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Twitter Mailbag: On Bellator's ratings, Nicco Montano's online rant, and more

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Does Bellator need to worry about low ratings after its most recent event? Did Nicco Montano go overboard in her response to a reporter? And why does Brock Lesnar seem to get held to a different standard than Jon Jones?

All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.

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Hold up a minute. If we’re talking about moving the needle, we need to put this in context. According to reports, Bellator 198 averaged about 750,000 viewers across two different platforms, Paramount Network and CMT (a Bellator official later announced the headliner peaked with 1.5 million viewers). Prior to that, Bellator 197 drew just over 400,000 with a card that included former champ Michael Chandler, while Bellator 196, featuring Benson Henderson, drew about 420,000 viewers.

In other words, while these aren’t spectacular numbers for this past weekend’s event, they’re still better than what Bellator has been doing recently. The question is whether they’re good enough for what it costs to put them on.

The highest-rated Bellator event so far this year was the January show headlined by Chael Sonnen vs. Quinton Jackson in the first round of the heavyweight grand prix. Saturday’s event with Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir fell slightly below that mark to claim second place, and it did so with fierce competition from televised boxing events, as well as the NBA and NHL playoffs.

What we have to consider is the possibility that we’re looking at the new normal for Bellator. Big names and fun attractions, like the heavyweight grand prix, draw somewhere in the 700,000 range. Everything else is stuck down in the 400,000 zone. It’s not where Bellator would like to be, but it’s not like it’s the only fight promoter dealing with declining ratings.

If you’re Bellator, here’s where you hope that the tournament gathers steam and fans become more interested in it as it goes on. Saturday night’s event at least made it seem more fun. And who knows, maybe Emelianenko vs. Sonnen can nudge things up closer to the million-viewer mark.

Playing the Conor McGregor waiting game would be a risky proposition at this point, even for Nate Diaz. There’s no guarantee McGregor ever fights again, especially with the way his life is going lately.

Seriously, what could you say for sure about that guy’s near future at this point? Maybe he’s back in the cage by December, or maybe he launches himself into space in a Ferrari that he personally converted into a rocket ship. Both are fairly plausible options.

If Diaz wants to capitalize on the popularity and name recognition he earned in those two fights with McGregor, he’s wise to do it soon. The good news is, there are a ton of possibilities at lightweight. Eddie Alvarez wants a piece of him, which, #wouldwatch. If you put him in a fight with Justin Gaethje, yeah, I’m going to clear my calendar for that too.

Point is, the UFC could sure use some of that Diaz magic right about now. You have to think he knows that and will put it to work for him at the negotiating table.

The situation, as I understand it, is this: In a couple of tweets, MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani suggested that the UFC was becoming frustrated with inaugural women’s flyweight champ Nicco Montano, who has yet to schedule her first title defense. Montano then fired back on social media, insisting that she’s fresh out of surgery and incapable of even talking, much less training for another couple weeks, which is a situation she said the UFC knew all about.

If you look at Montano’s Instagram, there are fairly recent posts that reference struggles with her health, so it’s fair for her to say that Helwani could have checked that out enough to get some idea what’s going on with her.

What’s a little harder to defend is the way she phrased some of her criticism, which was, let’s say, very colorful with its use of imagery. I get that she’s mad and resents the implication that she might be ducking the fight, but it’s not so hard to make that argument without resorting to personal attacks that just distract from your point.

The real question for me is where this alleged UFC frustration is coming from.

Here we are, the beginning of May. According to Helwani, the UFC is targeting Montano vs. Valentina Shevchenko for its Calgary event on FOX in late July. If she can’t start training for a couple more weeks, is it fair to pressure her to agree to defend her title in less than three months’ time? That leaves Montano trying to predict, post-surgery, how soon she can be not only training camp- but fight-ready, which seems like it’s just asking for trouble.

If she caves to the pressure and takes the fight, only to pull out later when she realizes her body isn’t ready, the UFC won’t exactly love her for it. And if she doesn’t take the fight until she knows she’s ready, the UFC (not to mention Shevchenko) may get impatient.

I understand; the machine has to keep moving, there are dates to fill, and fans are already forgetting about Montano and the mere existence of a women’s flyweight title. But when you end up with a situation like this while trying to book a championship bout in a new division, it’s not a good look for anybody.

Blagoy Ivanov started as the guy who beat Fedor in a sambo tournament, but he’s turned into a legit heavyweight. He’s got five straight wins, with his only professional loss coming to Alexander Volkov, so why not throw him in with a former champ in Junior Dos Santos right away and find out what he’s got?

It’s not like there’s a huge upside for the UFC in slowly building a 31-year-old Bulgarian heavyweight who only hardcores have heard of. Plus, maybe the UFC has metrics we don’t know about that suggest Ivanov is huge in Boise, Idaho.

It would be madness to mess around and not sign Alvarez to a new UFC deal right now. Sheer madness. For one thing, he’s coming off that knockout win over Gaethje, leaving him with a plethora of interesting options at lightweight. For another, he’s proven his willingness to fight it out in contractual battles, so don’t test him.

And if you’re thinking that, at his age and with his mileage, it’s not worth paying to keep him, just remind yourself that people threw the same argument around when Bellator and the UFC were fighting over him four years ago.

He’s still here. He’s still the “Underground King.” And you’d have to be crazy to risk him taking those talents somewhere else, when there’s so much fun stuff he could do with them in the UFC right now.

Let’s be honest and admit that Bellator’s “heavyweight” grand prix is about as close to an openweight tournament as you’re going to get from a North American fight promoter that has to work with North American athletic commissions.

This is a field that includes legit heavyweights from the upper range of the division as well as light heavyweights and even a career middleweight. I know it’s not quite the same as seeing Yuki Nakai get stomped on by dudes who outweigh him by 80 pounds or more, but it’s close enough for me.

Does he get a pass? Or does Brock Lesnar just receive less ongoing scrutiny because he’s no longer really participating in this sport, whereas Jon Jones might just be the best to ever do it and his entire future is now up in the air because he can’t pass a drug test?

I won’t disagree that there’s some hypocrisy at work when it comes to Lesnar. This man got a special waiver from the UFC so he could jump back into action at UFC 200 without waiting through the USADA testing period first. Then he failed two separate drug tests, which basically just proved why that USADA provision was there in the first place, while also providing ammunition for a lawsuit against the UFC.

Even after all that, all Lesnar has to do is show up in a UFC T-shirt and we all get a happy, tingly feeling. Fans want him back because he’s a walking action figure who reminds them of the late-2000 glory days. UFC executives want him because he brings in the pay-per-view buys. Fighters want him because he puts money in their pockets. No one seems to mind that he’s a steroid cheat who views this sport as little more than a giant ATM he can swing by when he feels like it.

Or maybe that explains it. Maybe it’s easier not to care what’s in Lesnar’s bloodstream because it’s clear he’s not seriously trying for an MMA career. Jones, on the other hand, could be an all-time great. He could be the all-time great, if only he didn’t keep shooting himself in the foot.

If he ends up with a lengthy suspension, maybe the thing to do is flee to the WWE. Then we’ll beg him to come back in guest star mode once every couple of years.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.



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