As part of their ongoing effort to
forcibly establish a marketable champion introduce new contenders to their LHW division repeatedly cycle through their apparently limited stable of noteworthy fighters (while making sure to book as many rematches in the process as possible), Bellator unveiled their season 10 light heavyweight tournament last night, and surprise surprise, all of the fighters competing in said tournament have either a) already lost a previous tournament b) recently lost the LHW title or c) are Rampage Jackson. Although in the case of King Mo Lawal, who is also entered in the tournament, it’s a little bit of a and b.
The four-man tournament* will kick off at Bellator 110 on Feb. 28 from the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and will feature Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Christian M’Pumbu on one side of the “bracket” and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal vs. Mikhail Zayats on the other. What, you didn’t think King Mo and Rampage would actually be paired against one another in the opening round, did you? Anyway, Rampage spoke with select members of the media during a conference call yesterday and brought his usual mix of faux-enthusiasm and borderline incomprehensible syntax to the proceedings, stating:
I’m very excited to do my first tournament in years. I’m in it, and I’m in it to win it. I’m going to win this tournament by everybody going to sleep.
Ah, the Ben Askren strategy. Interesting to see Rampage switching up game plans this late in his career.
Seriously though, who does Bellator think it’s fooling with this tournament? It’s become increasingly obvious as of late that the organization is willing to do whatever it must to fast-track its marketable faces to title shots (see: Mo Lawal, King or Curran, Pat) at the expense of its actual champions. Look no further than their treatment of Attila Vegh if you don’t believe me. While the UFC may be struggling to create new stars, Bellator seems content to betray its own mission statement in order to force the few stars they have into power. Call me crazy, but the latter strategy seems a lot more risky to one’s credibility than the former.
Let’s look at the facts here: Christian M’Pumbu is on the heels of a decision loss to current champ Attila Vegh. More importantly perhaps, no one knows who he is. The same goes for Zayats, who previously dropped a decision to interim champ Emanuel Newton in the season 8 finals. Vegh and Newton are finally set to have their own rematch at Bellator 113, so should either M’Pumbu or Zayats actually win the tournament (and dependent on who emerges victorious from Vegh vs. Newton II), Bellator will be looking at either a rematch, a different rematch, or a fight between two largely unknown fighters. One of whom is their champion.
Lawal, on the other hand, has come up short against Newton on *two* separate occasions. Should Newton defeat Vegh and Lawal win the tournament, Bellator would be stuck with perhaps the most unnecessary rematch in the history of unnecessary rematches**. Should Vegh defeat Newton and Lawal win the tournament, Bellator is left with a title fight between an unknown (not to mention mistreated) champion and a contender who has already been defeated twice by the guy who just lost to said champion.
But if Jackson wins the tournament (which he is primed to do), it’s a win-win-win for Bellator. Here they have the most marketable fighter in the promotion, one who is known by even the most casual of fans, who they can now parade around as “reborn” under their wings because he picked up a couple victories over guys who have already proven themselves to be a cut below championship level. Throw in the fact that Page hasn’t actually fought any of the other tournament participants or champions yet and you’ve got all the false pretense you will ever need.
Of course, now that Bellator is once again attempting to count their chickens before they hatch, we’re all but guaranteed a Zayats-M’Pumbu final***.
*Which isn’t even a tournament, really. ONE WIN and you’re already in the finals? Igor Vovchanchyn is rolling over in the grave he hasn’t even dug for himself yet.
** If this scenario plays out, expect Lawal or Newton to go down with a sudden, undisclosed injury that takes 6 months minimum to heal.
*** Same goes for this scenario.