Saturday night’s Bellator Dynamite card was supposed to feature the best of both worlds, bringing mixed martial arts and kickboxing together under the same roof.
Instead, as it served as a reminder that, at least over here in North America, there’s a reason combat sports rarely mix on the same event.
Some MMA fans are also boxing fans. Some boxing fans are also kickboxing fans. Some kickboxing fans are also amateur wrestling fans. Some amateur wrestling fans are also jiu-jitsu superfight fans.
But this isn’t the Japanese combat sports scene in 2002. In the United States in 2015, there simply isn’t enough of a crossover audience to sustain multi-combat-sport events on a major scale like the one Bellator and Glory kickboxing attempted in San Jose.
The main card at SAP Center got off to a solid start with the light heavyweight tournament semifinals. Then the kickboxing bouts came, and the show nearly dragged to a halt, as the crowd, by and large the old loyal, NorCal crowd which used to turn out in droves for Strikeforce, seemed disinterested, and the mood on Twitter turned against the show.
Part of that was due to the matchmaking, as two of the three fights didn’t feature Glory regulars. This was Glory’s big chance in front of a new audience. Whether it was Spike, Glory or Bellator who decided to feature something other than top-tier, full-time kickboxers, it simply wasn’t the right call.
That said, even assuming we got nothing but Glory’s best, if there was a market for more than one combat sport on the same event, wouldn’t someone else have started regularly promoting such shows by now? If there was real money to be made, the A-list promoters, the Top Ranks and Golden Boys and Zuffas, ruthless capitalists one and all, would have given this a try a long time ago. The bottom line is that kickboxing has been on the periphery of the U.S. sports scene since at least the 1970s and has simply never caught on.
If you took the interminable kickboxing middle out of the near-four-hour main show, what was left was a fairly intriguing MMA event. Phil Davis‘ star shone bright. While it’s a bummer King Mo Lawal had to pull out of the tourney final, he still got a solid victory which upped his stock in the semifinals against Linton Vassell. Light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary’s win over Tito Ortiz showed off his slick ground game and set up a sellable fight down the road with Davis. Even Josh Thomson vs. Mike Bronzoulis, while not stellar, featured a nifty finish.
Scott Coker’s had far more hits than misses over the years. Bellator Dynamite was worth giving a try. The mix of MMA and kickboxing on the same show didn’t work for the same reasons you don’t stage a rugby match in the middle of an NFL game. The audiences are simply different. Putting together, big spectacular shows with a look and feel that is different from the UFC is a positive thing. But let’s hope that going forward, the cage and the ring stay in separate venues.
Bellator Dynamite quotes
“It was a big task putting on a big event like that, but that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to come in here with a normal event given it’s a tentpole. I wanted this to be way above.” — Bellator CEO Scott Coker on his mindset behind the show.
“Even a joke like that gets you a one-year suspension in Nevada.” — Bellaor announcer Sean Grande with the line of the night after Phil Davis’ rambling interview in which he mentioned drug testing.
“In the UFC at first, we were like a family, but then it turned corporate. In Bellator, we’re family.” — Tito Ortiz
“We work our ass off for this organization and I feel like the new guys get more respect than me and the other guys that have been here.” — Bellator lightweight champ Will Brooks, as part of a long Twitter rant.
Up: Phil Davis Davis’ debut night in Bellator was one to remember. “Mr. Wonderful” completely outclassed Newton in the opening round of the light heavyweight tournament, then scored his first knockout victory since 2009 with his nasty work against Carmont. How much of that has to do with the caliber of opposition is debatable, but what isn’t up for debate is that Davis looked renewed, refreshed, and finally showing off the skills we knew he had, but he as often as not was unable to get untracked.
Hold: Tito Ortiz Saturday night, we pretty much got the entire Tito Ortiz package. We got the surprisingly strong performance, just enough to make you wonder if he had another Ryan Bader-esque flash of magic in him. We got the sudden loss. There was the embarrassing attempt at placing the belt around McGeary’s waist and stealing his moment, and the rambling postfight interview. So, why is the night a “hold” and not a “down?” Because by being competitive against McGeary and simply getting caught, Ortiz proved he still belongs. Ortiz says he wants some time off, which is probably for the best. But give him a little space, bring him back with the right opponent, and you can count on at least one more big TV rating out of this old warhorse who keeps on going.
Up: Liam McGeary McGeary may have gotten more than he bargained for from Ortiz’s relentless grinding approach, but he still ended up looking good in the end. The Bellator light heavyweight champion is lethal off his back, as he proved by finishing Ortiz in the blink of an eye. Ortiz’s name on his resume, in the main event spot of a huge show, means more than all McGeary’s quick finishes combined, and helps make a bout with Davis one of their most anticipated bouts for early 2016.
Down: Emanuel Newton There’s just no way to sugarcoat this one: Newton looked terrible against Davis in his opening-round fight. From the moment Davis caught a spinning back kick and deposited Newton on the mat, Davis thoroughly outclassed Newton, schooling him on the ground before finishing him with a nasty Kimura. Making a bad night worse, a dejected Newton was strangely in the shot on camera throughout Davis’ locker-room interview later. Bottom line, Newton had a nice run but he’s going to have to rededicate himself and find some sort of fresh start if he’s going to keep pace in Bellator’s deepest division.
The reviews seem mixed on whether one-night tournaments should still be a thing in 2015. I can see why some are opposed, but ultimately, I think more good came out of the light heavyweight tournament than bad. Davis made the night’s biggest impression with two strong wins. Lawal looked good in his first-round fight. Did he get hurt? Yes, but fighters can get hurt within two rounds whether they have another fight scheduled or not. In the end, no fighter was going to compete longer than five rounds, which we expect out of headliners anyway. I wouldn’t want to see a one-night tourney on every show, but as an occasional special attraction with the proper safeguards, they’re fine.
We should also say a word or two about the Keri Melendez vs. Hadley Griffith fight. The state of California came out strong against unsanctioned fight cards recently and the mismatches which take place on them, and rightly so. But what is the athletic commission doing turning around and sanctioning this fight? Griffith not only had no pro kickboxing experience, but she was 1-4 in pro MMA, 0-2 amateur, and was finished in five of those combined losses. Was the XFS soccer mom not available? If you want to eradicate wildcat shows, don’t put wildcat show-quality matchups on national television.
Fight I’d like to see next: Will Brooks vs. Josh Thomson
Bellator lightweight champ Brooks has strangely stayed under the radar despite having all the tools for stardom. He’s a solid, well-rounded fighter from a great gym, the American Top Team, he’s gotten the job done in the cage every time out, he’s not afraid to step up when given an opportunity, and he’s got the personality of a future star. But for whatever reason, he hasn’t broken through. An opportunity to showcase his skills against a name vet like Thomson, who showed pluck in getting the finish against Mike Bronzoulis Saturday just two months after that brutal fight against Tony Ferguson, just might be the answer, particularly after Brooks’ Twitter rant played on locker-room tensions between Bellator’s old guard and Coker’s new crew.
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