This Friday, Bellator kicks off their latest Heavyweight tournament with Bellator 75 in Hammond, IN. The main event sees Eric Prindle and Thiago Santos finally rematch, but for many fans, the most notable fighter on the card is former Strikeforce main eventer Brett Rogers. Rogers takes on Alexander Volkov in a tournament bout.
This isn't the Bellator debut for Rogers - he's 1-0 with the company after defeating Kevin Asplund over the summer, but this time, the stakes are much higher. If Rogers wins on Friday, he'll move on in the tournament. Given the recent retirement of Bellator Heavyweight champion Cole Konrad, Rogers is in a very real position to become the new Bellator Heavyweight champion. And that brings up a very big, complicated question.
Should Bellator be putting Rogers in a position where he can become their Heavyweight champion?
Inside the cage, Rogers is deserving of a shot. He has big fight experience in Strikeforce, holds a win over Andrei Arlovski, and had a solid showing against Fedor Emelianenko on CBS. Yes, he's only won 2 of his last 7, but for fighters outside of the Zuffa umbrella, he has the in-cage resume to warrant a shot.
The issue of course is his out of cage resume. Rogers was infamously involved in a nasty domestic abuse incident with his wife in 2011, resulting in his dismissal from Strikeforce. He's fought 3 times since, but this will be his biggest fight to date with the most on the line, and a win here will make him a prominent figure in Bellator. When he was first signed, Bloody Elbow asked if he should even be competing for Bellator at all given his history. Our general opinion there was that while he had the right to fight, maybe it wasn't the best move for Bellator. Which would be greater - the backlash of fans and media or the plusses of Rogers competing in a weak division? Bellator is gambling that it's the plusses, and this week they raise the stakes on that bet.
Ultimately, this will be a decision each fan has to make for himself. And for me personally, I don't love the idea of putting money into Rogers's pocket. But at the same time, I am under no illusions that every athlete or entertainer I support is squeaky clean. What makes Rogers a notable case is that he is (thankfully) something of an anomaly in MMA so far. As MMA fans, we have not yet had to deal with many fighters who are not simply involved in crimes, but involved in the kind of violent crimes that we recoil from. Rogers is one of the first. He won't be the last.
This is something fans in other sports have already dealt with. Boxing fans continued to watch Mike Tyson, football fans continue to watch Michael Vick. As MMA fans, we have to chose for ourselves if we will continue to watch Brett Rogers. Bellator is gambling that we will. And I suspect they're right. Morally, is that a good thing? That's something you'll have to decide if you watch him in action Friday night.