Bellator 106 Was Free For The Fans- But What Will It End Up Costing The Company?
This past Saturday night, we were to be given a Pay-Per-View quality show, free on Spike TV.
A show which included a main-event rematch of the biggest fight that Bellator has ever put on, three title fights, and the crowning of the first ever Fight Master, Bellator 106 promised to be an epic night of fights for our viewing pleasure. Sure, the original main event was gone – the fight which was touted in countless commercials as a showdown between the King Kong and Godzilla of the MMA world; a battle which no meager city could possibly contain… but still, Bellator insisted that this card was going to be a sight to be seen… sure to appeal to both new fans and vets alike.
What could go wrong?
Six decisions, and almost 150 minutes of… “action”… later, we have our answer to that question.
Unfortunately or not, most of the time, MMA viewership is driven more by star power than actual fighting acumen. Fans – especially the casual type that Bellator desperately needed to reel in – will tune in to see a big-name fighter over a technically solid, exciting fighter nine times out of ten. The casual fan doesn’t care who Eddie Alvarez is, or who Michael Chandler is. They don’t know about the contract disputes and underhanded dealings that Alvarez was a victim of – and frankly, they don’t care. The casual fan wants to see Rampage. They want to see Tito Ortiz. They want to see the fighters who were a fixture of the UFC, at one time. They don’t want to see if Pat Curran can stave off the slow, methodical attack of Daniel Straus.
Hell, the hardcore fans barely want to see that.
So when the “People’s Champion” injured his neck and had to pull out of the fight, the casual fans pulled out of the show along with him. It was like Tito’s gigantic head was the proverbial iceberg, tearing a massive hole into the hull of Bellator’s Titanic maiden voyage into uncharted PPV waters. This left Alvarez and Chandler to man the lifeboats, desperately trying to rescue as many viewers as they could from the freezing waters of their own indifference.
And if Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney was going to help to salvage this wreck (and those highly coveted casual viewers) alongside his new main event fighters, he needed to make sure that this now “free on Spike TV” show was filled with technically proficient, jaw-dropping, scream-inducing, “total non-stop action” fights. He also needed to make sure that the show itself had the unmistakable aura of a PPV-caliber event, with all of the bells and whistles that we’ve become accustomed to, thanks to the big leagues of the MMA world, the UFC.
After all, the hardcore Bellator fans (Did I really just say that?) are going to watch the show, with or without the cancelled main event… They were never really that interested in seeing an old, beaten-down Tito Ortiz, colliding with a “I’m one loss away from another joyride through suburbia” Rampage Jackson, in an epic battle against oxygen deprivation… The real goal here was for Bellator to expand their viewing audience beyond those hardcore fans… to prove that they have what it takes to compete against the UFC…
… They failed.
There was no “big show” feel to this event… no celebrities at ringside… no added special effects… no elaborate, PRIDE-like entrances… no new graphics… no new announcers… no big promo cuts for the main-eventers, or any of the championship bouts… no vignettes shown throughout the show, to build to the main event… nothing. And when the main event finally arrived (for those of us who had not fallen asleep, or had managed to set their DVR to record about an hour longer than when they had expected the show to end), there was no pomp and circumstance surrounding it… nothing to give that prized and coveted casual viewer the idea that they were watching two of the best lightweight fighters on the planet. Yes, their fight was a gritty, tough, bloody affair, worthy of its newly-crowned main event status… but would you have known it was coming? Would you have stayed glued to your screen, suffering through decision after decision, if you weren’t already aware of what these two fighters were capable of producing?
And what about the rest of the fights? Well, when you have four straight fights that go the distance, three of which are five-round affairs, it results in a television show that clocked in at just about four hours, with the average fight time coming in around fifteen minutes. That’s right – the average fight time was a three round decision. And except for the show opener and the show closer, most of those fights were more than forgettable.
But in the end, this isn’t all Bellator’s fault. They’re in a tough situation. In the public eye, they are the very, VERY distant No. 2 promotion in a world where No. 1 puts out so much above-average product that only the hardcore fan base can fully keep up with it. It’s an almost-impossible watermark for Bellator to rise to, and its easy to always seem to fall short, no matter how hard you try. Those are the pitfalls of attempting to compete with a company which has already paid its dues, and gone through its own growing pains.
But what IS Bellator’s fault, however, is when they put out a product that is supposed to be pay-per-view quality, and it turns out to be barely worth the zero dollars we paid for it.
A dollar value that the casual fans are sure to remember, when Bellator comes back around with pay-per-view number two.