If there ever was a glaring example of why Bellator needs to move off Saturday nights, October 29, 2011, is it.
With the eyes of the MMA world focused on UFC 137 and a welterweight contender battle between BJ Penn and Nick Diaz, another 170-pound fight is flying so far under the radar that this might be the first time you've heard about it or have been reminded of it.
In the main event of Bellator 56, undefeated champion Ben Askren will defend against veteran Jay Hieron -- a fight that is interesting from several angles:
- This will be Askren's first defense of his title since winning it one year ago. He looked stellar in a non-title victory over Nick Thompson in April, but where is the 8-0 Askren at in his career as he enters his prime?
- Hieron (22-4) has been working for an opportunity like this for years. A pro since 2003, he's fought for titles before and has won them but the last name value gold he took home was the IFL title in 2007. People are aware of his issues with Strikeforce and now he's got the opportunity he wanted. Can he cash in?
- Both men have great wrestling backgrounds, but in these cases, that usually means a stand-up battle. However, neither man is known for KO power. What type of fight are we going to get?
- With a win, where does Askren fit in the conversation of the top 170-pounders in the world? With a loss, where does that put Hieron? What would be better for the promotion?
But even with all those talking points, the buzz all week has focused around Penn vs. Diaz, making the placement of tonight's fight a disservice to Askren and Hieron. It's rare when a reigning Bellator champion actually defends their gold (April's Eddie Alvarez/Pat Curran fight was the last time) and unfortunately, this defense is getting overlooked from fans and media alike.
Bellator is a smart organization and Bjorn Rebney has stayed the course with their unique format. The announcement of Viacom purchasing a majority interest in Bellator shows there's something there from a leadership and content standpoint that was more attractive than anything else available on the market.
But they need to be better in situations like this. Trying to make stars is hard enough. Trying to make them when you're up against a UFC pay-per-view with two dynamic personalities like Penn and Diaz is damn near impossible.
Askren (169.6) and Hieron (169.8) both made weight Friday, as did fellow main card fighters Ron Sparks (264.4), Eric Prindle (264.2), Thiago Santos (264.6) and Neil Grove (264.6).
The action kicks off at 9 PM EST and Bloody Elbow will have full coverage of Bellator 55 tonight with post-fight analysis and feedback through the weekend.