Opinion: Bellator and the UFC Blueprint
By Jesse Heitz
On Thursday, January 24th, Bellator 86 took place. Overall, I found the event to be quite entertaining. The promotion seems to be eerily similar to the archetype of modern MMA, the UFC. This is not necessarily a knock on Bellator, nor is it necessarily praise for the UFC, but rather, it is something much more innocent, an interesting coincidence.
As I’ve said, I don’t mind Bellator, and I’m often highly critical of the UFC, yet it’s hard to deny after watching Bellator the other night that Bellator, other than its tournament style and its cage not having defined edges as the UFC’s Octagon does, is bordering on being a clone of the Zuffa flagship. I don’t blame Viacom, the parent company of Bellator, or the officials who run the promotion such as CEO Bjorn Rebney, for copying a MMA format that works and historically has sold very well.
Competition is good for the sport, good for the fans, and good for the fighters. However, many UFC clones have come and gone, hardly able to muster any sort of long-term challenge. It seems that the healthiest competition that the UFC enjoyed came from the Japanese promotion Pride, which as many readers know, varied a great deal in format from the American-based UFC. The rules were different, the occasional tournament was still in use (after the UFC had abandoned such a format), it used a ring instead of a cage, and its color commentator was a legendary fighter as opposed to a comedian. Simply put, the differences were stark.
Yet, Bellator, which is now number two in the MMA promotion pecking order, has almost step-by-step followed the every move of the UFC. Some of these moves have been intentional, and many have been an outright bizarre coincidence. As I’ve stated above, its cage is a veritable clone. Its rules are identical (insofar as they adhere to the stateside mandated unified set of rules). It airs its prelims live online. Its format is incredibly similar to that of the UFC in its early days. It has established itself in the former television home of the UFC, Spike TV.
On the side of the most unusual, Bellator has many peculiar similarities that I only hope are completely innocent. The Bellator CEO is a bald man who dresses similarly to UFC boss Dana White. Its color commentator, Jimmy Smith, has a style almost identical to the UFC’s Joe Rogan, and again, he dresses creepily similar to Rogan. Its Welterweight Champion is a “softer”, perhaps less entertaining version of the UFC’s Georges St-Pierre. Its over-hyped recent acquisition, “Mo” Lawal, is essentially a watered-down version of “Rampage” Jackson.
This is not to say that I won’t watch Bellator, because I’ll undoubtedly continue to tune in, but its plethora of similarities to the UFC makes one wonder if it’s suited for the long haul. If it’s embodying the archetype a little too closely and such a strategy may hurt its viability as a true contender in the MMA promotional market.