Bellator Season 9.
Believe it or not, it’s coming to a close tomorrow, at the Sands Casino Event Center in Bethlehem, PA (televised on Spike TV at 9 pm EST/PST)! The show will feature the lightweight and welterweight tournament finals, plus a middleweight title fight between Alexander Shlemenko vs Doug Marshall.
It seems just yesterday I was writing about Bellator 96, a perfectly nice MMA show that I thought had a little something for everyone. (In fact, it was all the way back in June, in Bellator Summer Series.)
That night, I was excited about some new talent, interested in some new directions for Bellator, and enjoyed a little history being made besides. Tomorrow? I’ll be hoping for the same.
Today I’m looking at each of those criteria and offering an opinion of how well Season 9 has delivered.
Bellator has featured promising new faces in the last year, but none got my attention like rising Russian heavyweight Vitaly Minakov. The heavy-handed four time world SAMBO champion enjoyed TKO victories in both his tournament matches back in the Summer Series to earn a shot at the Bellator heavyweight title last week. His opponent that night was Bellator champion Alexander Volkov, another tough Russian battler, who had rattled off nine straight wins and had never been stopped on strikes. Minakov demolished Volkov in less than three minutes with a hard punching barrage, separating himself from the pack.
Unfortunately, other rising talent hasn’t been able to do the same, and old standbys like Rick Hawn and Patricio “Pitbull” dominate the Bellator landscape. That’s fine, but we’ll need some new blood soon. It seems Bellator is looking to the former Soviet Union to do this. Tomorrow night’s show features Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy and Alexander Shlemenko, who were both featured in Bellator’s excellent Unrivaled: The Russian Invasion special.
New.. er, What Direction is Bellator Taking?
Here, really defining themselves as a company, Bellator hasn’t been so successful.
Please don’t get me wrong. Bellator is putting on some excellent fights, and they’re worth checking out. To continue, you get the feeling they’ll need to start fielding Pay-Per-View events. This, of course, was the failed Rampage vs. Tito event. The thing is, fans are forgetting that and remembering the fight-of-the-year candidate that headlined the show when it was moved to Spike TV. It was a failure for Bellator, but in a way, a win for the fans.
To me, the bigger loss was that of Ben Askren. When Bellator decided to let Askren go, they made a decision to not compete with UFC talent-for-talent. Sadly, with Georges St-Pierre seemingly on the downturn, and now Askren in limbo signed by neither organization, both the division and Askren’s career seem a bit of a mess.
The rising talent’s impact on the MMA landscape may not be clear yet. I like to have some sense of scale to MMA events. Where will this Bellator Season 9 fit in? That Bellator 96 show featured the final fight of Renato “Babalu” Sobral’s career. Season 9 hasn’t offered enough of those moments. We’ve seen “King Mo” Lawal mostly disappoint, and Tito Ortiz fail to show up.
We know that many bouts from this season, like Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler, Ben Saunders vs. Douglas Lima, and Alexander Shlemenko vs. Brett Cooper, were spectacular: some, even fight of the year candidates. We won’t forget them anytime soon.
Bellator remains about where I rated them before the season. They’re almost always worth a look and have given us some great fights. Occasionally there’s a great prospect or a historic moment, but it’s not every time out. I’m not sure if they can continue in neutral, and unfortunately, with Askren gone and another top-10 fighter in lightweight Eddie Alvarez perhaps to follow, I’m just not sure if they’ll turn the corner soon.
But, I’ll be watching.