By Seth Falvo
To surprisingly little reaction this weekend, Bellator announced that the lineup for Bellator 120: Alvarez vs. Chandler 3 — also known as the promotion’s first pay-per-view event — has been set. (Bellator 120 goes down Saturday, May 17th, at the Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi.) Don’t worry, Bellator has clearly learned from their whole “plan a pay-per-view around two old guys and some fading UFC castoffs” phase. But are there enough intriguing, quality fights on this lineup to justify paying for a Bellator event? Let’s look over the fight card and determine for ourselves.
All nine of the fights for Bellator 120 — four Spike preliminaries, five main card contests — have been ranked solely by my interest in watching them. If you disagree, feel free to write some terrible things about me in the comments section. I look forward to ignoring them.
(Main Card) Lightweight Championship Bout: Eddie Alvarez (c) vs. Michael Chandler
I don’t think either fighter is even capable of a boring match, much less a boring match against each other. I could type paragraph after paragraph on how their first two encounters resulted in two of the greatest fights in our sport’s history, and how…oh why am I even trying to pretend that I’m not going to insert an Al Bundy GIF and move along to the next fight:
(Preliminary Card) Lightweight Tournament Final: Marcin Held vs. Patricky Pitbull
The go-home show before a pay-per-view is extremely influential on buy rates, which is the only reason why I’m assuming this fight isn’t on the main card. These guys have been with Bellator for ages, and always produce fun, exciting fights. I’d be more than willing to pay for this one; not that I’m complaining about getting it on cable.
(Main Card) Michael Page vs. Rickey Rainey
If you don’t enjoy watching Michael Page destroy people with his flashy, devastating offense then you clearly aren’t a fan of MMA. Burn all of your TapouT t-shirts and go watch baseball or something.
(Main Card) Tito Ortiz vs. Alexander Shlemenko
This fight is such a freak show, random, “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” pairing that Ben Askren has already labeled it a work. Why wouldn’t I be looking forward to it?
(Preliminary Card) Mike Richman vs. Goiti Yamauchi
Back at Bellator 110, it appeared that these two would crush their opponents and meet up in the next round of Bellator’s featherweight tournament. It looked like such an obvious conclusion that I advised you all to bet money on both men winning. Naturally, neither guy advanced, so Bellator booked these two to kick off the preliminaries of their inaugural pay-per-view, because of course this is a thing that’s happening. As forced as this fight feels, I’m not going to act like I won’t at least watch it.
(Preliminary Card) Cheick Kongo vs. Eric Smith
Call me crazy, but I firmly believe that Bellator’s “Sign the UFC’s leftovers” business model isn’t so much an attempt to gain viewers by trotting out guys that fight fans used to sort-of care about as it is an attempt to quell the “These guys haven’t beaten anybody!” criticisms of their roster. In other words, Cheick Kongo isn’t the guy they want, he’s the guy they want to lose to the guys they want. Because, let’s face it, Bellator Heavyweight Champion Vitaly Minakov’s victory over Cup-Cheick did more to establish him as a legitimate heavyweight to most fight fans than a victory over a stoic, doughy Russian they’ve never heard of would have. I’ll pause for you to make your own “Who is Vitaly Minakov?” jokes, I guess (I hope you feel really good about yourself for that super original joke, by the way).
Essentially, Bellator is using Kongo as a “jobber to the stars:” a guy who can beat the not-quite-readies, but isn’t a threat to beat any of the promotion’s top heavyweights. This means that every once in a while they’ll have to book him in squash matches against 6-1-1 nobodies so fans will continue to perceive him as a threat, making his losses against the fighters Bellator actually wants to push seem that much more significant. This fight is a necessary evil, is what I’m saying.
(Main Card) Alexander Shlemenko vs. Whoever Bellator Finds to Replace Tito Ortiz at the Last Minute
Because we all know it’s going to happen…
(Preliminary Card) Heavyweight Tournament Final: Alexander Volkov vs. Blagoi Ivanov
Yes, Bellator’s heavyweight bouts tend to quickly reduce themselves to two guys sloppily waltzing through a “What’s cardio?” display of all things garbage-ass, but I really like the stoic Russian with an “-ov” in his last name. He’s a beast, and should be a legitimate threat to Vitaly Minakov’s unblemished record.
(Main Card) Will Brooks vs. Nate Jolly
Leave it to Bellator to put a popcorn match on the main card of their first-ever pay-per-view. Nate Jolly has never fought for Bellator, and it’s not like he’s a name that casual fans would at least recognize. If they wanted to use the regional star to entice the locals to buy tickets, there’s no reason why they couldn’t put this fight on the preliminaries and bump Mike Richman vs. Goiti Yamauchi to the main card. Likewise, if they wanted to use this fight to get Will Brooks — a 13-1 fighter who has gone 5-1 in Bellator — over with the fans, then why not book Brooks against a fighter that the average Bellator fan would actually recognize?
I’m not trying to insult either fighter/say that the fight will be boring just because I’m not heavily invested in it/deny that climate change is real/whatever it is that MMA fans automatically assume whenever someone writes that they aren’t very interested in an upcoming fight, I’m just saying that I’m really not that interested in this bout.
(Main Card) Light-Heavyweight Tournament Final: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal
In the co-main event of the evening, we have the final round of a completely unbiased four-man tournament, where the two finalists hate each other so damn much that they engaged in an almost-realistic brawl at Bellator 110, over an incident that took place five years ago. Looks like I’ve finally met a fight that I can’t sum up with an Al Bundy GIF.