By Matt Saccaro
Bellator 120 is a day away, but the MMA world doesn’t seem to care…unless of course they’re deriding the Viacom-owned promotion’s PPV endeavors.
People like laughing at Bellator. That goes for both fans and media. MMAJunkie’s Ben Fowlkes noted this phenomenon recently:
You make a fair point about the undercurrent of glee in the response to every new Bellator setback. It reminds me of the late IFL CEO Jay Larkin, who, when convening a conference call to essentially sound the death knell for that organization, bitterly remarked that it seemed to be the most interest the MMA media had ever shown in an IFL announcement. In other words, it’s not just Bellator feeling that sting. As much as MMA seems to recognize the need for a serious competitor to the UFC, it also seems to love to watch those contenders rise and fall. I’m not sure I know why that is, but I do know that, if you are one of those contenders, you don’t help the situation by complaining about it.
So I’m not alone in this; it’s clear that anti-Bellator sentiment is pervasive. But why?
Regarding fans, the sport and the sport’s chief brand—the UFC—are typically conflated. Most casual fans don’t know that MMA and the UFC are two different things. If it’s not UFC, it’s nothing; they’ll believe anything the UFC tells them without question. The UFC’s ability to produce stars might be lacking, but they’re as good at producing ideologues as they ever were.
However, this doesn’t answer why the hardcore fans hate Bellator. Hardcores often have an anti-UFC slant (they’re still mad about Pride and Strikeforce). So it seems only natural they’d be big Bellator supporters, especially since Bellator’s tournament structure purportedly reduces title shot chicanery that the UFC is infamous for. Except it doesn’t. They screwed Attila Vegh because he wasn’t profitable enough. They engineered the season 10 light heavyweight tournament for the most favorable outcome (King Mo vs. Rampage). Bellator went from providing something novel and refreshing to being a second-rate UFC clone. And let’s not even mention pushing an ancient, injury prone Tito Ortiz and a past-his-prime, embarrassingly disinterested Rampage Jackson as superstars.
Fans who don’t know that “UFC” and “MMA” are two different things will always hate the #2 promotion. Meanwhile, nuanced fans (the kinds of people who read CagePotato and spend loads of time on r/MMA) will want the #2 promotion to do something other than attempt to out-UFC the UFC.
But the fans aren’t the only guilty ones. Bellator’s failures elicit weapons-grade snark from MMA media members. MMAFighting’s Luke Thomas speculated as to why on his live chat series earlier this week.
“I think there are some guys in media either cognizantly or just buy accident…who are just gonna have a UFC bias,” he said in response to a lengthy comment about the MMA media’s coverage of Bellator. “I think there are some guys who are openly biased towards UFC and I think there are some guys who are just naturally gonna be drawn that way, naturally drawn to a space where because [the UFC] is so powerful and because so much of their attention is derived around it and because it becomes almost a chore in some ways to cover Bellator they don’t give it proper attention.”
Thomas elaborated further:
“There’s limits about what you can cover and what you can’t cover. And the reality is, with some exception, You have to cover things because it’s journalistically important, and we do. We give every Bellator show coverage…In terms of the return on the investment, insofar as you want to look at it that way, most Bellator shows do not do a tremendous amount of traffic. In terms of allocating resources to cover something, which you have to look at the bottom line, it becomes an issue.”
He’s right, at least as far as return on investment goes. I’ve been with CagePotato for about a year now (and writing about MMA for three years), and I’m typically the one who does Bellator recaps on the site. Regarding the page views on them, let’s just say if page views directly correlate to PPV buys, Bellator 120 will not succeed. Bellator articles are almost always underwhelming traffic-wise. The exceptions are usually the negative articles (their first PPV cancellation, Eddie Alvarez’s recent concussion), or when you’re directly comparing them to the UFC. Still, we cover Bellator shows because we’re an MMA site and not a UFC PR machine like other outlets.
America loves to praise a winner, but enjoys mocking a loser just as much. While we laugh at Bellator sometimes too, that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize Bellator’s importance in the MMA landscape, even when we write/tweet negative things about it. MMA is better off with a strong #2 promotion than without one. Just look at the Gilbert Melendez situation. Bellator’s existence allowed him to make more money. Keep that in mind next time you turn your snark up to 11 or buy into the anti-Bellator hype. They might make a lot of dumb decisions, but the MMA ecosystem benefits from Bellator, shady behaviors notwithstanding.
(“Unlike our competitors, Bellator will never rely on cheap subliminal persuasion gimmicks. Either you want to watch this deliciously stacked, top-heavy fight card or you don’t.” / Photo via MMAJunkie)