Bellator MMA: Why Bellator's First Pay-Per-View Seems Destined to Fail

James MacDonaldFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2013

Jun 19, 2013; Thackerville, OK, USA; Bellator chief executive officer Bjorn Rebney (left) laughs with Spike TV executive Jon Slusser (left) during BFC 96 at the WinStar World Casino. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The recent announcement of Bellator’s first pay-per-view event, featuring a main event between Quinton “Rampage" Jackson and Tito Ortiz on November 2, has generated plenty of debate over the past week or so.

While some might argue that there is no such thing as bad publicity, the MMA media’s reaction to the California-based promotion’s first foray into the pay-per-view realm would appear to challenge such popular wisdom.

Indeed, optimism seems to be in short supply for Bellator, with much of the MMA community anticipating abject failure.

But how is success or failure actually being defined in this context?

The consensus appears to be that anything over 100,000 pay-per-view buys would be considered a decent first effort by Bjorn Rebney and Co. By comparison, UFC 162 was estimated to have 550,000 PPV buys, according to mmafighting. The last UFC PPV that did not feature a championship match did an estimated 150,000 buys.

Unfortunately, as modest as that number might first appear, the chances of Bellator breaching that threshold are pretty slim, even with the recent addition of Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez.

Unless a time machine comes as part of the pay-per-view package, why should anyone care about Rampage Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz?

Not since Roddy Piper faced Hulk Hogan at Halloween Havoc ’97 has the phrase “Age in the Cage” been such an apt description of a main event.

Even Rebney hasn’t attempted to manufacture relevance.

In fairness, how could he? We’re talking about an organisation that prides itself on fighters establishing competitive relevance through the tournament format, yet a glorified exhibition has been given top billing.

Fans want stakes. It’s the reason why interim titles are created, why the UFC slaps on a No. 1 contender stipulation to otherwise meaningless bouts, why storylines are fabricated, etc.

We want consequences—even manufactured ones. We are generally willing to suspend disbelief if you just give us a reason to. The mere illusion of something being at stake is often sufficient to draw in viewers.

Admittedly, the addition of a lightweight title bout between Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez to the pay-per-view is a good move by Bellator, even if the “championship rematch clause” is a nauseatingly contrived promotional tool.

The first bout between the pair, in late 2011, was arguably one of the best the sport has ever seen. The hardcore fans will doubtless remember it and won’t hesitate to lay down some coin to see the sequel.

The problem is that neither Chandler nor Alvarez has any real pull with the casual fan. In fact, the latter is essentially a stranger to the Spike TV audience, having only just resolved a contract dispute with his employer.

Chandler vs. Alvarez is the biggest fight in the history of the organisation. Moreover, it is the biggest fight Bellator could conceivably book.

What message is being sent to the fans when the biggest fight in your organisation’s history is but an appetiser for an exhibition between two faded stars who can’t buy a win between them?

Try and wrap your head around that logic.

The good news for Bellator is that the event will receive plenty of coverage from the MMA media. If anything is going to carry the pay-per-view over the—admittedly arbitrary—threshold of 100,000 buys, it is sheer curiosity.

The bad news is that there is competition aplenty in October and November. Competing with Bellator for the combat sports fan’s dollar is Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios, Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3 and UFC 167.

And with Bellator settling on a price point of $35-45—depending on the distributor—for an event that, to be blunt, simply isn’t worth that kind of money, it’s hard to imagine the casual fan being intrigued enough to shell out.

There’s still time to sell this card to the masses, but Bellator has already put itself at a disadvantage. Unless something changes, every Dana White media scrum in November will likely turn into a Viacom/Spike TV roast.