Past poor treatment of Bellator champions haunt Scott Coker

Elias Cepeda
Past poor treatment of Bellator champions haunt Scott Coker
Past poor treatment of Bellator champions haunt Scott Coker

Getting a new job where you're the boss is always a good thing, unless you have a giant mess left by your predecessor to clean up. That's the position new Bellator boss Scott Coker has found himself in after taking over for promotion founder Bjorn Rebney.

Nothing typifies the confused and directionless mess that is Bellator more so than what the organization has done to/allowed to have happen to many of their champions in the past year or so. This week, Bellator released their sitting lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez, so that he could sign with the UFC.

Coker was the one to pull the trigger on that one but, of course, Alvarez' unhappiness with Bellator was deep-rooted in his heated and hate (and lawsuit) filled relationship with Rebney. Alvarez is just the latest poorly-handled Bellator champion and that blame really does seem to fall at Rebney's feet, so it still makes the list.

What list? This list.

Four worst Bellator champion goof-ups of the past year or so:

1. Bellator can't find new champion Zoila Gurgel challenger, ends up dropping women's divisions

If your job is to put on fights and you can't find fights for a champion of yours, you're doing it wrong. Bellator once had solid female fighters on its roster, at a time when the UFC and Dana White still pretended women fighters were not good or plentiful.

Over time, however, Bellator's matchmaking weaknesses made a casualty out of Gurgel and all women, most of whom went to Invicta. Coker has announced that Bellator is back in the women's MMA game, so hopefully he'll manage things much better than Rebney and company did.

2. Bellator releases the best fighter on their roster, welterweight champion Ben Askren

All Ben Askren did was win, in dominating fashion, and with about the same finishing percentage as superstar and then-UFC 170 pound champ, Georges St. Pierre. However, winning impressively and repping Bellator hard wasn't enough for the promotion, and they let Askren walk away when they released him.

Most dominant fighter we have? Undefeated? Hit the bricks, kid.
Most dominant fighter we have? Undefeated? Hit the bricks, kid.

According to Rebney, Askren was "one-dimensional," and Bellator wanted to "move in different directions." The direction of crowning lesser fighters as champions, we suppose.

Askren hoped to sign with the UFC but the promotion decided he either wasn't good enough (ridiculous) or that the Olympic wrestler was too expensive (perhaps) for them to sign. So, Askren went to Asia and signed with OneFC to once more become a big fish in a relatively small pond. 

3. Putting middleweight champ Alexander Shlemenko in a no-win bad matchup against Tito Ortiz

We get it. Alexander Shlemenko has guts, so he didn't mind fighting the much larger former UFC champion Tito Ortiz. And yes, in theory we understand the idea that a win over a "big name" like Ortiz could have given Shlemenko a boost in recognition.

Here's a different (dare we say, more sane) way of looking at this weird Bellator fight from last May. First off, Shlemenko was emerging as a dominant champion for Bellator (much like the previous Bellator middleweight champion, Hector Lombard, who the organization let walk away to the UFC while he was their champ), having won thirteen straight.

The thirty year-old is Bellator's long-term star, one of their franchise players, so to speak. Ortiz was dragged out of injury-induced retirement with a horrible losing streak to fight Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a pay per view that never happened. 

Suffice to say, Shlemenko was the guy Bellator should have been investing in. And, putting him in a fight with Ortiz was a predictably horrible way to do it.

For starters, the Russian is a small middleweight and Tito Ortiz is a huge light heavyweight. So, it was no big surprise that, as soon as Ortiz got his hands on Shlemenklo, he rag-dolled him to the ground and submitted him with ease.

Tito Ortiz was the wrong fight for middleweight champ Alexander Shlemenko
Tito Ortiz was the wrong fight for middleweight champ Alexander Shlemenko

Why did Bellator put their young middleweight star in a position where he'd likely lose to someone they've invested little in and who has invested even less in the promotion? Either Bellator match makers didn't realize it was a bad match up for the champ, they didn't care or they didn't have any better options for Shlemenko.

Any one of those reasons are problematic. Let's say Shlemenko would have managed to beat Ortiz in this risky fight, however.

What would he have gained, really? Ortiz is a legend of the sport but, heading into the fight, had won just one fight since 2006, over nine bouts.

If the young champ had managed to beat Ortiz, all he would have done is beaten a man ten years older who should be retired, was coming off a broken neck and had won just a single fight in the last eight years. 

4. Lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez released

Like we wrote above, though Scott Coker was the one to actually release Alvarez, the past Bellator regime was the real reason Alvarez so desperately wanted to get out of Dodge to begin with. Bellator promised Alvarez pay per views that never happened, they sued him, they held him up in legal and competitive limbo for about a short, they gravely mis-handled perhaps their most marketable and exciting fighter and made him miserable.

Scott Coker and his new team of match makers have cool new jobs, except those jobs come with a lot of messy baggage. It's going to be interesting to see what these former Strikeforce show-runners can do with a still talent-rich promotion that has an excellent television platform.

What moves do you want to see Bellator make, moving forward, and which fighters should they hold on to for dear life? Let us know in the comments section.

Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda & @YahooCagewriter

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