Quinton “Rampage” Jackson plans to bounce between MMA and pro wrestling. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Quinton Jackson epitomizes Spike TV’s vision for promoting combat sports. “Rampage” remains a big name in the mixed martial arts world, and he just so happens to be a huge pro-wrestling fan and larger-than-life character that can sell a major MMA fight.
At Bellator 110 on March 8, Jackson knocked out Christian M'Pumbu and then engaged in a made-for-TV faceoff with Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. The two will meet in Bellator MMA’s Season 10 light heavyweight tournament final on May 17, helping to bolster the promotion’s first pay-per-view event. This is the kind of bout with which Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and Spike TV executives fall in love promoting, as two charismatic stars with legitimate fighting credentials meet one another in the cage.
Unlike most networks, Spike TV and parent company Viacom do not run away from the business connection between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. Remember, Spike TV helped build “The Ultimate Fighter” franchise on the backs of World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Monday Night Raw” television viewers. The network that promoted Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock 3 in October 2006 understands how to market marquee names in super fights and attract ratings.
Spike TV’s ratings for Bellator events have increased with time, as the promotion can now draw more than a million viewers for a given show. The network’s pro-wrestling property, TNA Impact Wrestling, regularly attracts more than a million viewers. There is a demonstrable crossover fan appeal between the two properties, and Viacom attempted to promote a Bellator pay-per-view main event between Jackson and Ortiz during TNA’s weekly television shows. Spike TV does not seem to fear embracing the pro-wrestling connection in order to market an MMA match despite the hesitation of television executives, who often view pro-wrestling fans as a lowest common denominator in terms of attracting advertising cash.
Before you scoff at the notion of Spike TV pushing such a venture, consider recent history. When New Japan Pro-Wrestling founder Antonio Inoki became a player on the Japanese MMA scene, he was involved in mixing MMA and pro-wrestling events. New Japan ran mixed cards under the Ultimate Crush banner, utilizing a couple fighters with which you might be familiar: Josh Barnett and Lyoto Machida; and many years before Inoki promoted mixed cards, some guy named Don Frye transitioned from the Ultimate Fighting Championship to New Japan. He became one of the greatest gaijin ass kickers in history before moving back to MMA through Pride Fighting Championships.
The Ultimate Crush events drew plenty of critics who could not make sense of switching from an MMA bout to a pro-wrestling match on the same show. They were two different concepts, apples and oranges. Wrestling fans want pro-wrestling matches and MMA fans want real fights, and they are smart enough to know the difference. So why lump the two together and risk any sort of mainstream credibility Bellator hopes to attain? The answer is money.
Spike TV’s experience in the MMA industry has cemented its belief that a significant portion of the MMA pay-per-view audience is comprised of pro-wrestling fans. It is hard to disagree. After all, the UFC would still be interested in Brock Lesnar for a heavyweight super fight if it could get it booked; Ronda Rousey loves her some CM Punk; and Urijah Faber and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin were spotted hanging out together at UFC 170. For all of the online bulletin board material oozing with disdain for MMA fighters who associate with anything connected to professional wrestling, there does not seem to been an issue with mixed martial artists and pro-wrestlers socializing. The casual MMA fan certainly does not seem to have a problem with it.
We know it is a risky proposition to put mixed martial artists in a pro-wrestling match, and it is an even riskier proposition to put pro-wrestlers in MMA fights. Ask Yuji Nagata. With that said, how much of a turnoff would it actually be for Viacom to put together a joint pay-per-view between an MMA property on the upswing and a pro-wrestling brand that has not yet figured out how to take its talented stars and place them in a position to where fans are willing to pay to see the big matches?
There are too many financial interests at stake for Viacom to not consider a joint PPV venture. It could try it once to gauge the interest -- no harm, no foul; and if a joint pay-per-view concept between Spike TV’s MMA and pro-wrestling properties attracted substantial interest, it would be a game-changer for Viacom, which would love nothing more than to give the UFC a run for its money in the MMA world.