Ask MMARecap: Will Bellator’s Format Be Their Downfall?

Written by MMARecap Staff on . Posted in Ask MMA Recap

Ask MMARecap is back and this week’s question comes to us from Dave Ellinger out in California. He asks a valid question, one that has been debated time and time again about the number two promotion, Bellator.

Dave asks, “I like the tournament basis to help find a title contender, but I think it will be their downfall if they continue this trend of ONLY tournament winners fighting for the title. It leaves the champ not defending their title enough and more importantly long time champs that lose their title are thrown all the way at the bottom with no chance to fight for the title unless they win the whole tournament. That is disrespectful in my opinion, what’s your take?

There are a couple of levels to this question and hopefully I can answer all of them. First, for those that don’t know what Bellator’s tournament format is (are you living under a rock?) here’s the gist. Each season eight fighters in various weight classes compete against each other with the winner fighting the current champ or possibly fighting another season’s winner to crown a new champion. Bellator’s modo is “Where championships are earned, not given away”.

This format made so much sense when the promotion first started. It was an easy way over the course of three months to determine who the champs would be. It also provided us with several amazing fights through out the course of the season. Now that Bellator is about to kick off their seventh season (plus two mini Summer Series seasons) the question about champs defending their belts is becoming more relevant.

For the most part, each season has hosted only four different weight classes and with two seasons a year, that makes for a champ only being able to defend his title a single time in the course of the year and fight in a non-title fight the rest (be it inside Bellator or at another promotion).

But that’s about to change according Bjorn Rebney, CEO of Bellator. He recently spoke to MMAJunkie about the move to SpikeTV in 2013 and part of the plan is to expand to six tournaments per season. There are eight titles and with six tournaments going during the course of a season, that would make the majority of the belts defended at least twice a year. The motive Bjorn said is that UFC champs typically fight 2-3 times per year and that’s what he is wanting his champs to do.

So now that we have a system in place for the champs to fight more often, then the question is how quickly should the champs fight provided there is a contender. My answer is the sooner the better. It has been proven time and time again, that if you wait for a fight to happen, something is bound to screw it up. And then when that original fight finally materializes the same level of drama or appeal might not be there or the fighters themselves are different (think Evans vs Jones or Liddell vs Silva).

Now let’s break down the questions that Dave really asked. The first being implied that Bellator should allow non-tournament fighters the chance to fight for the belt. The question I have as an answer is why? The tournament gives us a clear cut number one contender and in the case of the current featherweights, two number one contenders. No one can argue that someone other than Patricio Freire and Daniel Straus should be fighting Pat Curran in Bellator.

But of course there’s the flipside, like when Ben Askren won a close decision against Jay Hieron. Hieron wanted a rematch, but was told he had to go do the tournament. He opted to get out of his Bellator contract instead. Or the case of Eddie Alvarez, the first lightweight champ who arguably could make the best case for a rematch after his loss to Chandler.

But if a rematch is going to be granted, or non-tournament winners given a title shot, that lessens the value of the tournament and what Bellator is about. It’s a little different with other sports where championships are given each year, but imagine if the NFL automatically gave one of the Superbowl spots to the defending champ? Or imagine if the NFL decided that this years Superbowl was going to feature the Giants versus the Broncos just because they want a Manning versus Manning Superbowl. It just doesn’t make sense.

In fighting, you have a champ who should defend his belt as often as he can against the next best guy at that point in time. Bellator’s tournament format allows that to happen. I am more intrigued by a Bellator champ defending his belt than what is going to take place in a couple weeks at UFC 152 between Jon Jones and Vitor Belfort. As I stated in a previous article, champs and title contenders should be ready at any time. So no, I don’t think it will be their downfall.

Now to the second part of that question about long time champs who lose their belt having to go to the back of the line so to speak. This also holds true for tournament winners, as previously mentioned with Hieron. Do I think that a champ who loses his belt should have to go to the back of the line? Yes. And here’s why.

I HATE immediate rematches. I think the only time one could make a case for an immediate rematch is if the fight was ruled a no-contest or a draw. Even the later I am not 100% on board with. If you are the challenger, you must beat the champ to win. Now I don’t mean you have to finish the champ, or lay an ass whooping on the champ. You just have to have your hand raised at the end of the fight. Even if it is the most boring fight ever, if you are the challenger, and the judges saw you winning the fight, you won the fight.

So if you lost, you lost. That means you should be heading not necessarily to the back of the line (in the UFC that’s a very long way), but definitely not the next person to challenge for the belt. And since Bellator is about earning your title shot, what better way than to do it the way you did before, by fighting three times in twelve weeks and proving that you are the number one contender.

There is an added benefit of fighting in the tournament and winning it, the pay. Several Bellator fighters both on and off record have stated that winning the tournament was huge for their financial outcome, but that fighting for the title, or even defending the title, wasn’t near as profitable.

While the numbers are not available for what the fighters make per fight, one only has to look at Pat Curran’s career in Bellator. In 2010 he fought three times and won all three fights earning $100,000 for the three fights. Then he fought Eddie Alvarez and lost. Odds are likely that he did not make that kind of money for his losing performance. After he entered the next tournament and again won three fights and again earning $100,000. Did he earn $33,000 from Bellator for the Warren victory? I don’t know. What I do know is other title contenders and holders off record have stated that it would be better for financially to fight in the tournament, win, lose the title, then do another tournament.

Finally, the question of is it disrespectful to the former champs to not earn an immediate rematch. I say it depends on how that fighter is then marketed. If the new champ is marketed as the savior and the former champ as a villain, then yes. If however the former champ is marketed as the former champ and should be treated as such, then no. Look at Peyton Manning, the guy is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. This season, after multiple surgeries and a new team, many NFL experts are quick to point out, a Peyton Manning at 80% is still better than almost all the quarterbacks in the league.

I am not saying that certain champs shouldn’t have the right to ask for an immediate rematch, but if the rules of the game say you can’t have one, then you can’t have one. And that is what makes Bellator so exciting. Every fighter who competes in the tournament knows they are just three fights away from a title shot. There are fighters who are completely fine with having to go back and try again, look at Daniel Straus who nearly won his first attempt, lost in the finals, then came back the next season to win. Or a guy like Lyman Good who was the champ and now is trying to earn his way back. Or Ben Saunders who keeps on trying and entertaining the fans the entire way.

What makes Bellator stand out from the UFC and other shows is the tournament format. It provides a clear cut number one contender. People like tournaments to determine who is the best. It’s why college football is moving to a playoff schedule starting in 2014.

Ask MMARecap is a weekly feature where users submit questions. If your question is answered you will receive your choice of print from Art by JMC. The prints include Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Royce Gracie, BJ Penn, Carlos Condit, Georges St-Pierre, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz, Jose Aldo, Dominic Cruz, Frankie Edgar, Junior Dos Santos, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, Brock Lesnar, Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez. To submit your question, leave a comment here or on our facebook page when we ask for questions.

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