In the late 1990's, when I was a wee lad (or, as the woman I love would so hilariously tell you, back when I was already an elderly man), I used to gather around the television on Monday nights.
I am sure you already know where I am going with this. The late 1990's were the prime years of what would eventually become known as the Monday Night Wars. The World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling had competing shows on different cable networks, and each took place on Monday nights. For several years, before WCW's incompetence caught up with them, the rival wrestling promotions looked to top each other in a weekly game of "let's see who can capture the most viewers and then keep them by doing crazy, unexpected things."
The WWF (now WWE) and WCW pushed each other to new heights and, in some cases, new lows. And it worked. The Monday Night Wars are remembered fondly by professional wrestling fans. They are immortalized in a new weekly show on the WWE Network.
And they are constantly referred to when discussing moments such as the one this Friday, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator go head-to-head.
The rivalry between the UFC and Bellator is much different than even just a few months ago. Bjorn Rebney, the psuedo-Wicked Witch of the West who picked a fight with Dana White (and lost) is now gone. In his place is the White-approved Scott Coker, the former Strikeforce promoter who sold his company to the UFC, took a couple of years off and then returned as the head of the UFC's only competition in North America.
But still, even if we are grasping at straws, this Friday night event feels like something worth keeping an eye on. For starters, they're taking place approximately 15 minutes apart, or seven minutes as the crow flies across the Thames River. Uncasville and Ledyard are Connecticut neighbors, which means that, given the starting time of each respective show, one could attend Bellator, hop in the car and make it over to Ledyard in time to see Gegard Mousasi and Jacare Souza do their thing in the Octagon.
But few will undertake the previous scenario. It's going to be one or the other. You're either going to Bellator, or you are going to the UFC, and so a choice must be made. It is a choice forced by the UFC, who booked their event after Bellator announced theirs and, in the process, showed that perhaps all is not peachy keen between the two promotions. There is still a war to be won, after all, and the UFC doesn't plan on backing down. They're trying to capture hearts and minds, too, but mostly they are trying to capture dollars. And what better way to capture dollars than by directly taking dollars away from your competitor?
The UFC is loaded for bear. To say that UFC Fight Night 50 is better (on paper) than last week's UFC 177 card is to state the obvious. There is Mousasi vs. Jacare, a sublime matchup of two middleweight contenders. There is the hulking and popular Alistair Overeem, who will attempt to take all he has learned from his new mentor Greg Jackson and then use all he has learned to crush the face of Ben Rothwell. Another heavyweight clash between Derrick Lewis and Matt Mitrione is almost guaranteed to end in violence, though you never want to "guarantee" such things because "guaranteeing" such things almost always works out the opposite of the way you want it to.
The rest of the UFC card is great, too. But Bellator is presenting an equally intriguing card, at least by Bellator standards. I'd never turn down an opportunity to watch Pat Curran and Patricio Pitbull practice mixed martial arts on each other. Mo Lawal is on the card. Cheick Kongo is fighting Lavar Johnson, which means someone is probably going to get knocked out (or kneed in the nether regions). And Bobby Lashley, the heavyweight champion of TNA (the worst wrestling promotion in history), will make his return to big-stage mixed martial arts.
The overall quality of the UFC card is better. But much like the WWF vs. WCW war in the 1990s, there is just something about Bellator's offering that you can't turn away from. I'm not saying it's like a car crash, but I am saying it is a little like a car crash. It's spectacle, and it is free and it is on television. Why wouldn't I watch?
The good news, for those who like good news: You can watch both. You don't have to make the same decision as your Connecticut brethren. You can record one while watching the other. You can set up two televisions, side by side. You don't have to do as I did in the '90s and try to track down VHS copies of Nitro or Raw from your friends.
Technology is a wonderful thing, especially when it allows us to watch a lot of fighting.
And a lot of fighting is exactly what we're going to get on Friday night. I do not know if this will be a regular thing. Part of me hopes it will, because competition is good. Competition makes both parties stronger. And two strong mixed martial arts promotions in North America? That's better than just having one.
But for now, let's enjoy what we have. Friday night is fight night, and it is going to be awesome.