By Zach Arnold | September 5, 2014
Bellator trending worldwide on Twitter. My God, this is pro wrestling.
— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) September 6, 2014
The visions of Spike considering a joint Bellator/TNA PPV sounded goofy when I wrote an article about this subject last April. Now? The cross-over is starting.
Friday night’s dueling Connecticut events featuring Bellator & UFC exposed the fault lines for what looks to be a rather entertaining battle between Spike & Fox. UFC has the talent. They have their rankings. They have the inferior cable channel. They also have a cold product right now in the ratings.
In contrast, Bellator doesn’t have nearly the roster that Zuffa does in terms of depth. However, they have the stronger cable channel. They have the energy on TV. They also have a plan to combat the UFC/Fox combination.
Spike TV has gone all in with what they know from 2005. Stephan Bonnar? They made him. He’s the guy involved in the greatest fight ever that helped create the MMA boom. Or something like that. Tito Ortiz? He and Ken Shamrock drew big ratings. And how did Spike TV build UFC? They built it off the back of Vince McMahon when RAW was on Spike TV.
I just didn’t imagine how blatant, how transparent, and how all-in Spike TV executives were going to be with their strategy to counter the UFC.
Scott Coker is now a TV figurehead like Bjorn Rebney was a TV star. A commissioner role. Stephan Bonnar and Tito Ortiz had a stare-down. Bonnar dragged Justin McCully under a black mask but forgot to tell the public who he is. They all share the same agent. What ensued was a strangely entertaining back-and-forth that had the Mohegan crowd engaged. Then came the bombshell that the fight is being booked for November 15th in San Diego, running head-to-head against the UFC Mexico City PPV with Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum. Michael Chandler vs. Will Brooks will also be on that San Diego card.
Dana White was busy telling people earlier in the week that he didn’t mind giving Bonnar his release to go kick Tito’s ass. I bet he isn’t singing the same tune tonight.
The differences between Bellator & UFC on Friday night
The UFC Foxwoods show had a lot of world-class talent, although hearing Bruce Buffer put over Strikeforce when introducing both Gegard Mousasi & Jacare Souza was something. Bruce never cheats the fans every time he works a show. The guy’s energy level is off the charts.
Mousasi is a good defensive grappler but Jacare is the most incredible blend of athletic horsepower and technical grappling I've seen in MMA
— Jordan Breen (@jordanbreen) September 6, 2014
Jacare completely neutralized & dominated Mousasi. He got what he wanted and won in the right style. Naturally, it felt like he should be given a title shot against Chris Weidman. Instead, he’s taking a back seat to Vitor Belfort. There’s no doubt that Jacare has the charisma and fight style to really draw. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t have known it given the… intimate… setting at Foxwoods. The crowd appeared smallish on television with not a lot of heat. It sounded like a quiet UFC B-level show. Meanwhile, the energy & presentation by Spike with Bellator at Mohegan Sun Arena felt more lively.
Spike went all-in with the Antonio Inoki creative direction by pushing Bobby Lashley hard as TNA champion in hyping up his Bellator fight against Josh Burns. The fight pretty much turned out the way you thought it would. It was a glorified sparring session for Lashley on the mat. Eventually, he got the choke sleeper hold submission win. He looked great. It was the perfect set-up for Bellator. I find it hard to believe that Spike is going to get rid of TNA now that they have an arrangement for Wednesday nights. If anything, the Lashley fight & presentation Friday night demonstrated that TNA isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The pro-wrestling connection is alive and well.
The contrast between Bellator & UFC is very stark now. You’ll see nostalgia a plenty with Spike. You’ll see a pro-wrestling crossover as opposed to the now rankings-based presentation by Fox. It was amazing to see Matt Mitrione, after knocking out his opponent, talking about Top 10 rankings. The rankings are meaningless. Fox has sprung this trap onto UFC. I wish they would get rid of the rankings and in a hurry.
With Spike going all-in to attract disenchanted pro-wrestling fans to watch Bellator, there will be pressure next year on UFC to sign Brock Lesnar. Alistair Overeem had a chance to really build a case for a re-match against Lesnar but managed to fumble it away when he got tagged by self-professed brain-damaged testosterone user Ben Rothwell. Nary a peep from UFC or Fox Sports about either of those guys in regards to their past drug usage. Fox finds itself in a very unusual position where they are the cheer-leading channel for UFC but without any of the credibility of a sports network. Lesnar/Overeem could have drawn a big buy rate, say 700,000 buys, if Ronda Rousey was also fighting on the card. You can forget that now, but there are still plenty of enticing match-ups for Lesnar in UFC should he return. And they don’t have to involve Cain Velasquez, either.
As if the night couldn’t get any stranger, the New York Times published a long-form article about New York City’s biggest marijuana dealer ever busted by the Feds and guess who was one of the guy’s friends? Georges St. Pierre.
Friday night proved to be interesting on a lot of good and awful levels. The UFC decided to pick a fight with Bellator in Connecticut and Spike has decided to push back twice as hard.