Bellator MMA executed a two-day doubleheader on opposite sides of the Atlantic, as Bellator 227 played out on Friday in Dublin and Bellator 228 followed suit on Saturday in Inglewood, California. The two events brought with them some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: THE PRICE IS RIGHT
How do you balance the good parts about a tournament format with the entertainment side of mixed martial arts? After all, you could have a group of fighters complete with their own personal rivalries and fireworks style pairings, but the will of the MMA Gods might simply not be in favor of providing those bouts. Remember how Fedor Emelianenko did not face Alistair Overeem or Josh Barnett in Strikeforce’s famed heavyweight grand prix?
As head of Bellator, Scott Coker has had the opportunity to refine the formula. The heavyweight grand prix that concluded in January saw some fan-friendly matchmaking in the opening round, which undoubtedly gave the remaining stages a shot of adrenaline. With another chance to improve the standard, Coker at Bellator 228 introduced a selection show for the featherweights to sort out the quarterfinals that will begin in December. Simultaneously creating a spectacle consistent with the showmanship elements we want and the meritocracy we need, the eight fighters were given the opportunity to choose their opponents or dates and call out their preferred opponents, all while fully engaging the crowd packed into The Forum. With champion Patricio Freire holding the secret wild card, the announcement of his “champ’s choice” added an extra air of intrigue as even the other seven featherweights were surprised. To see Darrion Caldwell confident that he could draw “Pitbull” next, Adam Borics certain that he lucked into a title shot and those aforementioned expectations circumvented was high drama that in no way compromised the legitimacy of the competition.
Judging by the social media timeline, perhaps the television viewing experience was adversely affected, as the main event between Gegard Mousasi and Lyoto Machida was delayed to accommodate what essentially was a game show. However, the in-arena experience was enhanced as music and stage blocking upped the theatrics of the selection process. Sure, the featherweights didn’t all fall into selecting the sexiest fights or taking the bait of every callout. However, being that is the fight business, they all were keen to pay attention to the business aspect. A million-dollar prize is good enough reason to not recklessly bite at every callout and rush back into action. This was one of the rare moments when the masters of both sport and the show were served appropriately.
THE BAD: CHANNEL SURFING
Forgive me for briefly standing on a soapbox, but why does Bellator does this to itself? This weekend was a buffet of its best dishes, but the promotion failed in so many ways to properly set the table. In both Dublin and Los Angeles, Bellator showcased some notable names and high-stakes fights. However, flooding an already crowded combat sports weekend certainly didn’t help things. With so much focus on the featherweight tournament, it was easy to forget that there was a card taking place the day before.
Making this even more puzzling is the continued usage of tape-delayed television and odd event labeling. Despite the fact that both Bellator Dublin and Bellator 227 were billed as two separate events, they took place on the same day in the same arena; and like separate fight cards, they aired at different times on different platforms, one of which wasn’t available live and could only be watched hours after the final bell.
There is just no excuse for this. Paramount Network and Bellator clearly have some sort of arrangement that mandates the setup, but what could possibly be the reason behind that agreement? Maybe the metrics say that a tape-delayed card does better ratings than some alternate programming. Perhaps they hope to catch a stray channel surfer and tempt them to stick around with the promise of seeing Benson Henderson and Myles Jury. Even if that’s the case, how would that be harmed by offering a live stream on Dazn? The MMA hardcore fan will have already found the results online, enjoyed any gifs of finishes or turned to an illegal stream by the time the taped broadcast begins. Without any rhyme or reason rooted in concrete logic, Bellator continues to bury its own product.
THE UGLY: VENOM FOR MVP
Michael Page is undoubtedly one of the most polarizing fighters actively competing in MMA. The same showmanship that has made him appointment viewing has also rubbed more than a few people the wrong way. One person who apparently isn’t too thrilled about his dramatic flair is referee Dan Miragliotta. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, of course, but by being the third man in the cage, the right to express that opinion has been waived. By deducting a point from Page and resetting position, Miragliotta’s feelings about the antics took over his duties as a referee.
There was simply no good reason to intervene at that moment. Page was clearly engaging in offense and only paused briefly. Even if it were a longer stretch between strikes thrown, how would that differ from the many instances of the fighter on top taking advantage of the position to stall for rest time? Typically, Miragliotta is one of the more balanced referees in the sport. Unfortunately, that wasn’t on display in this fight. Judging by the prior break in action due to the back-and-forth taunting between Page and Richard Kiely, the flow of combat was not the motivation for the interruption. With that in mind, Page’s accusations about the referee’s harsh words toward him take an even more disturbing context. If the previous encounter that Page described in his backstage scrum interview afterwards was accurate, it paints a picture of inherent bias well before the opening bell. That bias had a clear impact on what transpired in the cage.
At the very least, Page’s request that Miragliotta never oversee one of his bouts again should be honored. Excluding him from any fight card that features MVP should be considered, as well. While crucifying an otherwise exemplary official may seem a bit heavy-handed, it is essential to maintain impartiality.