Yesterday was a sort of microcosm of the somewhat dreadful last few weeks for MMA's "B-tier" promotions.
Bellator saw War Machine, a man they've inexplicably put a large amount of promotional investment into, tweet out that "real men rape." It was a follow up to his prior tweet claiming that he'd "raped" his girlfriend, who had wanted to wait until later in the day to have sex. The initial tweet, while in bad taste, did read as a joke. But the follow-up of "real men rape," even if a continuation of that joke, pushed making light of rape to a limit most decent people were likely to find offensive.
A convicted violent criminal making light of rape in a culture that too often doesn't take the subject seriously was simply not a good look. I'd argue it came across worse than Forrest Griffin's "rape jokes" that caused a stir and some very public maneuvering from the UFC.
What did we get from Bellator as the media asked Bjorn Rebney for a statement? A sort of finger wag at Mr. Machinethat included a sort of additional finger wag at people who expected him to possibly be punished, saying that his job is to "treat our fighters like human beings and not like property."
After all, he'd "issued an apology" and deleted the "real men rape" tweet. I mean, sure, he still had up tweets about "sensitive ass bitches" who needed to "die slow" because they reacted to it. But this is an opportunity for War to learn. It would seem he's had more than enough chances to learn over the past several years and continually fails to do so, but why let that get in the way of promoting him using jail stints to sell him to the pubic.
They knew his past, they knew that he says things like "oppression of MEN is worse than oppression of Jews in Nazi germany, worse than the slavery of Blacks in early America... I'm not exaggerating either," and they've embraced it as a marketing tool. So why would they take any action now?
Fight Master ratings are unstable at best, with an abysmal number coming last week and they "stacked" a show about as much as they possibly could for Bellator 97 and still drew far less than their season 8 average. Summer or not, there's no selling it as a success. So could they afford to do anything to the guy they'd dumped so much promotional effort into?
And, let's not pretend that Bellator and Viacom expected the reaction to be quite as negative as it has been to their Tito Ortiz vs. Quinton Jackson headlined PPV. The bout, several years too late and kind of sad, has been made fun of with regularity by the majority of MMA media and fandom. And the first press conference only added to the embarrassment with Rampage's continued sour grapes lashing out at the UFC and Tito dropping "I'm going to shoot for the moon and maybe I'll land on a star instead" and "You can't judge a book by its cover until you've turned the page and read the chapters," to compete for all-time bad quotes.
Then there's the World Series of Fighting, who appear to have decided that their best plan of action is to sign Brett Rogers*. Rogers who, in addition to being 2-5 (1 no contest) since knocking out Andrei Arloski, has a history of abhorrent legal charges.
Sure, they need to beef up their roster, and heavyweight is thin. But the bad PR for Bellator when they signed him and basic decency probably should have prevented the signing from going ahead.
But the thought processes of these B-tier promotions don't seem to factor in the long-term and the complexities of dealing with certain elements of the MMA world, and instead make moves and deal with the consequences afterward. Unfortunately they lack the kind of footwork that allows the UFC -- not devoid of their own problems and PR disasters -- to adapt and survive.
World Series of Fighting 4 was a bizarre broadcast all around last night. Some people found Dave Huckaba's TKO of Ray Sefo to be fun, but it played out as just kind of depressing to me. Sefo losing a stand-up fight to a guy like Huckaba was some sort of karmic retribution for the president booking himself in a fight to begin with.
Thank god for Nick Newell providing some positive action on the show, as the decision to put untested (in MMA) Tyrone Spong in the main event as a huge favorite (one book had him at -5000 though most simply had him around -2000) which seemed like it could only end in disappointment. Spong didn't knock out Deanda in the first round, or the second, or the third. He won the decision, but he got clipped several times and the promotion was left with a guy they want to be a big star who came out looking unimpressive against a guy he should have bombed.
And then, in the middle of the cage, after the post-fight interview, Spong was handed a burner cell phone from Boost Mobile the way that the UFC has handed out Harley Davidsons. Now, nobody is expecting WSOF to hand out a car or motorcycle, and I fully appreciate the realities that they're trying to make as much sponsorship money as they can...but handing your main eventer a burner cell phone and telling him about the shrinking payment plan really cemented the low-rent feel of the broadcast to that point -- done no favors by Todd Harris' ungodly "efforts" behind the mic and Bas Rutten's obsession with referee Mike Bell's last name *DING!*
While there are a handful of talented, world-class fighters in both Bellator and WSOF, it feels like the supposed potential "rivals to the UFC" are rotting. Desperate moves are being made, quality is being sacrificed and there's not a ton of reason I see to hope for the future.
* Reports from the arena said that Rogers claimed he'd signed with WSOF while the official line at the moment is that the two sides are "talking."