Earlier today, Bellator announced the much anticipated Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez rematch would take place on their upcoming November 2 PPV. Chandler vs. Alvarez II is a great fight, a sequel to the best fight in company history, and finally a return to the ring of one of the world's best Lightweights.
So why is it leaving a bad taste in my mouth?
Look, let's get this out of the way right now - I am very excited for this fight. I think it was a smart decision to make the fight, and it adds huge value to the PPV. The trouble is, it also flies in the face of one of Bellator's main talking points.
"Real sports." That's an expression you hear Bjorn Rebney use frequently when citing what makes Bellator unique. They follow a "real sports" format, meaning that their title shots come as a result of tournaments, not simply promotional value (see also, "Where title shots are earned, not given."). This is a great talking point in many ways, as it distinguishes them from the UFC. At a time when Chael Sonnen, Frankie Edgar, Nick Diaz, and Miesha Tate have all walked from a loss right into a title shot, this is potentially a key selling point for the Bellator brand.
Unfortnately, it's also become a hinderance, as Bellator's reliance on the real sports format has painted them into a corner. In real sports, sometimes the most marketable team/athlete doesn't win. Sometimes King Mo loses unexpectedly. In the past year, Bellator has made small changes to their format to accomodate this, first adding an optional rematch clause to title shots, then adding a 4 man tournament format. But in setting up Chandler vs. Alvarez II, they made their biggest, and most cumbersome change to date, setting up a new system where points are awarded and used to determine a new title challenger in the event that there is no current challenger due to injury. Here's their explanation of how it works from the press release:
Step #1: Bellator will refer to the most recent completed tournament (in the instance of a 4-man tournament being the most recent tournament, we would expand this to be the most recent two tournaments), and tabulate tournament points based on the following criteria with fighters that are still under contract with Bellator:
- For every decision victory, fighter will record one (1) point
- For every KO/TKO/submission win in the third round, fighter will record two (2) points
- For every KO/TKO/submission win in the second round, fighter will record three (3) points
- For every KO/TKO/submission in the first round, fighter will record four (4) points
- From the above list, the top three (3) point earners in the applicable weight class in which a replacement title challenger must be determined will be chosen. Bellator MMA executives may also include a fourth (4th) fighter on the ballot as well. This list of four will comprise the list of available fighters for the title shot.
Once the list has been established, three (3) different groups, each holding 33% voting power, will vote on who rightfully deserves a shot at the Bellator World Title:
1) Current Bellator MMA World Champions (including the Champion in the division under consideration)
2) Current Bellator MMA Tournament winners
3) Bellator Executives including CEO Bjorn Rebney, President Tim Danaher & the top two executives on Bellator's Talent Development Team including Sam Caplan and Zach Light.
After the voting results are in, a final challenger will be determined and revealed. The chosen fighter will replace the injured tournament winner and receive a world title shot.
In theory, this sounds like it maintains the real sports philosophy, a philosophy that Rebney cites in this very release (emphasis mine):
[I]t's critical to have a system in place that ensures our Champions defend their titles as frequently as possible. If we just picked who fights who, this would be a simple process. If a title challenger gets injured we could just give the fight to whoever else we thought would sell Pay-Per-View's or generate ratings. But, because we're a real sports format, we don't do that.
And yet, that's exactly what just happened. They did just pick Eddie Alvarez, the fighter they thought would see the most PPVs, and the new structure allows them to do just that. Let's look at how we got here:
Chandler just defeated David Rickels, and he did so decisively, meaning no Rickels rematch is needed. The other winner currently waiting for his shot is Dave Jansen, but Jansen is injured, so Chandler has no opponent. Rather than have him wait it out and miss the PPV, they used this new format. Presumably, Alvarez was the "4th fighter" named by Bellator Executives, and he then won the subsequent vote. It makes sense, and is a logical move, but again, I ask, how is that not simply giving the fight to whoever they want?
Making matters worse is the pointlessness of this entire system. Again, let's look at the current situation at Lightweight.
As the release states, when no challenger is available, they turn to the last tournament (in this case, that's the spring tournament won by Rickels). It's an 8 man tournament. Four of those men were eliminated in the quarterfinals, so earn 0 points. Rickels already had his shot and won't be receiving another shot, so he is out. That only leaves 3 men - Saad Awad, Will Brooks, and Tiger Sarnavskiy. Those are the only men (other than Rickels) who earned points, and since the top 3 point earners move on to consideration, these 3 are in. Essentially, the entire point system has no value whatsoever - whoever wins in the quarterfinals is up for consideration regardless based on pure numbers of fighters.
What you end up with then is a flawed system designed to maintain this idea of the "real sports" brand while still allowing Bellator to make the fights they want. And it's that conflict between real sports and matchmaking that has become a real issue for Bellator.
With the increased exposure on Spike, the company simply needs to be drawing in bigger ratings. And while they have put on consistently entertaining shows on Spike featuring some of the best fighters in the world, those shows have not drawn the kind of ratings that would be ideal. To combat that, they are turning to the very things that have in the past distinguished themselves from the UFC and that they have said they won't do - handing out title shots, signing fighters immediately released from Zuffa, using favorable matchmaking to set up the desired fights. All of these are smart business moves, but they fly in the face of the "real sports" mantra.
This is a clutch time for Bellator. The company is on Spike, they're heading into their first PPV, and they're in a position to make a major name for themselves. But in doing so, they're also being forced to compromise on what has long made them unique. It's an unenviable position to be in. As a fan of MMA, I hope they can walk that path and find a way to stay true to themselves while still bringing in fans. Because I don't want to see their name on the Dana White tombstone. And right now, I'm a bit nervous that Dana is shining that tombstone up.
More from Bloody Elbow:
- Report: Lyoto Machida vs. Vitor Belfort in the works for November
- More details on Eddie Alvarez and Bellator PPV
- Eddie Alvarez to rematch Michael Chandler on Bellator PPV
- Daily MMA 8/12: Ronda Rousey's Maxim photoshoot and more
- Details on the Jason Mayhem Miller arrest