Bellator MMA as we all know it’s over. Lengthy reside Bellator MMA?
On Monday, one of many trade’s worst-kept secrets and techniques grew to become official: The Bellator brand now belongs to the PFL. What this implies for the long-term prospects of Bellator — for a few years thought of to be the No. 2 promotion in all of MMA — stays to be seen, however in the interim followers can dream of matchups that includes the largest names from each rosters in addition to how this acquisition would possibly shake up fight sports activities.
What may be stated for sure is that, warts and all, Bellator as we all know it’s no extra. MMA Preventing’s Alexander Okay. Lee, Steven Marrocco, Shaun Al-Shatti, Damon Martin, and Jed Meshew obtained collectively to debate why Bellator’s present run has come to an finish and what it means for the way forward for the enterprise.
What went mistaken with Bellator MMA and the way did it come to this?
Marrocco: In essentially the most fundamental phrases, not sufficient folks watched the product. If Bellator had drawn sturdy sufficient rankings, it might be salvaged by the powers that be at Paramount. In a broader sense, Bellator is a casualty of a quickly shifting media panorama, which is a pleasant manner of claiming massive media conglomerates are discovering it more durable to make cash with all of the competitors for eyeballs and money not as free because it as soon as was. Paramount is in A LOT of debt, and it should trim the fats by offloading underperforming belongings like Showtime Sports activities.
From a promotional perspective, veteran observers of the game might in all probability write a guide about all of the missteps Bellator has made over time. That it was in a position to survive far longer than most is a testomony to Scott Coker and co.’s skills. However on the finish of the day, Coker’s unique plan — to construct new stars by leveraging getting old ones — ran out of steam, and simply after they wanted extra cash to compete for stars that might curiosity followers, the belts began tightening at company. Such is life for content material producers beneath the umbrella of those conglomerates. Bellator repeatedly did itself no favors, however it was additionally caught up in a bigger wave. And, it should be stated, it was additionally competing towards the UFC, a promotion with extra assets, model consciousness, and expertise than anybody within the area.
Martin: In a wierd manner, Bellator’s path to survive for the previous 15 years seemingly additionally led to the promotion’s downfall.
Simply three years after launching, Bellator bought to Viacom, which later became Paramount, and thus they grew to become a part of the larger company construction at a large, publicly traded firm. If there’s one factor everyone ought to learn about firms, it’s that the underside line is all that basically issues. Bellator by no means actually grew to become a income producer, in order that instantly makes them expendable.
Paramount has been in cost-cutting mode for the previous 12 months, so it’s no actual shock that the corporate noticed Bellator as an asset they might dump off the books. The take care of PFL was all inventory, no money, so that ought to clarify instantly how a lot Bellator was costing Paramount with no telling when the promotion would possibly — if ever — turn into worthwhile.
It was additionally beneath the Paramount umbrella that Bellator bounced round nearly each community from Spike TV, to the Paramount Community, to CBS Sports activities Community, to Showtime. If Bellator was a rankings success, Paramount would have by no means moved the reveals round like they have been enjoying broadcast whack-a-mole.
If not for Paramount, it’s arduous to think about Bellator would have caught round for the higher a part of 20 years. But it surely’s additionally inconceivable to assume that a large firm like that may proceed to eat losses with out ultimately demanding a win. It seems the one attainable victory was handing Bellator over to the PFL.
Al-Shatti: That weird broadcast journey Damon simply talked about can’t be understated. Bellator was at its hottest when consistency and ease have been ensures. When it was the plucky twice-a-month product on a well-recognized MMA dwelling like Spike TV, Bellator might not all the time have been appointment viewing, however it was nonetheless a extensively out there commodity the fan base knew easy methods to discover anytime they have been jonesing for some Friday night time fisticuffs.
In some unspecified time in the future, that modified. Bellator wound up shifting by way of so many alternative days and platforms and iterations — Bellator on DAZN, keep in mind that? — that ultimately the routine the fan base had with its product eroded past restore. You could possibly really feel it.
Mix that with the acquainted refrains repeated for greater than a decade — a usually complicated title, a dark grey aesthetic, iffy at greatest promotion, the round cage — and ultimately Bellator began feeling prefer it was endlessly operating a race it had already misplaced. That sucks, particularly when you think about that as of this previous Friday, it’s roster was by far essentially the most talent-rich any non-UFC promotion has had because the glory days of Strikeforce.
Lee: I don’t know if this Bellator chapter closing is a lot about what the promotion did quite than what it might by no means do. And that’s escape the shadow of the UFC.
Merely put, the UFC model is unassailable within the eyes of the vast majority of most sports activities followers, and even on Bellator’s greatest day, it was — at greatest — considered as a substitute for the largest of huge reveals. Bellator 120 did a strong pay-per-view number? Hey, wasn’t that present carried by former UFC stars Quinton Jackson and Tito Ortiz? A.J. McKee completes a dream run by way of the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix? Yeah, however might he compete contained in the octagon? Even the best battle in Bellator historical past, the primary assembly between Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez, needed to share the highlight with one other all-time traditional when Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua fought on the identical night time on the identical time.
There was merely no manner for the nice ship Bellator to flee the UFC’s orbit, it doesn’t matter what they tried to differentiate themselves. Legends clashes, tournaments out the wazoo, freak present fights, prospect showcases — a few of these concepts might have created the occasional reputation spike, however it’s a spike that had no likelihood of even scratching the agency ceiling established by Dana White and co.
Don’t get me mistaken, Bellator did loads to hinder itself even beneath the most effective of circumstances, however with a big part of followers selecting to dedicate their time to 1 promotion and one promotion solely, it was all the time solely a matter of time till the second-place membership closed its doorways.
Meshew: It’s quite simple: Bellator failed as a result of it’s whole model was being UFC, however worse.
“Hey, would you want to observe the very same idea and product, solely with worse manufacturing and one-tenth of the variety of fighters? Do I’ve the promotion for you!”
I’m not joking. Bellator had many failings that will have been terminal, however the one which in the end mattered essentially the most was that off-brand solely works for requirements, not luxuries. When Bellator first began, they have been operating seasons and a match construction. It had failings, however it was an id that was distinctive to them. Then they removed that and simply grew to become the lesser model of the UFC. That’s not going to construct a fan base when the market is dominated by one entity.
Now if PFL can simply be taught from that mistake, perhaps the can survive, however they manner issues appear, I’m not so certain. I suppose we’ll discover out.
What does PFL buying Bellator imply for the MMA panorama?
Marrocco: Extra competitors is all the time good for the game and good for the fighters.
For the game, it gained’t have a lot impact within the close to time period. Bellator will limp alongside for at the very least one other eight occasions, per the PFL, so there will likely be nearly as a lot MMA to observe for followers. There will likely be an inflow of Bellator expertise going through off with PFL fighters, in order that has the potential to revitalize the latter and hopefully make for thrilling matchups. For fighters, it means there may be one much less purchaser out there, which makes it more durable when they should negotiate. It additionally appears seemingly that, regardless of the PFL says about conserving all the pieces establishment, a variety of fighters will likely be on thinner ice on the subject of conserving them within the fold.
Martin: Higher fights, however much less choices for fighters.
It’s fully comprehensible that the preliminary response can be pleasure to play fantasy matchmaker, particularly with the PFL already selling plans to place all of its champions towards their counterparts in Bellator for a pay-per-view showdown in 2024. That’s a variety of enjoyable and will produce some very attention-grabbing matchups.
The detrimental facet of Bellator going away is that it eliminates a possible touchdown spot for fighters in search of to check free company. Competitors between promoters results in larger and higher paydays for the athletes, and that’s one thing that drastically wants to extend to place MMA on considerably equal footing with different main sports activities like soccer and basketball. Keep in mind, when Kayla Harrison examined free company two years in the past, she had provides from each main promotion and in the end returned to the PFL, which paid her round $1 million per battle in consequence.
Give it some thought this fashion — within the NFL, gamers have the prospect to barter with 32 groups throughout free company. The very best MMA fighters on the planet now solely have two actually viable choices out there in the US, and the UFC and PFL can’t signal everyone. Prefer it or not, that’s an issue.
Lee: Within the quick time period, that is going to be a ton of enjoyable for followers.
Even when solely 25 p.c of what Donn Davis is planning involves fruition, we’re nonetheless going to get a handful of very good matchups and certain at the very least a couple of loaded playing cards in 2024. Cris Cyborg vs. Kayla Harrison? Gotta occur. A champion vs. champion card that includes this 12 months’s PFL match winners going through the likes of Vadim Nemkov, Usman Nurmagomedov, and Patricio Pitbull? Sure, please! A few of the veteran names within the PFL — I’m taking a look at you, Anthony Pettis — being free of the match format to compete in additional appropriate Bellator one-off fights? Why not?
The PFL has made a lot of splashy signings over the previous 12 months with little readability as to how precisely these signings will likely be utilized (will Francis Ngannou and Jake Paul ever truly compete within the SmartCage?), so it’s considerably comforting that followers can at the very least see the logical threads rising from the PFL-Bellator partnership. For the fighters, it’s unclear if having an even bigger different to the UFC is best than having extra alternate options, however that’s the truth of the scenario now, and sadly, one senses that their wants will likely be pushed to the background as standard when the mud settles on this new deal.
Meshew: It’s lower than perfect. Because the others above have famous, there will likely be some extra enjoyable fights on the expense of negotiating energy for the fighters. However what considerations me extra is just not the subsequent couple of years, however what occurs in 5?
PFL is just not worthwhile. Bellator was not worthwhile. Traditionally, merging two unprofitable entities doesn’t all of a sudden flip them into viable companies. PFL not taking over debt to amass Bellator is wise, however this entire factor remains to be a good distance off from being an actual enterprise. Proper now, PFL is a startup, burning money on the promise of a giant payoff down the road. However ultimately, you might want to show that payoff is actual. Funding isn’t infinite, and if the PFL can’t show its value within the subsequent couple of years, the cash goes to run dry, at which level we’ll be taking a look at one other failed MMA promotion and MMA fighters will actually be operating out of choices.
Al-Shatti: Look, should you’re one of many 25 greatest librarians in North America, and solely three libraries in North America pay good cash to rent the most effective librarians, you’re in an objectively worse spot if that third possibility all of a sudden stops bidding for everybody’s providers.
PFL executives can proclaim the demise of one in all MMA’s Massive 3 as a victory for the athletes all they need, however to place it merely, that doesn’t change the truth Steven kicked us off with: Extra competitors — not much less — is all the time good for the game and its fighters.
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