Dammit, Bellator…

I’ve been meaning to write this article for quite awhile, because Bellator can be so frustrating sometimes. Let me say this, I really like their tournament concept. It’s a great way to introduce new fighters to the MMA community at large and it’s a great place for young fighters to cut their teeth. However, when it comes to the big show, they are still lacking and I partially blame the tournament format.

Here’s what set me off this time, but I’ve been meaning to write this for awhile. Bellator light heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu was very impressive in his run to the title this spring. He last fought in May, so now in October is just about right for him to get back into action. He will Saturday night against veteran Travis Wiuff, making his first appearance in Bellator. Now the problem is that it’s a non-title match, so it essentially means precisely dick for the champ. If he wins, did he beat someone that deserve to fight a champion? If he loses, does he deserve to hold onto the belt? It’s really a no-win situation and, I feel, a misguided attempt to build their champion into a more widely known star.

Let’s look at the case of middleweight champion Hector Lombard. Here you have a very marketable guy, whose been in the UFC and who you can push because of his punching power and recent domination. He blew through the Season 1 tournament, winning all three of his bouts by KO or TKO. Lombard was crowned Bellator’s first and only champion at 185 back on June 9, 2009. Since winning the title, he’s defended his belt a grand total of one time, against Season 2 middleweight tournament winner Alexander Shlemenko. That’s great. That’s what the GP format is supposed to do. However, he’s fought for Bellator 4 times since winning the belt. Lombard is getting close The Reem territory when it comes to defending his belt. (Alistar Overeem won the Strikeforce heavyweight title on November 16, 2007. His one and only defense came on May 15, 2010, more than 2 1/2 years after winning the belt. He then vacated it on July 29, 2011.) Unlike Reem, this issue seems more like a promotional problem than with a guy that just doesn’t want to fight for the organization. And why? It appears like it’s because Bellator is so married to the idea of the the tournament format, that they don’t want to get away from it. Even when it’s hurting them. If you go back through Bellator’s annals, you’ll see they’ve had a grand total of four non-tournament title fights. Two were title changes and two were successful defenses. There is something to be said for making title fights special by not having too many. They mean more when the title looks like such an achievement because the chances to earn one are rare and only offered to those on the top of their game. But constantly using a tournament to determine the #1 contender to every title is robbing Bellator out of the selling point of a title fight. They have got fights that fans would like to see. I’m not saying get rid of the tournaments and the title shots that come with them. But you’ve got to bring in challengers or elevate someone to challenge in between because a lack of those easily marketable fights could cost them in the near future. Especially while Bellator may be looking to make it to the big time when it comes to TV exposure.

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