it yesterday, let’s put the fight into perspective: Wiuff decisively beat Bellator’s light-heavyweight champion, Christian M’Pumbu, in a light-heavyweight fight under the Bellator banner on Saturday night. For his efforts, he has more than likely earned a slot in next season’s light-heavyweight tournament. If he wins said tournament, his reward will be a title shot against the best light-heavyweight in Bellator, Christian M’Pumbu. You know, the guy he just defeated Saturday night.
Wait, what the fucking what?
Having your champion fight in non-title super fights is a dubious idea in the first place. We’ve seen other organizations employ it before with less than spectacular results. Now that the worst case scenario played out at Bellator 55, it’s officially time to give this idea the ban that it deserves.
There are three main reasons why:
You’re setting the fight up for mediocrity. The purpose of these non-title fights is to showcase how dominant the champion can be, yet they are inherently designed to do the exact opposite. As Overeem vs. Werdum taught us, putting your organization’s champion in non-title fights is a recipe for mediocrity because the champion has next to nothing to lose, while the challenger has next to nothing to gain. Aside from the L on his record, what did Christian M’Pumbu have to lose on Saturday night? No matter what the outcome, he’d still be the Bellator Light-heavyweight champion. He’d still get the exact same amount of time off before his next fight. That said fight would still be against the winner of next season’s tournament. He couldn’t move down in Bellator’s rankings with a loss, because he’d still be their champion regardless.
For that matter, what does the challenger have to gain in these fights? A potential title shot, which is nothing he can’t already earn from a victory against a lesser fighter in the organization. Can you really expect either fighter to take the fight as seriously as a title fight? Of course not, which explains why most champions do just enough to win without getting injured during these non-title fights. Believe it or not, unmotivated champion plus challenger with nothing significant to gain is not the formula for a memorable fight.
It’s usually a blatant admission of a squash fight. Can someone explain to me how a victory over Kalib Starnes set up Falaniko Vitale for a fight with Hector Lombard? Better yet, how did a 0-1 record in Bellator put Ryan Roberts across the cage from Bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky? Neither fighter posed any threat to the champion at all whatsoever, as evident by how Hector Lombard toyed with Vitale before knocking him out in the third round and by Makovsky’s first round north-south choke over Roberts. It’s almost like promoters know this when they book these non-title fights with their champions. Oh yeah, the betting lines when champions are involved in non-title fights usually hint at this, too.
As a promoter, it is your job to match your champions up with the best talent available. It’s one thing to allow an up and coming prospect to crush some cans to pad his record, but your organization’s champion has to fight the best, most deserving fighters in order for the belt to mean anything. By the very nature of having somebody fight your champion, you’re telling the fans that he is the best fighter available. But by refusing to put the title on the line, you’re essentially admitting the opposite- that the challenger has no business standing across the cage from the champion. The bottom line is that if the challenger can pull off the upset against the champion, he deserves to be rewarded with the organization’s title. If you don’t want to risk the challenger becoming your organization’s champion- for whatever reason- then don’t book him to fight the champion. Besides…
The fans will consider the winner to be the rightful champion regardless. Those of us who aren’t ashamed to admit to watching some pro wrasslin’ back in the day can tell you: In order to be the man, you gotta beat the man. I’ll wait for you all to “WOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” before I continue.
After watching Christian M’Pumbu get bullied by Travis Wiuff for the majority of their fight on Saturday night, does anyone actually consider the guy to be the best light-heavyweight in Bellator? Of course not, unless we’re going with the John Wooden mentality that M’Pumbu was on his way to winning the fight but ran out of time (we’re not). So then how can anyone not consider Travis Wiuff the rightful champion? He beat the man. He beat the fighter that Bellator proudly declared to be the best fighter at light-heavyweight. If we’re going along with the mentality that being the organization’s light-heavyweight champion means you’re the best light-heavyweight in the organization, we simply can’t call Christian M’Pumbu the rightful champion after losing a light-heavyweight fight. And if we aren’t going with that mentality, then what’s the point of naming a champion?
I don’t want to end on a sour note for Bellator. I like Bellator. They put on some great, exciting fights. But Bjorn Rebney: I know you read CagePotato. Your promotion is better than this whole “champions in non-title fights” stuff. With your help, we can send this preposterous idea to the YAMMA Pit of Misfit Toys where it belongs.