By Matt Saccaro
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney didn’t give out the gate numbers at the post-fight presser, even when asked (which probably means they were bad). And it’s still too early to know how Bellator 120 performed at the box office. So, financially, Bellator’s first PPV can’t definitively be called a success or a failure.
Regarding entertainment value, however, Bellator 120 was a success. There were some pacing issues, yes, but overall the card delivered.
In the first fight, Michael Page did his best Anderson Silva impression, knocking out Ricky Rainey (who’s name was hilariously spelled wrong at the post-fight presser) after taunting him mercilessly. In the next bout, former Bellator heavyweight champ Alexander Volkov scored an upset submission win over Blagoi Ivanov.
Then came Tito Ortiz vs. Alexander Shlemenko. Ortiz was the laughing stock of this card, without a doubt. He was a relic from a bygone era who hadn’t won a fight in three years. His ridiculous pre-fight promos (he promised to make Shlemenko “literally shit himself”) only made him look worse. Shlemenko, on the other hand, was Bellator’s middleweight champ and a stern Russian killer. He’d have no problem with Ortiz despite the considerable size difference, or so the world thought. But Ortiz won the fight. He submitted Shlemenko with an arm-triangle choke in the very first round. Then he gave the worst post-fight interview of all time; he pretended to be Hulk Hogan.
As crazy as Ortiz-Shlemenko was, it wasn’t the emotional high point of the PPV, nor was Michael Chandler vs. Will Brooks. Chandler-Brooks was not a particularly anticipated match. In fact, the entire Bellator PPV was centered around the rubber match between Chandler and Eddie Alvarez. When Alvarez withdrew due to a concussion, many thought it meant death for Bellator 120. Will Brooks was thrown in against Chandler, but it was a squash match—or at least that’s what conventional wisdom held. But Brooks upended fans and pundits, beating Chandler via split decision. He was made of sterner stuff than we all gave him credit for.
Then we had the main event, Rampage Jackson vs. King Mo. The fight itself was banal. Mo dominated Rampage with wrestling while Rampage landed a couple of decent shots throughout the fight. It seemed like a pretty easy decision win for King Mo, but the judges didn’t see it that way; they awarded Rampage with a unanimous decision. What happened after the fight was the real draw though. King Mo and Rampage started jaw-jacking. During the Spike TV portion of the broadcast, King Mo accused Bjorn Rebney of “dick riding” Rampage. He didn’t hold in such feelings in his post-fight speech, nor did he silence himself at the post-fight presser. Him and Rampage yelled at each other while the presser stream intermittently died possibly due to the sheer volume of viewers.
So what’s the fallout?
It’s tough to parse this one out, Potato Nation.
Michael Page looked great, which is obviously a good thing for Bellator. And there’s not much to say about Ivanov vs. Volkov. It was a good fight. Volkov will get a title shot at Vitaly Minakov, and Ivanov will likely get placed into another heavyweight tournament sometime soon.
Ortiz-Shlemenko is tough to pass judgement on. Bellator obviously has more invested in Ortiz, so him winning his first fight under their banner is a positive thing. Now he can be featured in other fight cards. How much Ortiz’s presence will increase viewership remains to be seen. Still, it’s better than him losing, which would’ve damaged whatever remaining value his name had beyond repair. However, no good can come from your middleweight champion losing to an ancient UFC washout and has been—and looking like a total scrub while doing it.
At first, it seemed like Will Brooks defeating Michael Chandler destroyed the Bellator lightweight division. But apparently Eddie Alvarez can demand to fight Chandler anyway, meaning Brooks’ victory didn’t wreck the much-anticipated rubber match between Alvarez and Chandler. Brooks beating Chandler helps get him over as a legitimate talent. Brooks winning, while maybe not optimal, isn’t the disaster people made it out to be.
Last night’s crown jewel was Rampage vs. King Mo, and not because of what happened in the cage. It was all about the post-fight hysterics. The questionable decision and (now seemingly legitimate) beef between the two makes a rematch enticing from a promotional standpoint, something that couldn’t have been said if either man decisively finished the other.
The PPV could’ve gone much worse. Could it have been better? Maybe. There have been worse UFC PPVs that we paid more money for. Bellator 120 didn’t go bad enough to destroy Bellator, but it certainly didn’t go good enough to bring the Viacom-owned promotion to new heights of excellence. If nothing else, Bellator 120 was a perfect example of the inherent insanity that makes MMA special.