Full Contact Fighter’s “The Daily Takedown:” What Bellator Needs To Do To Compete With UFC
By Joshua Molina
Bellator kicks off tonight on Spike TV, and, yes, MMA is finally coming “home.”
But it will take more than a catchy slogan to infuse life into the distant-No. 2 MMA organization.
Fortunately for Bellator, it is owned by Viacom, the same company that owns Spike TV, so there will be less pressure to pop big ratings, at least at the start.
Still, Bellator will die if it doesn’t dramatically distance itself from the UFC in the marketplace.
It’s just fantasy to think that Bellator will “get hot” like the UFC did in 2005, simply because Bellator is also MMA.
The UFC experienced a perfect series of events that launched it into the mainstream. “The Ultimate Fighter” followed WWE Raw, which at the time was a tremendous timeslot.
What “Seinfeld” did for “Friends,” “Raw” did for “The Ultimate Fighter.” Then, of course, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin battled in what may have been the greatest UFC fight ever.
Dana White took it from there, and displayed the business savvy to grow the fan base into hot sport that it is today.
None of that will work for Bellator, although Bellator will try. The show will follow TNA Impact Wrestling, but TNA is nothing like WWE Monday Night Raw. TNA has a small, hardcore fan base.
Bellator has no weekly reality show to build an audience with. It is a 100 percent guarantee that no one outside of the MMA media or the top 1 percent of fans could identify a single Bellator fighter.
And that’s a huge problem. Bellator can’t be the UFC. It shouldn’t even try.
Here’s what Bellator needs to do if wants a chance to play with the big boys in the UFC:
• Better define itself — is it an organization build around tournaments or titles? What’s the first rule of mass marketing? Keep it simple. Build fights around title bets, not tournaments. American fans want to see fights between two well-defined characters.
Fans in the U.S. want to see soccer tournaments, not MMA tournaments.
They want a fight that satisfies their current attention span; they don’t want to watch something knowing that “the real winner” won’t be crowned for several months.
• Call out the UFC every chance it can on TV. Look at it in fight terms. Bellator is a big underdog looking to take the UFC’s title. It can’t expect to tiptoe into triumph. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney needs to become the anti-UFC.
Years ago, the WWE was getting hammered in TV ratings by Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling.
What did WWE do? It launched a series of “Billionaire Ted” skits poking fun at Turner’s willingness to throw down millions of dollars on aging stars, who couldn’t perform anymore.
It sent WWE wrestlers to WCW events to blast the WCW management from the public sidewalk outside the event center.
The WWE made it cool and fashionable to be the underdog, and created the impression that it was the younger, hotter product. Bellator can’t be UFC No. 2. It had to Bellator No. 1
• Bring in a big celebrity — It’s not enough to sign the charismatic Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal. Bellator needs a big star that will the mainstream world care. Around the same time the WWE was stealing viewers from the WCW, it also brought in Mike Tyson to appear on shows. Bellator needs to bring in somebody like Tyson to make the world notice. Viacom should have enough money to lure a big star.
• Hold quarterly Pay Per View shows. You have to invest money to make money. This is the Pay Per View generation. When it comes to combat sports, American fans believe that if it’s on Pay Per View, it must be important. Even if only 50,000 people buy the Pay Per View, the move would at least confuse the marketplace, and force the UFC to pay attention.
The UFC is No. 1. Bellator is a very distant No. 2. Bellator will have to do much more than put on good fights if it ever wants to stand a chance against the company that already does everything it does, but only much better.