Randy Couture vs. Mirko Cro Cop. In 2007, this was the fight fans were salivating for. The UFC Heavyweight champion Couture vs. the Pride Grand Prix champion Cro Cop. Mirko had just signed with the UFC, and a clash with the champion seemed inevitable. Enter Gabriel Gonzaga. In a #1 contenders fight clearly designed to set up Couture vs. Cro Cop, Gonzaga pulled off the upset, knocking the Pride fighter out cold. The result: the potentially huge Couture vs. Cro Cop fight was replaced by the decidedly average Couture vs. Gonzaga fight. The UFC learned a valuable lesson that day - MMA is not professional wrestling, and you can't control the outcomes. If you want to make a match, make the match.
This Friday night, Bellator returns for the start of season 10. And much like the UFC did with Cro Cop vs. Gonzaga, Bellator is playing with fire with Friday night's match-making.
The highlight of Bellator 110 is the opening round of the four man Light Heavyweight tournament, which features arguably the company's two biggest "name" fighters - Quinton Rampage Jackson and King Mo Lawal. But Friday night is not Rampage vs. Mo; it's Rampage vs. Christian M'Pumbu and Mo vs. Mikhail Zayats. If both men win, they move on to the tournament finals. But in this case, that's a massive "if." Neither M'Pumbu not Zayats are gimme fights, and both have the ability to play spoiler, ruining the Rampage vs. Mo fight.
For Bellator, this is a serious gamble. To many fans, Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler III is THE must-see fight of 2014 and an incredibly exciting fight that deserves a wide PPV audience, but it's main appeal is for the hardcore MMA fan only. Douglas Lima vs. Rick Hawn is again a fight to eagerly anticipate, but primarily if you are an avid Bellator viewer.
Rampage vs. Mo is different. That's the kind of fight that might get a casual fan to tune in. The kind of fight that could add some significant strength to the rumored Bellator PPV this spring - a PPV that Bellator badly needs to succeed after the implosion of the Rampage vs. Tito Ortiz PPV. That PPV cancellation showed that, at least in Bellator's eyes, they need a casual fan friendly marquee fight to stage a PPV. Rampage vs. Mo fits the bill. Rampage vs. Zayats? Not so much.
And that's the real problem here - the size of Bellator's gamble. If things go well - if both Rampage and Mo win in destructive fashion and then square off for some verbal sparring - a PPV showdown becomes that much more appealing. But if one of them loses, the PPV match is gone, and Bellator has nothing to replace it with. When Cro Cop went down to Gonzaga, it was definitely a loss for the UFC as it cost them buys on a PPV and therefore revenue. But in the grand scheme of things, it was not that significant - the UFC marched on, hardly the worse for wear. Bellator is in a very different position. A dud of a PPV, or a second failed attempt to break into that market could have serious long-ranging implications for the future of the company - it's not hyperbole to say that a Mo or Rampage loss Friday night could single-handedly end the company's PPV plans.
So Friday night, as you watch Mo and Rampage step into the ring, keep a close eye out for Bjorn Rebney. Dana White may be the one with the reputation for gambling, but Rebney is the man who has bet his company on a pair of wins here. We'll see how advisable a bet that was soon.