As Bellator MMA closes out their very successful Season 9, let’s look back on the highlights, as well as lowlights, that will define this ground breaking season for the MMA promotion.
Best: Rampage Jackson Draws Ratings
At one time the biggest name in the UFC, Rampage Jackson signed with Bellator MMA, and his debut was one of the biggest highlights in Bellator’s history. Jackson drew big rating on Spike TV, peaking at 1.2 million viewers for the his fight against Beltran. Rampage’s promotion and positive words towards Bellator also gave the MMA promotion an argument against those giving so much grief to Bjorn and company over fighter treatment.
Worst: Tito Ortiz Losses Fight To Injury Bug
When acquiring both Ortiz and Rampage, one might have argued that Ortiz was a bigger acquisition, being the more successful MMA fighter as well a bigger name than Rampage. It wasn’t until the injury bug bit Ortiz yet again that it was clear that Ortiz wasn’t only less than a great purchase, but now a liability for Bellator. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ortiz not fight a single time in Bellator, and all hopes of a Rampage/Tito fight were likely dashed, along with Bellator’s PPV potential.
Best: Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez II
On Bellator’s greatest card of Season 9, Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez did what most fans expected, put on an amazing fight. This incredible rematch, along with two other scheduled championship fights, made Bellator 106 the promotions most watched event in company history, with an average viewership of 1.1 million, peaking at 1.4 million for the main event. These two Bellator raised fighters showed that UFC imports should not be the future of Bellator, and that home-grown talent can deliver big for the promotion. Alvarez won the fight by decision, creating the possibility of a rubber-match between the two in the future.
Worst: King Mo vs. Emanuel Newton
On the same night as the greatest rematch in Bellator MMA history, we saw a rematch that contained a lot of spinning, but not much else. In a bout that would have had Diaz flipping birds, Emanuel Newton showed King Mo Lawal that the first fight wasn’t just a lucky knockout. Newton controlled Lawal’s wrestling as the bout went into the later rounds, as well out struck the former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion. The bout was far less exciting than their first meeting though, as Newton missed on several, actually, make that a whole lot of spinning strike attempts, as both fighters seemed completely gassed going into the championship rounds. The fact that this fight, which was for the interm light-heavyweight championship, was placed before a featherweight championship bout showed that Bellator expected more from this fight, which ended up falling flat.
Best: “Pitbull” Makes Statement, Wins Featherweight Tournament
Patricio “Pitbull” Friere is a hungry, young Bellator talent that has already been near the top of the Bellator Featherweight division. He’s a finisher, an all around talent, and is the perfect guy to fight for the featherweight title. Pitbull went into Bellator 108 hungry for another chance at the title, and looked dominant against Justin Wilcox, getting the stoppage by TKO less than three minutes into the first round. Pitbull lost a close split decision against Pat Curran for the featherweight championship, but has worked his way all the way to the top again. Unfortunately he might not get to avenge the loss to Curran, but instead face a familiar foe who he’s defeated in his past.
Worst: Curran Drops Featherweight Championship
Pat Curran was ranked by many media organizations as the only fighters outside of the UFC to be in the featherweight top 10 rankings. At Bellator 106, Curran lost to Daniel Straus in a rematch of a fight four year prior that saw Curran winning by knockout. Although he didn’t get knocked out, Curran looked off his game, and was outwrestled for the majority of the fight by Straus, losing by unanimous decision. The rematch between Curran and Pitbull would have been a major headliner for Bellator, but in losing, Curran fell from the top of the featherweight mountain, and off of a lot of top 10 featherweight lists.
Best: Kongo Wrecks Heavyweight Division Tournament
Bellator’s weakest division by far is their heavyweight division. To attain Cheick Kongo, a long-time UFC veteran, brings legitimacy to the division, and may even bring in other heavyweights that see an opportunity to beat a former UFC heavyweight. Kongo tore through the heavyweight tournament, and is now in line for a title shot. If Kongo wins the title, Bellator will be able to market their heavyweight division as a reputable and very respected champion.
Worst: Johnson’s Fall From Grace
Lavar Johnson came into 2011 with 15 wins in 18 fights, and on the way up in the Strikeforce heavyweight division. Since then, Johnson has lost five of his past seven fights, with the most recent being the most stunning. Johnson came into Bellator, lined up in the heavyweight tournament to face Kongo in the finals. All he had to do was beat Vinicius Queiroz, a fighter with nine professional fights, with only six wins. Johnson and Queiroz met at the center of the cage at Bellator 102. 23 seconds later, Johnson was face first on the canvas, knocked out. The heavyweight final that Bellator had planned for was gone, and Johnson continued his fall from the top of the sport.
Best: Highest Ratings For Bellator
As I’ve mentioned twice, Bellator achieved record ratings this season, eclipsing the 1 million viewership mark for the first time in company history. Bellator’s ratings spiked upwards in 2013 when they moved from MTV2 to Spike TV, and the viewership for the number two MMA promotion in the United States has grown quickly ever since. Season 9 was the best season in Bellator history, and showed that Bellator MMA is here to stay for longer than just a while.
Worst: Negative Publicity
With the new viewership came a lot of bad publicity for the Bellator MMA brand. Bjorn had spoken about not wanting to take UFC castoffs to build his promotion, yet had five former UFC fighters who had been released in the past year main event cards for the promotion. Bellator also received major backlash over the contract dispute with Eddie Alvarez, which surfaced again when Alvarez won the lightweight championship. Bellator also let go of their welterweight champion Ben Askren, a move received negatively, as Askren, a star in the promotion, was released without a chance to resign, or to give leverage to a possible UFC contract.