I guess that I am not alone thinking that Bellator's new phase has been a little underwhelming, it is not worse but at least to me it has not been significantly better when it comes to the product that I as viewer see, which is supposed to be one of the things that matters the most. But like usually happens there is more to see than just what it appears, so I would like to compare some elements that have changed since Bjorn disappeared in the woods outside Rebney manor (reference to an obscure commenter whose name I don't remember, but whose joke still makes me laugh) and the vacant throne was occupied by his successor the well-liked ruler Coker.
- Number of events: well, this is the element in which the change is most notable, the new Bellator has less events that now have a decently improved quality regarding the fighters that participate and the production values of the show. Whether a slightly better MMA is worth the diminished number of events is up to each one to decide but at least to me I prefer the previous version with more events, the prelims are still mostly an obscure limbo with local fighters, mediocre records, a lot of finishes and sloppy but fun action so the main card is the deciding factor to me which leads to the next element.
- Matchmaking: there was a time when Bellator tried to be as different as possible to the UFC, such behavior was even the motto of the promotion, that lasted until the many problems that happen when a promotion is too reliant in tournaments started to appear and they had to soften their once ironclad rules that didn't allow them to give Hieron an immediate rematch against their then champion Funkmaster Askren after a very competitive fight;this new era of matchmaking based on the whims of a person instead of the whims of the fortune started to happen before the arrival of Coker, but now with him as their new president Bellator's quest for an identity continues to be to be pretty different to the UFC but in an opposite way, if early Bellator was, at least in appearance, some kind of pure sporting meritocracy, current Bellator has embraced the spectacle side of the game as result almost all the fights are quite enjoyable at the cost of being in most cases quite predictable; poor Roger Carroll, he had few chances against Brennan Ward, but such fight produced one of the most aesthetic KO's of the year and is a good example of that kind of matchmaking. I have to say that I am pleased with this, very few fights are boring and when a surprise happens (Halsey-Carvalho) damn they are worthy of seeing.
- Favoritism: an element that is present in every promotion also happened in Bellator's good old days but it happened in a pretty different way, their initial commitment to the tournaments didn't allow them to simply push any fighter that they wanted to be a star as freely as they are able to do it right now, but it was always obvious who were those fighters that had a special place in Bjorn's heart, the decision of not doing more tournaments had to be in part due the fact that some of those fighters lost their top spot (and some never even reach it) and build them again with that system was a long and risky process, during the transition phase we saw some kinda farcical tournaments that made even more evident the necessity of getting rid of that format. I miss some things about the tournaments but those watered-down-4-man tournaments that were little more than a thinly-veiled form of favoritism are not one of those things, the current matchmaking heavily relies on favoritism,but that element is now an evident and visible core of their current product not a badly disguised characteristic that goes against what the promotion is supposed to represent.
- Bjorn Rebney and Scott Coker themselves: this is an element in which the new phase has been vastly superior to the previous one, I am not saying this because I like or dislike any of these gentlemen (I am rather neutral about them) but because it is pretty obvious that even if the product itself is not much better the image of the promotion has greatly improved, gone are the days when the Alvarez issue was giving tons of bad publicity to the promotion (bad publicity is now an area in which the UFC is also the top dog), the image of himself that Coker has spent years building has permeated the image of the promotion that he leads and his reputation has done a lot to clean the promotion's reputation; many are the fighters that have expressed their desire to fight under Bellator and some of them already made the jump that is something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
As a casual viewer I would say that this new Bellator has yet to do enough to justify the reduction in the number of events (something that we now know that is going to improve next year as more events are supposed to take place), but as a person that follows the sport I think that this new Bellator is going to grow at a healthy pace for a while, is going to improve and is going to be more and more enjoyable; how bright the future is going to be? I don't know and it is hard to predict as I am still wondering if Bellator is really doing that much better at least in terms of image or is just that is that easy to look good when the main competition seems to be constantly committed in making public relations blunders, if this new good name that Bellator has acquired is mostly due the low point that the UFC has reached lately in that area then I would have to say that the results of Coker's gestion are still positive but more discreet than what it could appear right now.