Bellator needs to enhance its PPV card, and quickly
In one corner stands a man thoroughly familiar with what it feels like to wear a UFC championship belt. For a long, long time. During a reign of nearly 3½ years, he successfully defended the light heavyweight strap five times, finishing all but one of his challengers. He's beaten Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin and Wanderlei Silva, among many others.
Across the cage is a fighter who also has resided at the top of the mountain in the 205-pound weight class of the largest promotion in mixed martial arts. He's toppled Wanderlei and plenty of other notables as well, from Dan Henderson to Lyoto Machida to Chuck Liddell. In fact, he owns not one but two wins over "The Iceman."
Sounds like a collision of MMA demigods, doesn't it? Would you buy that fight on pay-per-view?
Bellator sure hopes so.
That's right, we're talking Bellator, not the UFC. So that tells you right away that neither of the light heavyweights in the offing is Jon "Bones" Jones, who just this month ascended to the top of the SI.com pound-for-pound fighter rankings. In fact, you won't find either of the marquee names from Bellator's PPV debut in our Top 10 -- and that goes not just for our pound-for-pound list but even for the weight division rankings.
Tito Ortiz and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson both had their day in the sun. But the sun set on their eminence many moons ago.
The Tito who'll step in the cage Nov. 2 in Long Beach, Calif., has won only one of his last nine fights. A back-to-the-wall upset of Ryan Bader in 2011 is the only thing standing between the 38-year-old and 0 for 7 ... as in seven years. He retired following a rematch loss to Forrest last summer and immediately was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. (Think Dana White is kicking himself over that right about now?)
Then there's Jackson, who has lost three fights in a row and four of his last six. His most recent slide did start in a championship bout with Jones, so it would not be a stretch to say he's at least been relevant among 205-pounders within the last two years. Compared to Ortiz, Quinton is in the prime of his career. But, really, he's way past his prime. This is a 35-year-old who long ago stopped being worthy of the nickname "Rampage."
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Step right up and plunk down your $30.
This is a failure in the making.
Or maybe it's a work-in-progress.
You have to think that promotion CEO Bjorn Rebney and his deep-pocketed partners at Viacom will up the ante before fight night. But what would constitute a Bellator card that's worth paying for? Less than two weeks ago, the promotion put on what might have been the most stacked fight card in its history, with two tournament finals and two title bouts, one of them featuring Bellator's star performer, Michael Chandler. That evening of fights was televised on Spike. For free (as long as you pay that monthly cable bill). Now Bjorn & Co. want $30 out of you for Tito vs. Rampage?
PPV dollars are limited. The Bellator debut falls just two weeks after the UFC offers a Cain Velasquez heavyweight title defense against the only man who's beaten him, Junior dos Santos. Two weeks after the Bellator card, the UFC has its 20th anniversary show, headlined by its biggest PPV draw, welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre. A week after that, boxing steps into the money grab with a Manny Pacquiao fight. The deck is stacked against Bellator.
So, then, why jump into PPV now? Why with this main event? Rebney has long operated Bellator in a way that has stood out from the crowd of other promotions competing with the behemoth UFC. He didn't badmouth Dana White and he didn't sign his retreads. But now he's running with the faded glory of Tito and Rampage, two guys whose most heated exchanges over the next several months, if last week's press conference announcing their fight was any indication, will not be in trash-taking and then punching one another but in trying to one-up each other in their assaults on a common enemy, Dana.
But the piling on of White isn't the problem here. Nor is the fight itself, really. Ortiz vs. Jackson might look like Old Timers Day at the ballpark, but neither man is more broken down than the other. So it shouldn't be a mismatch on the order of what we saw toward the end from Fedor Emelianenko. After a 10-year run of dominance, the Russian dropped three in a row and appeared set to retreat to a quiet family life in Stary Oskol. Instead, he fought three more times for smaller promotions, taking on fighters even more faded than he was. It was Willie-Mays-with-the-Mets sad.
One possible explanation for Bellator's decision to jump into the PPV waters now has to do with its ongoing dispute with former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. When the fighter's contract was up last year, he negotiated a deal with the UFC that included a provision for PPV earnings. Bellator had the right to match the agreement, and it did. Or claimed it did. That's now in the process of being decided in court, with the fighter and the fight promotion having sued each other. Might Bellator be using November's PPV as a means to legitimize Alvarez's new contract? Might the parties kiss and make up?
Putting Alvarez on that card against the unbeaten Chandler, the man who dethroned him in a thrilling fight two years ago, would add desperately needed luster. Or what if Eddie were to cut to featherweight and face champion Pat Curran, who has been dominant in a six-fight winning streak following a 2011 lightweight loss to Alvarez? Whether or not Alvarez can be brought back into the fold, Bellator has to involve Curran, Chandler and maybe even undefeated welterweight belt holder Ben Askren in this PPV. Somehow. Those three champions are in weight classes that span just 20 pounds, so beating the UFC to the champion-vs.-champion "superfight" punch is conceivable and would give the PPV some appeal.
How much appeal? Well, casual fans of the sport are likely to recognize the names Tito Ortiz and "Rampage" Jackson far more than they will Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez. Will those potential customers pay the $30, thinking they're getting a bargain at just a little over half the price of a UFC or boxing PPV? Or will those fans plunk down a few more bucks to stick with the name brand? As things stand, I suspect they'll stay away in droves.
Hardcore fans surely will, unless Bellator enhances the card with some fights that are relevant to 2013, not 2005. The promotion's roster isn't deep enough yet to make a whole lot of PPV-worthy fights without depleting everything else on its fall schedule, but the possibilities cited above can serve as a start to the conversation. Bjorn Rebney and his people need to jump in soon, though, before the tone of this conversation turns so overwhelmingly negative that no one wants to listen anymore.