History has taught us that, no matter what, the UFC will always be at the top of the food chain when it comes to MMA promotions. But that coveted number two spot is something totally amorphous, and can at any given time be filled with organizations comprised of tournaments (i.e., Bjorn Rebney’s Bellator), freak-show matches (PRIDE and Strikeforce), or farcical notions of what someone thinks could be interesting (the International Fight League). In other words, being the second best doesn’t always mean that particular promotion is any good – in fact, sometimes these shows can downright suck.
Which makes the current version of Bellator, which is being helmed by Scott Coker, especially enjoyable. FINALLY, they’re getting it right.
Sure, Rebney’s tournament-centric organization added value to the MMA market. It came at a time when the industry was in flux, and it offered a format that was welcome to fans sustained by a steady diet of Octagon action. But over time that format grew tired, and change was needed.
Coker brought that change. And while there are still remnants of the old Bellator still visible in the events that play out on our TV screens on Friday nights, the differences are also apparent.
Last night, longtime Bellator standout Joe Warren defeated reigning champ Eduardo Dantas to take the organization’s bantamweight belt. The bout itself kicked ass, but in the grand scheme of things, the outcome – and the appurtenant circumstances it occurred in – make for some interesting times in the organization. The outspoken Warren takes the throne in an era when Bellator events can feature absolutely worthless-yet-compelling matchups such as Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar and Melvin Manhoef vs. some GLORY kickboxer, or worthwhile fights like Michael Chandler vs. Will Brooks II. There is, without question, a balance being struck between the valid and the freakshow. It’s a formula Coker applied to Strikeforce to make it succeed, and now it’s being used to make Bellator succeed.
The UFC will always be the premiere destination for the top fighters and the top fights. But what a joy it is to have a pretty decent number two to watch as well.