Every four years a hundred million Americans (give or take a few thousand) and a couple of billion people around the world hunker down for a few weeks to watch athletes they have never heard of compete in sports that they barely know the rules to… it’s called the Olympics. There are two basic reasons why this phenomenon occurs; the fan is connected in some way (nationality) to a very small percent of the athletes, and the tournament format that the Olympic events frequently follow can be captivating. When a fan tunes in to watch an Olympic event or two, he tends to get caught up in the tournament format of many of the Olympic events, and he is now hooked. He, the sports fan, begins to learn the names and countries that he can’t find on the map and the names of athletes that he can barely pronounce; he cannot wait to get to the water cooler tomorrow morning and say something like “Hey Wally, did you see how fast that Latvian Two-Man Luge was in the opening round?!”
That’s why I like the Bellator Tournament Season so much…
Tournaments are better! Period! Tournaments are better because anything can happen and, in MMA, anyone can beat someone on a given night. Even the best fighter in the world is beatable by someone, and when only one fighter moves on to the next round, real fans don’t want to miss a single fight! That’s why casual fans really don’t care what happens during the “regular season”, but everybody gets up for the post season. Bellator Tournaments are post season sports drama for the MMA fan.
As a New Englander and a fan of the Northeast MMA game, I very rarely miss attending a Bellator card that comes to our region. First off, a Bellator Undercard features some of the best fighters from our region, but they are fighting for a world wide promotion, which tends to open up opportunities for local fighters. Secondly, the Bellator Main Cards always feature some of the best MMA fighters in the world as well as a portion of one or more of the tournaments that we are watching unfold on TV. Third, we often get to see a Bellator World Title fight go down right in our own playground. A New England MMA fan can see all this for around 30 bucks, which is about what you will pay for your parking at a meaningless Red Sox game in August; and I like the Red Sox.
Many New York MMA fighters have cut their teeth here in New England, since pro MMA is not yet legal in the Empire State , and so I tend to have a certain appreciation for all these Northeast fighters. These New England based fighters have brought great pride and excitement to the Bellator Tournaments, and we, the MMA fans of the Northeast, have had the pleasure of enjoying their successes. Knowing that the Bellator Tournament winner gets a shot at the World Title really adds to the drama… Last year we saw Brennan Ward (Connecticut) and Perry Filkins (NH) win their opening rounds of the Middleweight Tournament; Ward would go on to win that Middleweight Tournament. We also saw Rick Hawn (Mass) steal away with the Welterweight Tournament and his 100 grand pay day for his efforts. Dez Green (NY) lost in his opening round of the Featherweight Tournament while his Bombsquad teammate Anthony Leone went to the finals before losing at Bantamweight. A year and a half ago, we saw transplanted Dagestan Featherweight Sha Shamhalaev (Bombsquad) win the Bellator Featherweight Tournament before losing to Pat Curran for the World Title last April. We also saw Rick Hawn win the Lightweight Tournament that same year before taking a loss to Michael Chandler for the Bellator Title.
According to Sports Media Watch, Americans watch “The Road to the Final Four”, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, at a rate nearly four times that of the NBA Playoffs. And the opening rounds of the college tournament are watched sometimes at a rate ten times that of the early rounds of the NBA Playoffs. We all know the NBA players are much better than the college players, so why do American sports fans enjoy the college format so much better?
The college tournament format starts with 64 teams, so every corner of the country is initially represented, which grabs a larger audience than the NBA Playoffs. The college tournament is a one-loss-and-you’re-done format, so it is primed for a couple of Cinderella teams to make their mark, while the NBA Playoff system uses a best-of-seven format, so no one game is ever as critical, and the best team generally wins out; Cinderella stories just don’t emerge. Also, at the start of the NCAA Tournament, most of the participants are virtually unknown outside their conference, and some of them will rise to national prominence in five short weeks, while the NBA Playoffs just doesn’t feature that same level of excitement.
Just sixteen months ago, Connecticut Middleweight Brennan Ward, fighting out of Tri-Force MMA, was still fighting on the local scene in Rhode Island . The former All-American wrestler was not known outside New England in the MMA world, but he won a couple of lower level fights on the Bellator Undercards, so he was put into the Bellator Middleweight Tournament last fall. In just eight weeks time, Ward won all three tournament fights, including the finals. The $100,000 pay check he hauled in is likely more than his Tri-Force teammates’ winnings combined for the calendar year 2013! And now Brennan Ward is in line to fight for the Bellator Middleweight Title against Alexander Schlemenko in March. Brennan Ward went from local fighter to World Title challenger in eight weeks! That’s the essence of why MMA fans like the Bellator Tournaments.
Bellator Tournaments also have the potential to pay a fighter more money than he had ever thought possible. A Bellator Tournament berth to a local fighter means that instead of fighting for a few thousand dollars two or three times per year he is fighting for a shot at $100,000 in eight weeks. That, itself, can be life altering for a 25 year old athlete. Then there are the sponsorship opportunities and additional paydays that come along with vying for a World Title. If a fighter performs well in the Bellator Tournament but loses in an early round, he will likely be entered into the next season’s tournament and the game starts all over. More fights and more tournaments mean more money and a better lifestyle! Ask anyone!
In the last few years we have seen many Northeast regional fighters enter these Bellator Tournaments. This Friday night at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut the Bellator Tournament season kicks off with the opening round of the Featherweight Tournament and the semi-final round of the Light Heavyweight Tournament at Bellator 110. Connecticut native Matt Bessette (Underdog BJJ) and Dez Green (Bombsquad) are set to go (not against one another) in the opening round of the Featherweight Tournament. Many of the region’s unknown prospects are featured on the Undercard, but I think the Bellator folks are watching Heavyweight Josh Diekmann (Tri-Force) for a possible HW Tournament berth down the road.
Three of the Northeast region’s best are fighting for Bellator World Titles in the coming weeks as well. In addition to Brennan Ward ( Conn ) facing Alexander Schlemenko for the Bellator Middleweight Title at Bellator 114 on March 28th, Rick Hawn (Mass), winner of last season’s Welterweight Tournament, will face Douglas Lima on April 18th at Bellator 117 for the Bellator Welterweight Title. And the there’s Anthony Leone (NY), who will take on the current World Bantamweight Champ Eduardo Dantas at Bellator 111 on March 7th. It all starts this Friday night from Mohegan Sun in Connecticut ; I love the Bellator Tournament season…
Front-Page Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor