MMA News

Trading Shots: Now that final is set, can we call the Bellator heavyweight grand prix a success?

By

on


Is the Bellator heavyweight grand prix turning out to be a big success? If so, what does that tell us about the viability of the tournament format in MMA? Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.

* * * *

Downes: Ben, the Bellator heavyweight grand prix final is official. Ryan Bader punched his ticket after riding Matt Mitrione “like a pony.” Fedor Emelianenko threw a few murderballs and benefited from Chael Sonnen’s questionable tactics to advance.

The Bellator grand prix has avoided catastrophe (for now). Perhaps it’s still too early to judge this experiment, but are you still interested? When it started, both of us were pretty excited. Partly to see the chaos that would ensue, but also because it broke up the MMA monotony. Has it lived up to your expectations? Are you ready to call it a success?

Fowlkes: If anything I’m more interested than I expected to be at this point. Bader vs. Fedor in the finals? As Apollo Creed might say, it sounds like a monster movie!

Honestly, I’m not sure I can think of any way this could have realistically gone better for Bellator. It’s a star turn for Bader, who gets a shot at being a champ-champ. It’s a revival for Emelianenko, who’s managed to convince us that he might still have some bullets left in the old gun. It’s the past vs. the present, and it feels just weird enough to be interesting but not so weird that it delegitimizes the whole concept.

So yeah, in that sense it’s a success. Now Bellator just has to get both guys to the finals in one piece. You promise us Bader vs. Fedor (it’s just so fun to say), you need to deliver Bader vs. Fedor – and ideally before we forget about it and move on.

Assuming Bellator can do that, I think this whole grand prix has to be considered a huge success. It started with a bunch of mid-level light heavyweights and big men past their primes, and now that it’s ending it feels surprisingly legit.

Am I crazy for seeing that as proof that tournaments can make almost anything seem meaningful, especially in a sport where the progression from one contest to the next is so often massaged by outside forces for the purposes of maximum profitability?

Downes: I’d pump the brakes a little bit if I were you. I agree that the tournament structure can make a path to a title seem more meaningful. In theory, you could see every fight as a step on a ladder where an athlete progresses to the “finals” of a championship fight. When you put a bracket structure behind it, though, it seems like a bigger deal.

Before Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Conor McGregor, I think you could have made a realistic argument that the champ hadn’t really beaten anyone. Late notice Al Iaquinta, plus Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson and Darrel Horcher? Strong fighters, but two of them don’t even crack the top 15.

If he’d had to fight them in some type of lightweight contenders tournament, however, it would have seemed like a bigger deal. It’s what makes winning “The Ultimate Fighter” something special (or it would if anyone still watched it).

The Bellator grand prix has been fantastic, but it’s a one-off. Are you going to have the same enthusiasm for the welterweight tournament? I don’t think so.

It’s not because there isn’t a ton of talent in it. (I definitely want to see Michael Page and Paul Daley go at it.) It’s just that welterweight doesn’t have the same mystique as heavyweight. There also isn’t the same wild card element.

Bader trying to become the champ-champ. Chael Sonnen doing the Chael Sonnen thing. Fedor trying for one last push to the top. All those elements combined for something unique, even if we were kind of hoping for a train wreck. The 170-pound tournament lacks that same joie de vivre.

How do you replicate this format and energy going forward? You could try going through every division, but that would lessen its effect and start to get tedious. We keep waiting for Bellator to make a jump up in competition in relation to the UFC. Has the heavyweight tournament helped, or is it simply a nice diversion from the routine?

Fowlkes: I reject your welterweight tournament comparison. By your logic, the fact that heavyweight title fights are more popular than flyweight title fights is proof that people don’t actually care about titles.

Of course the heavyweight grand prix gets a little more attention. It’s got a bunch of formerly famous fighters from three different weight classes, and it’s going down in the division known for swift, unpredictable violence. That combination of weirdness and warmed-over fame? That’s where Bellator lives, man. Its greatest successes have all come at that same intersection.

I think the tournament format is especially refreshing to fight fans now, since it gives us something we’re missing elsewhere. The UFC books title fights according to financial concerns.

Just look at the decision to make Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis for the heavyweight strap next month. Is that the no. 1 heavyweight against no. 2? Nah. It’s a bout of convenience hastily thrown together to salvage a pay-per-view and make some money, but without risking the big payday planned for a few months later.

Is it really any wonder that, when faced with more and more of those kinds of fights, fans might remember why they like a system where everybody starts with the same chance to win it all? You know, something where we actually use the fights themselves to determine who the best is? Seems to me that’s how this whole thing started.

For complete coverage of Bellator 208, check out the MMA Events section of the site.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.



Source link

Recommended for you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *