(Dantas vs. Nam @ Shooto Brazil 33, 8/25/12. Skip to 4:26 for the knockout.)
By Jim Genia
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “folly” as “lack of good sense or normal prudence and foresight.” Bellator president Bjorn Rebney, however, likely now defines it as making the ridiculous mistake of letting one of his champions fight somewhere else. This past weekend, Bellator bantamweight king Eduardo Dantas was allowed by his American employers to take a fight closer to home in Rio de Janeiro, for the promotion Shooto Brasil. There, he met Oregon-based fighter Tyson Nam — a 12-4 regional competitor and, by all appearances, easy prey. And guess what? Dantas got knocked the heck out in the first round. Yeah, Bellator done goofed.
If there are unwritten rules to promoting MMA events, somewhere near the top of the list has to be “never let your champs fight in other shows.” Because, really, while the reward for said fighter winning is the implication that your organization is superior in terms of the quality of its competitors, the risk is that your guy could get his butt kicked. In that scenario, what’s implied (or sometimes stated explicitly) is that your fighters suck — or, at the very least, that the fighters in the other shows are better. And who wants to be the one with the weaker fighters?
Not the UFC, that’s for sure. Take for instance the failed contract negotiations to get heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko into the Octagon, and the alleged stipulation that Fedor, if he signed with the UFC, wouldn’t have been allowed to even compete in sambo tournaments in Mother Russia. Do you think Dana White wants tarnished fighters? He doesn’t even want them losing in something that’s not even mixed martial arts! (Sadly, this wasn’t always policy; see below.)
Of course, Bellator had its reasons for allowing Dantas to do his thing in Brazil. For one, due to Bellator’s reliance on tournaments to anoint top contenders, their champs fight pretty infrequently, and Dantas does have to eat, make car payments, deal with credit card bills, etc. Therefore, a paycheck that comes maybe twice a year probably doesn’t cut it. So why not let him work a shift somewhere else? Also, Dantas isn’t the first Bellator champ to be allowed to stray; former lightweight pack leader Eddie Alvarez was allowed to compete in DREAM in Japan, and Alvarez came away victorious.
In that example, the Bellator hardware lost none of its luster. But at the end of the day, is the risk worth it? The answer is “no.” Because right now, everyone is watching YouTube clips of Bellator’s top 135-pound fighter getting put to sleep at some show in South America, and the conclusion those viewers are coming to is that when it comes to bantamweights, Shooto Brasil has got Bellator beat. It’s a guarantee that that’s the last thing Rebney wants. You know what he probably does want right now? A freakin’ time machine.
Other examples of fighters who belong to one organization taking ill-advised fights in other organizations and paying for their folly include:
- Chuck Liddell, who, with White in tow, flew to Japan to face Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at the 2003 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix semifinals. Granted, earlier that year “the Iceman” had gone from top UFC light-heavyweight contender to grappling dummy for a revitalized Randy Couture, and in PRIDE’s Middleweight Grand Prix quarterfinals, Liddell snuffed out Alistair Overeem. But Liddell was still a very valuable piece in Zuffa’s UFC puzzle at the time, and PRIDE was the UFC’s biggest competitor in the MMA market. Loaning them Liddell was mistake — partially because it allowed Rampage to ground Liddell into hamburger meat, but also because it lent credence to the argument (and at the time, these arguments raged) that PRIDE was better.
- Shinya Aoki, who was the DREAM lightweight champ when he hopped on a plane, came to the United States, and took on Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce belt. Melendez beat the bejeezus out of the Japanese submission wizard for five solid rounds. It was so thorough a drubbing, you can bet at least one lower-level DREAM executive was ordered to commit seppuku for the mistake.
- You’d think DREAM would’ve learned their lesson with Aoki, but no. No, they didn’t. Hot on the heels of Aoki’s loss, they sent over their second best lightweight in Tatsuya Kawajiri, and this time, Melendez needed only three minutes and fourteen seconds to destroy whatever credibility DREAM’s lightweight division might still have had.
- Back in the days when SEG owned the UFC and the organization was struggling, reigning champ Pat Miletich was allowed to take a fight in the Hawaiian promotion Superbrawl against Japanese one-trick pony Jutaro Nakao. Unfortunately, that one trick Nakao was really good at was the triangle choke, and once Miletich tapped to it, the UFC had itself a champ who’d fought somewhere else and lost. D’oh. What lessened the blow to the UFC brand was the fact that few people watched the UFC at the time (it was banned from pay-per-view), and even fewer knew what Superbrawl was. Since Miletich’s loss was never acknowledged on air, the proverbial bullet was dodged.
- Once he won the YAMMA belt, Travis Wiuff should never have been permitted to fight anywhere else. YAMMA never die!