Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
This Thursday, King Mo makes his much anticipated Bellator debut. Is this the rise of Bellator's first true superstar?
Look at a roster from the early days of Zuffa era UFC and you see a who's who of MMA pioneers. Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Pat Miletich... many of the sport's early greats were there, turning in all time great fights and establishing themselves as legends. Yet in the eyes of the casual fan, one man stood out. Tito Ortiz was more than just a champion - he was a star, and it was his star power that brought many eyes to the UFC.
Today, Bellator finds themselves in a similar position. They are coming off a huge debut on Spike that turned in excellent numbers. They have put together a roster that has some of the sport's elite - men like Pat Curran, Ben Askren, and Michael Chandler. This is a moment of huge opportunity for them, but so far in their history, they have been missing that one factor - the star. Hector Lombard, Eddie Alvarez, and Joe Warren all came close, but on a smaller stage, none were able to quite breakthrough to the casual audience. Now, that audience is tuning in, and Bellator needs their larger than life fighter. They need their Tito Ortiz.
Enter King Mo.
The incoming fighter has been much hyped by Bellator, and it's easy to see why. Mo checks off all the boxes of a potential superstar. World champion level talent? Check. Capable of delivering highlight reel moments? Check. Dynamic personality that draws people in? Check. Divisive? Check. It's unfair to Mo to say he is a new Tito Ortiz, as being a unique figure is part of what makes someone a star, but it's absolutely fair to say he has what it takes to play the Ortiz role in Bellator. And that's exactly what the company needs right now - a fighter who will make the casual fan stand up and say "I HAVE to see this guy fight!"
The one danger here is in the expectations. Mo makes his debut this week, facing an overmatched Przemyslaw Mysiala in a Light Heavyweight tournament quarter-final. Given the expectations on Mo, simply beating Mysiala isn't enough. Especially with Babalu now out, anything short of a Mo tournament victory and subsequent world title victory would seem like a let down. It's not that a major star can never lose - but to be a star Mo can't lose now, not to the kind of unknowns that currently make up the Bellator Light Heavyweight division.
So this Thursday night, the pressure is on. Last week, Bellator proved that they can draw fans to Spike. The question this week is, will those fans stick around, and will Mo be the man to make them keep coming back? Bellator is banking on a yes. If they're right, expect to hear a whole lot more from King Mo, Bellator's first legitimate superstar.