Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is in rare form hyping up his latest offering, Bellator 97 in New Mexico, airing live tomorrow night on Spike! TV.
Making the media rounds this week, he memorably described the show’s lineup as “an embarrassment of riches.”
Rebney boasts his organization’s champion, Michael Chandler, as among the best lightweights in the world, and possibly the very best. He gushes that dynamic challenger Andrey Koreshkov may have the key to unlocking the dominating grappling riddle of his Welterweight Champion Ben Askren. He hypes Mohammad “King Mo” Lawal’s featured fight with rising Jacob Noe, who just retired Renato “Babalu” Sobral, and the return of Patricio “Pitbull,” too.
It would be easy to write off at least some of his excitement, and say he’s over-hyping a product that has struggled to reach an audience. It’s well-reported that Bellator’s recent offerings, including a memorable Bellator 96 event which I raved about last month, have received disappointing ratings. That show attracted about half as many viewers as last season’s opener. Ouch!
Does Bellator 97 look like something as special as Rebney says? I don’t know… but man, it sure looks solid. For a free TV show (yeah, I know, Cable TV isn’t free where I live either, but you get the idea), it’s pretty remarkable.
Here’s a quick primer:
The main event features a couple of guys who fight at a high level, and just don’t have boring bouts. The undefeated champion, Michael Chandler, may not be the best in the world as Rebney implies, but he’s certainly among the top ten and possibly among the top five — a guy who can do it all and seems eager to get a finish. David “Caveman” Rickels is pretty good all-around and also likes to bang it out. It’s a good pairing.
In the welterweight title bout, we have one of MMA’s most dominant wrestlers, Ben Askren, against Andrey Koreshkov, the 22 year old who is helping lead Bellator’s “Russian Invasion.” I fear Koreshkov, a good all-around fighter, may get shut down here — but hey, it’s another top ten guy in Askren, who has phenomenal wrestling technique, and he’s against a solid young prospect. Askren seems to be getting meaner, too. I’m certainly interested enough to watch.
Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal against Jacob Noe in the light heavyweight final would be a worthy main event on another broadcast. Noe looked solid all-around against a faded Renato “Babalu” Sobral last time out, but I’m not really sold on the guy yet. “King Mo” has been near the top of the MMA heap, and he hits hard and keeps coming. I think we’ll see a highlight reel knockout here.
The heavyweight tournament final has Ryan Martinez, a big brawler who keeps knocking people into next week, against undefeated Vitali Minako, who has heavy hands too, but also has excellent SAMBO credentials and is probably a class ahead. I’m high on Minako and I like this showcase for him.
Oh, and Patricio “Pitbull” is coming back. His opponent, late replacement Jared Downing, simply doesn’t appear to bring anything to the table which would offer “Pitbull” any trouble — but hey, maybe the youngster will surprise. Otherwise, expect another highlight reel knockout there.
Looking the show up and down, it would seem Bellator 97 features a lot of dynamic, hard-hitting fighters.
So yes Mr. Rebney, I’ll be watching Bellator this week — and providing readers of Caged Insider with coverage tomorrow. Hopefully, some of you will join me.