With Bellator’s sixth season (technically the seventh season overall if you count last summer’s "Summer Series) wrapping up this past weekend, I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to reflect on the season that was.
As we’ve come to expect from Bellator, this season offered us quite a roller coaster ride as fans – and I don’t necessarily mean that in a positive way .
We got everything from all-out wars, to contenders for "snoozer of the year." We got dynamic, exciting tournaments right along with some headscratchingly-poor matchmaking decisions. We got excitement, fun fights, and a big ol’ dollup of weird – pretty much what we’ve come to expect from MMA’s "little promotion that could".
And since I’m such a Clint Eastwood type of guy myself (I too, enjoy wearing colorful ponchos and not telling people my name) I thought I’d go all spaghetti western for our stroll down (recent) memory lane. So without further ado, let’s look back on the season that was, and recall "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" of Bellator’s sixth season.
Pat Curran Arrives: Few wins were more gratifying this season than watching Pat Curran go from "perennial contender" to "bona fide champion". A victor of two Bellator tournaments in two different weight classes (the only man to ever do so) Curran seemed destined for the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" role within Bellator.
That he finally won a major world title was a great story; that he won via spectacular KO was even better; and that said KO was over the legendarily arrogant Joe Warren is the icing on the cake. Curran is a polite, well-spoken champion with unbelievable KO power for a 145’er – his win was a win for MMA fans everywhere.
Alvarez Trumps Aoki: It might not have been a world title, and it may have featured two former greats now well outside the lightweight top 5. But there’s no denying that the Eddie Alvarez vs. Shinya Aoki fight was the biggest main event Bellator put on this year, titles or not. And there’s no denying Alvarez put some much needed wind back in his sails with the smashing victory.
If the rumors of Eddie’s imminent departure for the UFC are true, this could end up being a bad proposition for Bellator in the long term. Still, it was great to see the "Chuck Liddell of Bellator" not only avenge a previous defeat, but get a signature win over credible competition after the shock of the Mike Chandler loss.
Cole Konrad Is For Real!: If you heard that statement in Joe Rogan’s voice, a’la "Houston Alexander is for real!" (oh, sweet irony) then you’ve accurately captured the spirit of this post. Ok, so we’ve always known Konrad has "the goods". Two NCAA division 1 national championships in wrestling is no small feat. Neither is going undefeated in your MMA career, including six straight wins in the Bellator cage.
But they say you aren’t a true champion until you defend your title, and Konrad more than answered that criticism with a terrific kimura finish of Eric Prindle at Bellator 70. If there was anyone in the MMA world who wasn’t taking Konrad seriously, they certainly are now.
Ben Askren Cures Insomnia: Speaking of uber-talented amateur wrestlers with unbeaten records and all the potential in the world – Ben Askren is a former U.S. Olympian, and the reigning Bellator welterweight champion. He’s young,
good looking, has a unique (some might say "funky") look and demeanor, and oh yeah – he’s a U.S. freakin’ Olympian. Sorry, had to channel my inner Kurt Angle.
The only problem: it turns out he’s about as fun to watch fight as paint is to watch dry. His fight with Douglas Lima at Bellator 64 was a particular low-light of this season, with not much drama or action but a whole lot of positional grappling and stalling. Now me personally? I don’t mind Askren, and I chalk up his style to his still being a relative newb in MMA. But as far as most folks are concerned, Askren is officially the least interesting champion in Bellator, which is a crying shame for someone of his potential.
Chris Horodecki Falls Apart: Now maybe I’m just a Canadian fanboy (I totally am), but I had high hopes for Chris Horodecki when he made the jump to Bellator. Here’s a fighter with plenty of experience, well-rounded skills (mostly), and still a young guy at just 23 years old (at the time). I saw no reason why the future shouldn’t be bright for the "Polish Hammer."
Well I guess we’re getting the "Polish Hammer" circa 1939, because since his Bellator debut Horodecki has been anything but impressive. With a 1-1-1 record in the promotion overall, Horodecki isn’t exactly tearing up the charts. This season was perhaps his lowest moment yet – against Mike Richman, a fighter who lost his entry bout on the GSP vs. Kos season of the Ultimate Fighter, Horodecki was brutally put to sleep in under 90 seconds. Whether it’s the untimely death of mentor Shawn Thompkins or something else, here’s hoping Chris can right his ship and start getting back into the win column.
Akihiro Gono Gets Embarrassed: I know, I know, I seem like a big hypocrite for showering the Aoki/Alvarez fight in praise, only to crap on Chandler/Gono a few paragraphs later. The big difference to me is that while Alvarez and Aoki were both in similar points in their careers – former champions on the comeback trail – and had previous history with one another, Mike Chandler and Akihiro Gono…well…didn’t.
Let’s face facts: saying Gono is past his moment is like saying the sky is blue and the grass is green at this point. Coming into this fight, he was 3-5 in his last 8, which isn’t exactly a sterling record to put up against your champion of the world. And this fight played out like everyone knew it would: with Chandler separating Gono from consciousness in the time it takes you to read this paragraph. This was a make busy fight and a waste of everybody’s time – Chandler’s, Gono’s, and especially the fans.
The Prindle/Santos Mess: In just about all the way’s something can be classified as "ugly" in MMA – the Eric Prindle and Thiago Santos drama/controversy was exactly that. It started at Bellator 59, where the most advertent inadvertent groin kick in MMA history (just kidding, Cheick Kongo) ended the affair in a frustrating No Contest. Seeing Eric Prindle writhing in pain following what amounted to an in-cage game of Roshambo with Thiago Santos was an absolutely terrible way to end last season – and the heavyweight tournament.
Then over the course of this season, repeated attempts to make the Santos/Prindle rematch fell apart. They were set to rematch at Bellator LXI, before "flu-like symptoms" forced the last-minute delay of the bout to the following week. Then Santos misses weight, and after all this root and confusion, the tournament is simply awarded to Prindle by default. Hardly a satisfying end – especially when you consider that Prindle would go on to get flattened by Cole Konrad a few weeks later.
Too Many Failed Debuts: One of the big reasons I was looking forward to this season was the debut of so many well-known former UFC fighters. We had already seen what drama and excitement a guy like Ben Saunders was able to bring to his Bellator fights, and I couldn’t wait to see how some other former UFC alum would fare inside Bellator’s cage.
Only it never happened. War Machine was forced out of the welterweight tourney for the slightly inconvenient fact that he was in prison. Brian Foster was another former UFC fighter who had to back out of the season six welterweight tournament because of medical issues. Kurt Pelligrino had to cancel his Bellator debut because of a knee injury, and was replaced by "the next Anderson Silva" Phillipe Nover – who was himself scratched from the event.
No End to Bantamweight and Welterweight Tournaments: I don’t know how Bellator screwed this one up exactly. A simple look at the schedule would have revealed a very serious problem when it came to Bellator’s welterweight and bantamweight tournaments this season. See, here we are, with season six over and behind us – yet both the bantamweight and welterweight tournaments haven’t technically ended yet.
We’re told that the resolution to these tournaments will be this summer, so maybe this is a clever marketing ploy to get viewers to tune in to the 2012 "Summer Series". I hope it is – because if not, this is a pretty serious mistake that shows how "bush league" Bellator can be sometimes. When your brand is anchored on building stars through your tournaments, it might be a good idea to actually resolve the tournaments before the season is out, would it not?
By Elton Hobson