A few minutes before 7:00 pm, the arena fills with the unmistakable opening guitar riff of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." The sound is deafening, the bass rattling your very core. A video kicks in, showing highlights from previous shows. Sitting in the press section, there's an expectation that we are to be stoic and a bit reserved, but as the song rolls on, it's hard to resist getting excited. Bellator 75 is about to begin.
Let me say this right up front - Bellator obviously is not the UFC. They don't have the Fox network deal, they don't have virtually the entire top 10 of every division locked down. But one thing they do have is an amazing ability to hype their product. Bellator shows are so well crafted to make you a fan - from the music to the video packages they do a tremendous job. One of the aspects that sets them apart from the UFC in this regard is how well they humanize their fighters. Each one comes across as an actual person, with children, a personal history, and a reason to fight. Think of Abe Wagner last year explaining how his father used to beat him, and how one night he very nearly shot his drunken Dad in his sleep. That's the kind of detail that makes you pay attention to who this fighter really is, and it's a kind of detail the UFC typically shies away from.
The man behind all of this is Bjorn Rebney. And since Bellator 75 was taking place at the exact same time that Dana White was having his bizarre Jeremy Stephens meltdown, it's hard not to draw some comparisons. Watching Rebney throughout the show is impressive. The man works the room, but not in a slick used car salesman way. He's excessively approachable and just has a vibe that says "honest." He may not have yet taken Bellator to Fox, but his way of handling media and fans is impressive, and, dare I say, better than how that other bald head of company is doing right now.
In the end, Bellator 75 was kind of a weird show, with one of the most ludicrous main event endings I have ever seen. Yet the live experience was tremendous, and I can't imagine many people not walking out of that arena bigger Bellator fans.
Some match by match thoughts:
- The reaction in the building to the Eric Prindle vs. Thiago Santos ending was hilarious. As soon as the kick landed, there was just a profound sense of shock. Could this possibly have happened? Yep, it did indeed. Some people (Rebney among them) were quite upset. Me, I found it rather amazing in a weird story-telling kind of way. Maybe that's the old pro wrestling fan in me.
- Some questioned if Santos was faking it a bit, but he seemed really badly hurt. It took him ages to even roll over, and at one point he seemed to actually pass out from the pain. He never regained his feet, and was eventually taken out on a stretcher. As he was taken past the fans, many booed him. Classy.
- You can't really blame the referee here for the first No Contest, as he just called this one fight like he saw it, but man did Prindle get screwed over here. Ruling this one intentional and thus a disqualification, while the other was a No Contest is nuts. If anything, the Santos kick was more flagrant. Again, different refs, but that just shows the issue with a lack of consistency in the rulebook. In the post-fight presser, Prindle was very apologetic and looked near tears at one point.
- Still no word on Santos, but honestly, I'd be surprised if he moved on to the semi-finals.
- Fans got a bit restless during Alexander Volkov's dismantling of Brett Rogers, but I loved it. Volkov looked tremendous, with great hands and combinations. And I love that he described himself as shy in the post-fight interview. He's a definite talent to watch.
- As for Rogers, he came out looking very intimidating, but not long into that fight, his entire demeanor changed. You could see it in his eyes - fear, defeat. We've since learned that he broke his arm in two places blocking a kick in the opening minutes, which explains that change. But overall, it was an awful showing from Rogers, and may spell the end of his run on the national level.
- The Rogers pre-fight hype video not only acknowledged his arrest, they actually showed the mug shot. Again, not something you would ever see the UFC do, but I thought it was very cool. Why hide something everyone watching already knows?
- Not much to say about Richard Hale vs. Mike Wessel. Hale come out fast and aggressive and was absolutely dominant. Wessel had nothing from him, and said just that post-fight. Hale is another to watch out for. He also earns my appreciation for wearing a well tailored suit the rest of the night.
- Speaking of looking good, Shonie Carter was in attendance sporting a pink suite and matching pink sunglasses. Never stop being you Shonie Carter.
- I didn't expect much from Vinicius Queiroz, but he impressed me with that armbar. I thought Holata had him, and clearly, so did Holata. I still think the Brazilian is the underdog, but he showed he's dangerous here.
- Poor Holata. Post-fight he had to stand in the ring, nursing a clearly very injured arm, listening to ads for an upcoming Star Wars marathon waiting to come back from commercial so he could go get some medical treatment. That did not look like fun.
- Semi-finals in the tournament are announced at the presser as Santos vs. Hale, Volkov vs. Queiroz. If Santos is out, those may be changed. Assuming they don't get matched up in the semis (and I doubt they will), I see this as a Hale vs. Volkov final, which should be great.
- On the undercard, not too much of note. Ryan Martinez defeated Manny Lara in the tournament alternate bout, and if Santos is out, Martinez will be in. Which is a bit of a bummer because that fight was not good - 15 minutes of gassed Heavyweight action. Chase Beebe was the biggest "name" on the prelims, and he did what he does - win a technically solid but entirely uninteresting decision.
- Biggest ovation of the night, by a mile, was for undercard fighter "The Polish Punisher" Rafal Skibinski. The 3-1 fighter has a massive Polish following in Chicago, who I have seen at other local events. When he came out it became clear that a significant portion of the audience was there primarily to see him. He lost to Jason Graves, which was sad for the Polish fans.
- Finally, the prelims bonehead move of the night goes to the 8-11 Bobby Reardanz who found himself with opponent Cliff Wright Jr. on his back at one point. Reardanz took a moment to lift his head, look at the ref, smile and give him a thumbs up, at which point Wright snuck his arm under the chin and locked on the rear naked choke, getting the tapout seconds later. Bad move.
Next up for Bellator is Bellator 76 on MTV2 this weekend, with a killer main event of Eddie Alvarez vs. Patricky Pitbull in what may be Alvarez's final Bellator fight. They return to Hammond on December 14 to close out season 7 with their last ever MTV2 show. Fans in the Chicago area - check it out. It's an easy trip to Hammond, and you won't be disappointed.