It was a lousy fight that no serious mixed martial arts fan wanted to see, but pairing former UFC icons Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Tito Ortiz in the main event of its first pay-per-view show was, in at least one way, a stroke of genius from Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.
Yes, it was a battle of two fighters long since past their primes, who carried horrible records with them. Jackson has lost his last three bouts. Ortiz also has dropped his last three and is just 1-7-1 in his last nine.
[Yahoo Sports Radio: Michael Chandler is expecting the best from Eddie Alvarez]
Worse than his record, though, is Ortiz's history of injury. He had a series of injuries, including major neck surgery, while in the UFC and he could never be counted upon to appear in the last few years. When he did make it to the post, Ortiz would later say his performance was negatively impacted by injuries he'd kept quiet about.
And so, it was no shock when last week Rebney announced on a hastily arranged conference call that Ortiz had fractured his neck and would be unable to fight.
That was hardly a surprise. Rebney had to know the moment he even thought of signing Ortiz that he might be facing that situation.
But it worked out in his favor because the injury came at the best possible time for Bellator.
No one really knows when or how the injury occurred. Rebney gave precious few details, though Ortiz had appeared live on several television shows, including TSN's "Off the Record" in Canada, after he was injured. Yet, no mention was made of his injury.
But by having Jackson and Ortiz atop the card for as long as he did, Rebney milked every last ounce of publicity from them.
Media that never previously knew Bellator existed were paying attention. For all of their once prodigious fighting skills during their primes, Jackson and Ortiz were probably better at selling fights, and that is a skill that isn't impacted by age or injuries.
And so Bellator signed them, used them to draw attention to its card, and when the seemingly inevitable happened and Ortiz had to pull out, Rebney had a ready-made solution.
Anyone who follows MMA even tangentially knew that the pay-per-view's co-main event was always the true main event. The lightweight title fight between champion Michael Chandler and former champion Eddie Alvarez not only pitted two of the best 155-pound fighters alive, it also was a rematch of one of the sport's greatest matches ever.
So, when Ortiz pulled out, Bellator simply pushed Chandler-Alvarez II into its main event, moved the show from pay-per-view to Spike and carried on as normal.
Chandler-Alvarez II will be the main event Saturday of a card at the Long Beach Arena that will be live on Spike. In addition, it will air Mo Lawal-Emanuel Newton II and a featherweight title fight between Pat Curran and Daniel Straus.
The show is a strong one and may become the highest-rated Bellator show ever. That's a big contrast to what was expected to be a disastrous pay-per-view.
The pay-per-view sales undoubtedly would have been exceptionally low, and Bellator would have been lucky to sell more than 75,000. It's never been announced what Jackson and Ortiz were supposed to make, but rest assured, they were making a lot of money and just 75,000 sales wouldn't have cut it.
It has been an interesting year for Bellator, which by virtue of its television deal with Spike has become the sport's de facto No. 2 promotion.
Its ratings on Spike haven't been great, though it has had some good moments.
There were, though, far too many puzzling ones. Bellator spent much of the year in court with Alvarez, one of its best fighters and biggest names, ruining its relationship with him and keeping one of the world's most exciting fighters on the sidelines.
Rebney has strangely offered to let Bellator's welterweight champion, Ben Askren, walk to the UFC for nothing.
Rebney seems to have a desire to zing UFC president Dana White more than he does building Bellator into a serious contender to the UFC for MMA dominance.
Stars are what helps a fight promotion remain relevant. The UFC has fighters like Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey, who are legitimate headliners and who in essence help subsidize much of the rest of the promotion.
Those stars draw such big numbers that they give the UFC a great platform to use to attract other talent and thus build more stars.
In boxing, Golden Boy Promotions is relevant because of Floyd Mayweather Jr., among many other big names. Top Rank is a major promotion because of Manny Pacquiao and others.
When you have big stars, you have clout in the industry and with the media, and you gain the attention of the fan base.
Bellator has no such thing. Chandler and Alvarez are outstanding fighters and are among the five or 10 best lightweights in the world, yet they don't have the kind of name recognition that such a ranking would suggest they should.
The signing of Jackson and Ortiz was an acknowledgement of this. Bellator needed the attention that would be paid to the former UFC champions to try to create interest in its top fighters.
From that standpoint, signing Jackson and Ortiz was a stroke of genius.
Bellator, though, isn't going to make a significant dent in the landscape if it continues to sign UFC castoffs. Jackson is going to face Joey Beltran, another former UFC fighter, on Nov. 15 in very much a "who cares?" type of fight.
Given the obvious fragility of his body, it's clearly best for his own sake that Ortiz retires, but he said he's going to fight on, and Rebney hasn't ruled out the possibility that Ortiz will fight for Bellator once his neck heals.
Much of what Bellator has done so far has mirrored the UFC's approach. It created a reality show – Fight Master – that essentially was its answer to the UFC's venerable "The Ultimate Fighter."
Even abandoning its tournament format to try a pay-per-view is going down the road the UFC uses.
Rebney said during last week's conference call that Bellator would again try to put a show on pay-per-view.
But that strategy may not make much sense. Is there really a market for more pay-per-view in the MMA arena? The UFC already averages slightly more than one per month. On top of that, boxing pay-per-views headlined by Pacquiao and Mayweather do major business and siphon some MMA fans.
Viacom is a rich company with major assets Bellator can use for cross promotion. Viacom owns Paramount Pictures, as well as Spike, Comedy Central, MTV, BET and Nickelodeon. Making creative use of those assets is a way for Bellator to develop stars.
The now-defunct Strikeforce promotion should serve as an example of how to compete with the UFC.
Strikeforce signed the stars that were available to it – Remember Fedor Emelianenko? – but it also developed its own. When it signed a UFC cast-off, it was a young, prime Nick Diaz. Strikeforce helped Diaz develop from a good but largely unknown into one of the sport's biggest names today.
Chandler and Alvarez should have that kind of status, but they don't.
It's up to Rebney, Viacom and the team at Bellator to see that they do.
While there was precious little interest in a Jackson-Ortiz fight among the fan base at-large, if Chandler and Alvarez benefit from Saturday's show on Spike, the signings may yet prove to have been worth it.
- Sports & Recreation
- Martial Arts
- Tito Ortiz
- Bjorn Rebney