Tonight, Bellator MMA’s first PPV event will take place and for the second time, the main event of a Bellator PPV has been altered.
First, it was their 2013 attempt to host Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz, until a neck injury put Ortiz on the sidelines eight days before the event. This time, Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez was forced out of tonight’s main event just seven days prior.
Bellator is determined to press on though and the PPV format is a go.
The new headliner is, of course, the ‘biggest grudge match in MMA’ as Jackson (34-11) will fight Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal (12-3). The fight has plenty of hype behind and whether of not you believe that hype is organic, it is at the least, enough hype to pique the interest of fight fans. But is it worth $35?
Bellator answered that question by keeping lightweight title challenger Michael Chandler (12-1) on the card in an interim bout against Will Brooks (13-1), who has been given the biggest fight of his life. Brooks has been given a fantastic opportunity to not only leapfrog Chandler for a title shot, but he can also capture a win over one of the few fighters outside of the UFC who is considered one of the best in the division.
A third storyline holds the title for the most bizarre as two men who aren’t even from the same division. Middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko (50-7) will welcome Tito Ortiz to the Bellator cage. Their bout won’t be for the middleweight title however, and it won’t even be in the middleweight division. Instead, Shlemenko will pack on some weight to fight Ortiz (16-11-1) at light heavyweight, the division in which Ortiz dominated in the early years of the 21st century.
There are some other interesting fights on the card such as Cheick Kongo’s return from his first Bellator loss, and the finals of the Bellator heavyweight tournament, but it is the final three fights on the card that will sell the PPV. An intense, albeit, odd staredown between Ortiz and Shlemenko, and a heated argument that turned in to a brief shoving match, should push fans who were on the fence over it. Where Bellator may suffer however is in the casual fan department.
Bellator’s Friday night airings on free-tv has roped in casual fans who are enticed by the ease of viewership on a channel that already controls Bellator’s target demographic. Those casual fans are the same ones that skip out on paid UFC events if the headliner doesn’t feature an athlete with supreme drawing power.
Since the 35-year-old Tennessee native joined Bellator, it became apparent that he would be pushed as their star. When asked about the inclusion of Jackson in Bellator events, company chairman Bjorn Rebney consistently stated that he and his business partner (Jackson) had a plan from the beginning, one that I don’t believe will be realized until Jackson is the light heavyweight champion.
It will be an uphill battle for Bellator tonight but when its done, at least Bellator will have broken in to the PPV market and without a base to compare the numbers of this event to, Bellator should find solace in the fact that they are in a new market and the biggest hurdle is complete.