In a mixed martial arts landscape dominated by the UFC, Bellator has made inroads with an alternate approach — mixing just a couple of UFC alumni with some younger or lesser-known fighters in tournaments broadcast for free, now on former UFC channel Spike.
So it’s a little strange to see their big announcement yesterday of a pay-per-view event featuring two fighters waaaay past their primes.
Tito Ortiz was a star of the early UFC. Great. Now let’s check out his last 10 years:
– Convincing losses against the other two light heavyweight stars of the 2000s, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell.
– A five-fight win streak that included two split decisions and two wins against the aging Ken Shamrock.
– Since then, he’s 1-7-1.
Then we have Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, whom you might remember from the time he “motorboated” a female interviewer. He had a good run when he moved into the UFC in 2007, beating Liddell and Dan Henderson before giving up the light heavyweight belt to Forrest Griffin. Then he knocked out Wanderlei Silva in 2008 to avenge a couple of spectacular losses in Japan.
Since then, Jackson offered little in his grudge match with Rashad Evans, got a dubious decision against Lyoto Machida, beat the faded Matt Hamill, and lost his last three.
So in honor of this matchup, let’s consider a few other pay-per-view possibilities:
– Men’s basketball: Duke-UConn 1999. The rematch. (Hey, at least 3-4 of those players are still in the NBA.)
– Golf: Lee Trevino vs. Jack Nicklaus in a long-driving contest.
– Boxing: Evander Holyfield vs. anybody.
– Tennis: Anna Kournikova vs. Jennifer Capriati.
– Men’s basketball: Duke-Kentucky 1992. The rematch.
– Cycling: Lance Armstrong vs. the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Now here’s the sad part: I bet Rampage vs. Tito actually does pretty well.
Sure, some of the others might draw some attention for the novelty factor. But people won’t turn away from the actual NCAA Tournament to sit in rapt attention as retired basketball players get back on the court. A thrilling finish at The Masters will still outdraw a fun afternoon with Trevino and Nicklaus, who would be more likely to entertain the crowd with a few stories and jokes — something Rampage and Tito won’t really have time to do.
But MMA fans, especially the “casual” crowd, may still react more to the old favorites than the younger, more advanced fighters who have come up behind them. The UFC’s numbers aren’t what they used to be.
The UFC has four pay-per-view events scheduled this fall. The main events:
– UFC 165: Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafson.
– UFC 166: Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez vs. former champion Junior dos Santos, the third match of a trilogy.
– UFC 167: Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks. (Yes, “Johny.” The other n is hidden in his beard.)
– UFC 168: New middleweight champion Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva, a rematch of Weidman’s stunning upset July 6.
St. Pierre and Silva are two of the best fighters ever, and Jones is in that conversation as well. Velasquez and dos Santos smashed aside the old guard in the heavyweight division. The UFC cards also will be far deeper than what Bellator has to offer — interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao, fast-rising heavyweight Daniel Cormier and former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt are among the undercard fighters already announced.
So the UFC cards should do far better than what Bellator is offering. Will they? We’ll see.