When it was announced that Bellator was going to be running an event on pay-per-view (PPV), many felt that it was because the promotion wanted to be viewed in the same light as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the pound-for-pound king of mixed martial arts (MMA).
Bellator and parent company, Viacom, went out of their way to build up the announcement, with rumors spreading that newly signed Quinton Jackson would be fighting Roy Jones Jr. in the main event. It was of course a red herring, as midway through Bellator 97, it was announced that Jackson would in fact be facing Tito Ortiz.
Both fighters built up their names in the UFC and at several points in their careers, were considered the best in the light heavyweight division and legitimate draws on PPV. Ortiz is credited with putting the UFC on the PPV map, while Jackson's bout with Rashad Evans at UFC 114 did an estimated buy rate of 1,050,000.
That Jackson and Ortiz are fighting in the main event in 2013 is a little off putting.
In the current landscape, neither are relevant and haven't been for quite some time. However, because of their popularity with the casual audience, they are being used as the catalyst to hopefully introduce fans to Bellator's legitimate fighters, namely Pat Curran and Michael Chandler.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has been everywhere trying to sell the bout between Jackson and Ortiz as one for the ages. A bout between two MMA legends who never got to compete inside the cage due to circumstance. It's clearly promoter speak but it doesn't matter. If Bellator can bring fans in with Jackson/Ortiz, maybe they'll stay for the "real" fights.
Unfortunately, it seems like fans aren't buying what Rebney is selling, namely tickets.
John Morgan of MMA Junkie sent out a tweet late Friday (Oct. 11, 2013) night saying that the ticket sales for the Nov. 2 event have been disappointing. Actually, if I'm being honest, they're down right atrocious.
Just received word that Bellator's PPV event has sold approximately 1,700 tickets so far, with another 2,000 on consignment.— John Morgan (@MMAjunkieJohn) October 12, 2013
The Long Beach Arena has a capacity of 13,609, which means that with 20 days until fight night, Bellator has to hustle to sling those extra 10,000 tickets. And with ticket prices ranging between $51 and $265, at this moment, the event has to be considered a public relations flop.
Bellator and Viacom have gone all-in with this event, both in terms of marketing and in matchmaking. They've sacrificed their television product in order to ensure that the absolute best are showcased on PPV. And with the PPV expected to be in the $35-45 range, they cannot afford to do anything less than deliver.
Bellator has its back against that proverbial wall right now.
They've quite literally put the future of the promotion in the hands (or names) of Ortiz and Jackson. They are counting on fight fan nostalgia to fill the arena. Those that desire the days of yore when Ortiz did the grave digger after stopping an opponent and Jackson howled like a wolf on the way to the cage.
The sobering truth is that Ortiz and Jackson aren't the fighters they once were. Ortiz has been hampered by so many injuries that it's a medical miracle he's even competing. He's 1-7-1 in his last nine and missed his shot to retire after his "feel good" win over Ryan Bader at UFC 132.
And Rampage hasn't fared much better. A general apathy towards training has always been his kryptonite. He's incredibly tough but never had the desire to put in the work. His departure from the UFC saw him drop three straight in fights where he was matched up with wrestlers. He's been quite outspoken about that matchmaking.
Unfortunately, the PPV lands in the middle of one of the best runs of combat sports PPVs in recent years. The UFC's end of year features title fights between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos in October; Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks in November; and Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva in December.
That's on top of a super busy boxing schedule highlighted by Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios fight on HBO PPV at the end of November. I'll connect the dots for those that haven't done so already: the Bellator PPV isn't even the second best option for month, it's the third.
In 2013, fight fans aren't inclined to double their cable bills for second tiered promotions. The UFC has struggled these days getting fans interested in purchasing events that aren't intriguing or headlined by a title fight. This Bellator event doesn't even make it into the conversation.
This very well could be Bellator's last stand. They need a financial and critical success to be considered the number two promotion in the world. And with the event just a few weeks away, they can't afford any missteps or failures in the next 20 days.
It's not quite bottom of the ninth, but we're definitely past the seventh inning stretch. It's time for Ortiz and Jackson to prove they can still draw eyeballs and gate receipts. Otherwise, this PPV could be the biggest black mark of their already tarnished legacies.