Coming off an event where Bellator pulled surprisingly low TV ratings, especially with the key 18-49 year old demographic where it did not crack the top 100, the organization has pushed most of their chips into the pot for Belltor 97. Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler, the best Pound for Pound fighter in the organization fights Bellator mainstay David Rickels. Their most recognizable champion, Ben Askren is on the card against a fighter in Andrey Koreshkov who looked great winning his way through the Bellator tourney. Askren is a former Olympian, 2 x NCAA Wrestling Champ, active on Twitter calling out UFC fighters and Dana White, and is a frequent corner man at UFC cards for his Rofusport teammates. Highly promoted, big name signee Mo Lawal is in the LHW tourney final, and could earn a LHW title shot with a victory. The Heavyweight division, traditionally the weight class that can most easily move the meter in combat sports will also see a pivotal fight, as either Ryan Martinez or Vitaly Minakov will earn a title shot in the HW tourney final. Rounding out the main card, one of the best FWs on the Bellator roster, Patricio Freire was scheduled to take on TUF 5, and UFC alumni Rob Emerson, until he was forced out by injury, and replaced by recent RFA headliner Jared Downing.
Make no mistake about it, this is what a Bellator PPV would look like. The only big asset they are not using here is Rampage Jackson, and you can bet money that he will be sitting cage side, if not in the broadcast booth for at least one fight.
But what happens if they only draw in the 400-500K viewers on free TV again? Last time they blamed the NHL playoffs, but will have no excuses this time. Will the brass at Viacom begin to question throwing money at high profile fighters such as Rampage, Mo, and Eddie Alvarez if they are not seeing an appreciable return on investment. Will the concern grow that Rampage and Mo's commitments to Viacom's Pro Wrestling partner TNA is taking away from their time, training, promotion and health for MMA. Will 500K viewers prove that a product they have trouble giving away for free is going to bomb on PPV (Some have interpreted the Alvarez contract to mean that Bellator could be on the hook to start producing PPVs if they win that court case)? Could another round of poor ratings be the catalyst for Viacom to force Bjorn Rebney out, as we have already heard speculation that the folks at SpikeTV and Viacom are calling the shots over his head? Could the Tourney format go out the window, as Bellator starts making the most marketable fight over staying rigid with their existing policy. Or could we wake up on a Saturday morning 6 months from now, and see Dana White sitting on a couch with Ariel Helwani discussing the UFC's plan to run two separate organizations that they now own, because Viacom realizes that they could flip Bellator for a quick profit?
Bellator 97 is a great card, but the ratings could tell an interesting story for the future of the organization due to the recent financial commitments that the ownership has made.