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Post-fight patterns - Bellator Dynamite: When squash matches go wrong

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Does Tito deserve a bit more respect? Was that Daley fight really all that bad? Booking layups seems like an easy way to make for entertaining MMA events... but it can go wrong, and not in the ways that fights normally do.

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In an insanely late edition of PFP, what patterns were present in the good-but-not-great Bellator: Dynamite show?

The main difference between Scott Coker's and Bjorn Rebney's Bellator is that the more recent incarnation prioritizes fun over competitive relevance. As has been pointed out on many occasions, this isn't a bad idea- there's no room for two UFC's in the MMA landscape, and Bellator has to occupy another niche in order to differentiate itself. The "fun" niche.

The simplest way to ensure a fun fight for an audience is to book a mismatch. Coker knows the value of these, and they provide a slightly different flavor to the constant stream of appropriately put-together contests which make up the bulk of the UFC's offerings. If the underdog pulls the upset, you have a compelling story. If they don't then at least it's probably going to be over quickly and violently. These fights become the equivalent of candy, like quick pops of near-guaranteed violence to keep the viewing public awake and happy over the course of an event.

Regarding fun potential, Dynamite had a one night tournament, which is an entertaining novelty, but said tournament also consisted of fighters who don't normally set the world afire. Mo, Newton, Davis, Vassell and Carmont aren't guaranteed thrills. So, squash matches to balance the potential boring fights out.

The Keri-Anne Melendez matchup was probably a largely riskless swing in the dark from Coker: the Melendez and Skrap Pack associations and San Diego have been good to him, as has women's fighting (he was responsible for bringing Ronda, Cyborg, Tate and Carano to TV, after all), so why not take a shot and set Melendez up with a (very) winnable opponent?

Similarly, Paul Daley vs Gonzalez was a fairly transparent attempt to guarantee a KO for the Brit. Gonzales is a tricky vet, and Daley has struggled when he's taken steps up in competition for years now, all the way back to Yakovlev and Misaki. Putting the fight solely in the kickboxing phase tilted the odds further in his favor.

The problem with squash matches occurs and occurred when they aren't over quickly, when the underdog does well enough to make the fight competitive but loses anyway. Hadley Griffith looked a bit less wooden than she had prior; Paul Daley actually fought with a more diverse, kick-centric approach than his usual fiending for the left hook, and Gonzalez showed that when Daley actually threw the hook that he'd trained to avoid it. Literally no-one cares because the fights were expected to be fun and weren't.

Boring, staid old relevance is something which can't be stripped away like this. Davis-Bader or Arlovski-Mir were dull, but they were at least relevant. Afterwards, you have an idea of where the fighters were going, and what their career trajectories were.

Mr Wonderful reborn

Not all was lost: the mismatches didn't go so well, then at least the boring fights weren't all that boring. Phil Davis tore through the LHW tournament with a kimura of Newton and a shocking leaping left hook KO of Francis Carmont.

This reminded us of two things:

  • Phil Davis is an incredibly fun grappler to watch as long as he's taking on opposition that allows him to grapple. He still radiates discomfort on the feet, but as soon as he grabs that rear waist lock you can see him visibly relax, and he blends together wrestling positions with power submissions like few others can.
  • Davis's dominance doesn't speak well for Bellator's LHW division as a whole. An upper echelon 205er who nonetheless hit pronounced barriers in the UFC, he steamrolled the former champion and has exactly the kind of skillset to give the current champion fits.

What about that champion's fight?

Tito vs Fedor

I'm not sure whether Ortiz-McGeary was a squash match or not. I certainly didn't see much of a way in which Tito could survive 25 minutes with a much younger, fitter and larger fighter and I thought it was largely a way for McGeary to get some shine from the former UFC champ.

If Tito still holds onto anything from his prime it's good wrestling and a top game honed through years of people throwing up submissions from guard, and he spent much of the round grinding McGeary up against the cage from top position. Ortiz yanked out of one tight-looking armbar with an audible yell, and then fell into an inverted triangle and tapped out. Afterwards, fighting back tears, he gave a typically long, rambling Tito speech.

I felt bad for him. Where some fighters inspire reverential eulogies for lost careers from pretentious writers, or fans desperately begging for them to retire, Tito largely seems to inspire mockery. I'm not saying he isn't funny, just that the way that the derision seemingly swamps most good feelings is a bit sad; likability still overwhelms most other considerations.

  • Tito always complained about injuries and decisions a lot after he fought. On the other hand, he almost always showed up to fights that he was booked for. He still holds the record for the most UFC bouts (27).
  • Tito complained about not getting paid and had an adversarial relationship with his bosses, yet we see more and more often that the UFC isn't and never has been the fighter's friend.

It's easy to characterize Tito as a whiner, as someone who has taken the easy way out. Fedor Emilianenko, by comparison, can ride his stoic warrior's image straight to the bank in Japan, while Ortiz can beg to fight champions instead of taking another easy Shamrock fight, and still be thought of as an excuse-making phony. This isn't to say that these are good or bad things to do (Fedor is still the best heavyweight of all time and is more than entitled to go make money; Ortiz probably shouldn't be fighting upper level competition at this stage in his career), just to reiterate the extent to which our initial perceptions color how we view actions.

Fedor himself will no doubt make a comfortable living taking those fights in Japan, fights which will most likely function as quick pops of near-guaranteed violence to keep the viewing public awake, etc and so forth.