I wrote a column when the year started titled “Nine reasons to be excited about MMA in 2009.” One of the things I was excited about was the return of tournament formats. I’m happy to say I was right but I don’t need to say it to make you believe me – I could just post Bellator Fighting Championship clips, namely, Toby Imada’s “backpack of doom” as my Sherdog.com colleague Jake Rossen describes it over Jorge Masvidal in the lightweight tournament semi-finals and Yahir Reyes‘ spinning back fist knockout on Estevan Payan.
Imada’s win is the best kind – an upset and a major addition to the highlight reel. A veteran of over a decade, he’s always come up short against would-be top talents. He entered the tournament as an after thought to an expected Eddie Alvarez-Masvidal final. Instead, he’ll meet Alvarez, Sherdog.com’s no. 3 lightweight in the world.
Reyes, too, is enjoying newfound notoriety as is his finals opponent Joe Soto, who defeated Wilson Reis in an upset. In fact, the only tournament favorites left are Alvarez, Lyman Good, and Hector Lombard. That’s the beauty of the tournament: it makes stars.
Bellator’s format of crowning champions through the tournament then crowning the number one contender through the same rigorous schedule the champion had to go through is a non-stop great story line. A tournament is an emotional roller coaster for fans as much as it is for fighters. It’s why the UFC’s first stars and Pride fighters are remembered fondly.
The week-to-week format is hard to keep up with and can be difficult when building fights, but it provides consistency and is doing well on ESPN Deportes for a reason. If it moves to ESPN2 with an English broadcast as rumors have suggested, expect a boom.
Bellator is developing their identity by sticking to their own set of core values rather than reacting to the UFC. They made a great move as an organization by refusing to give in to Quebec’s combat sports governing body, who had a problem with their circular cage. Matchmaker Matt Stansell refused to budge. Rightfully so, the type of fight area defines an MMA organization–Octagon for UFC, white ring for Pride. Identity is major problem for fledgling MMA promotions, so Stansell and company did right by refusing to sacrifice their visual recognition with fans.
With Japanese MMA organizations picking next round match-ups on the fly, Bellator’s bracket style is welcome. Sengoku is in the midst of an excellent featherweight tournament that is sport fighting at its best. Dream’s “Super Hulk” tournament seems poised to ruin tournaments for everyone everywhere, but as I said before, call me crazy, I think its an excuse to draw in viewers, who will eventually see top-10 fighters Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Gegard Mousasi in the finals on the way to becoming Japanese mega-stars. Even if it turns into a sideshow like many expect, there will still be Bellator–and that’s saying something considering how fast so-called major promotions come and go.