Last night at Bellator 97 the announcement was made that “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” er, “The People’s Champion,” Tito Ortiz, will be fighting Quinton “Rampage” Jackson on November 2 on the first ever Bellator pay-per-view.
Here’s what Rampage had to say on the bout announcement.
“Honestly, I feel like I’ve been re-born.,” Jackson said. “My excitement, energy and aggression, it’s all back and bigger than ever. I feel like a kid again. The Rampage you’ll see Nov. 2 will be better than any Rampage you’ve ever seen. Everybody knows Tito and I have a very long history. He’s a former teammate and friend, and it’s one of the reasons I stayed away from the UFC as long as I did. But, I want to be very clear; any sort of friendship we once had doesn’t exist when that cage door shuts. I’ve got a ton to prove on Nov. 2, and unfortunately for Tito he’s the guy I have to make an example of. He’s in my house now and Saturday, Nov. 2, on PPV, it’s going to be a horrible night for Tito Ortiz.”
And his opponent Ortiz’s pitch:
“I’m back,” Ortiz stated. “Over the last few years, my passion for MMA was completely killed, dealing with UFC politics and with Dana. I didn’t have that drive to compete, my heart wasn’t in it. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’m free. Bjorn and Bellator put together an opportunity that made me part of the promotion, part of the family. I feel like I can breathe again and my old friend is going to be on the receiving end of all that happiness turned into an old school Tito Ortiz ground and pound beating. I’ve fought and beaten the very best in MMA history and on Nov. 2, Rampage will be the next huge win on my record. This is a new era for the People’s Champion.”
It’s only been a few hours, but the reaction from fans is, predictably, mixed.
I know mine is.
There are reasons to like this, sure. Of course it’s great to see Bellator get a little glamor. Maybe two well-known MMA names are the ticket to get more viewers and talk about this product, and help establish this brand. I think that works to the advantage of all MMA fans.
As when Strikeforce went the way of the dodo, I’ll reiterate something here: I love a lot of things about the UFC — they were my favorite promotion even in PRIDE’s heyday. But I never wanted them to be the only promotion, the only approach to MMA. Sometimes it feels like that’s where we’re headed. Maybe this, a bout between two well-known stars of the sport, can help.
But, maybe not. Neither guy is as beaten down as the stars of the WAMMA debacle of a few years ago, which also had the almost-return of John Peretti, an old matchmaker who helped develop North American MMA (and, who has since totally turned his back on the sport). They would seem to have something left. But how much? As a fan of the sport, wouldn’t it be better to develop new stars, then sell them as PPV attractions? Maybe this would seem like re-building the wheel. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe with a little imagination, the whole MMA landscape can improve. This, unfortunately, isn’t an act of imagination.
Jackson and Ortiz were both at or near the top of the sport a few years ago. I’m a longtime fan and I remember both guys at their peaks. They were both training under Colin Oyama in the days of “Team Punishment” as Jackson began to develop in PRIDE and Tito began dominating the UFC.
Their peaks seem long ago to me.
Maybe I’m overreacting. This isn’t necessarily the do-or-die moment for Bellator.
I don’t know. I know I want Bellator to have the opportunity to develop. If this is what is needed, so be it. But — 100% full disclosure — I’m not so sure.