I feel the need to preface my opinions with a statement: I like Bellator quite a bit and think that they're a good thing for MMA.
Several weeks ago, I covered Bellator 39 for another site and thought the production was great, the environment was lively and I walked away with a very positive feeling about the future of the promotion in general. But that doesn't mean they're incapable of making mistakes which brings us to Saturday's Bellator 41, an event that left me shaking my head for several reasons.
The best description I read was from our own Leland Roling: "This looks like a county fair event." The outdoor setup at the Cocopah Resort and Casino in Yuma, AZ, looked like, at best, an afterthought and at worst, amateurish. Maybe it was the sparse crowd amplified by the green grass or the maze configuration of the barricades, but the Kansas City Power & Light District this wasn't.
Putting on events for a small organization is tough enough, but putting them outdoors adds a level of unnecessary complication. Their main push is on TV and that means they need to look great with every touchpoint they have. Saturday was not one of those nights.
At the start of the televised card, it was 99 degrees with a still-present sun that caused shadows in the cage and was so bright that referee Jason Herzog had to shade his eyes for the Daniel Straus/Kenny Foster opener.
The logic of fighting in that heat with a black mat and black cage escapes me and apparently escaped the Arizona Boxing Commission as well. The logic of starting the event at a time when the sun would visually cause an issue escapes me. Outdoor shows need to be scouted out more effectively in the future and avoided if they're in these types of conditions.
For the Commission, was heat not a concern? This wasn't their best night (the Zach Makovsky tape on gloves issue as he stood cageside, scoring in the main event) so perhaps that was to be expected. Fighter safety should come first and I'm not convinced they did all they could Saturday.
When the champ is treated like a chump
Full disclosure: Going into Saturday, I wouldn't have been able to pick the Bellator Bantamweight Champion out of a lineup and my guess is that I'm not alone. Saturday marked his first tilt since winning the title last October but in a non-title 'superfight' against equally unknown Chad Robichaux.
On a four-fight card with two champions competing, you'd assume both champs would be at the top of the docket. Not here. Makovsky/Robichaux was second up on the night, playing second fiddle to the 2nd featherweight tournament semifinal. Makovsky's presence was treated as that of another fighter, not one of the organization's titleholders. He didn't even get a post-fight interview to talk up his first defense of the title (when is that again?).
My rule of thumb: your champs should be treated as such. Makovsky should have been in the co-main event spot and provided an opportunity to sell the belt a bit. Help me and everyone else watching get to know this guy and respect what he's done. Those lineups can be scary sometimes.
The term 'superfight'
When I think of 'superfight', I think of Georges St. Pierre vs. BJ Penn II, a pairing of two champions at the top of their games that everyone wanted to see. I don't think of Makovsky/Robichaux or even Joe Warren/Marcos Galvao.
I get that Bellator wants to brand these non-title fights as something bigger and they were able to get away with it for Eddie Alvarez/Roger Huerta because of the name value. But I'd advise to simply call them non-title fights unless they are able to secure some name-level talent that people will recognize. Underpromise and overdeliver.
And then, there was that decision in the Warren/Galvao fight which kept that championship illusion strong as balsa wood, bringing up the discussion of whether non-title fights are good things to begin with.
This season, Bellator has been on a nice upswing but they're still prone to some errors along the way. Saturday night just happened to be filled with them.
Photo via Bellator Fighting Championships.