Bellator swerved everyone this past Wednesday night when it announced (details here) that Quinton Jackson would face Tito Ortiz on the promotion's first foray into pay-per-view (PPV). Jackson's camp previously let slip that he was expected to face Roy Jones Jr. in a boxing match at the end of the year. But, as Jackson said to Jimmy Smith, you can't always believe what you read on the internet.
Unlike the signings of Jackson and 'King' Muhammed Lawal, which were announced on a conference call, the Ortiz signing was kept quiet by all parties involved. There was no build up. There were no discussions regarding where Ortiz would end up fighting. He retired last summer after losing the rubber match with Forrest Griffin and wanted to try his hand at fighter management.
That was the end of the Tito Ortiz story. Or it should have been.
Instead, like so many aging prize fighters, he just doesn't know when to hang it up. His best years are clearly behind him, but he just can't walk away from the fanfare and limelight. Ortiz is like so many of his contemporaries who just couldn't retire and stay gone.
So when Ortiz walked down the ramp in Albuquerque on Wednesday night, and entered the Bellator cage, most were left scratching their heads. Jackson called it "one of the best fights of all time", but the reaction on twitter told a different story. Ranging from simple laughter to the classic "Bellator gonna Bellator", the general reaction was to the bout probably wasn't what they were expecting.
The announcement makes sense from a business perspective as both Ortiz and Jackson have a real track record on both Pay Per View and television. Ortiz and Chuck Liddell drew a 1,050,000 buy rate for UFC 66, while Jackson's bout with Dan Henderson on Spike TV set the record for highest ratings for MMA in North America with 4.7 million viewers. With Bellator's failure to gain a foothold in the television market, this is their hail mary pass.
If that was the end of the story, it would be fine. Who cares that Jackson and Ortiz are a combined 2-6 in their last eight bouts or that Ortiz is 1-7-1 since UFC 66? It's a 'freak show', but Bellator has the talent in Mo Lawal, Mike Chandler, and Pat Curran to round out the card with some legitimate and intriguing bouts.
The issue is that last night, Tito Ortiz also debuted on TNA Impact Wrestling as the man behind the #August1Warning tweets. He walked down the ramp to face off with Jackson and the rest of the Main Event Mafia. To some this may not seem like a huge deal. To you, I say don't be stupid. Detractors are always looking for reasons to call the legitimacy of MMA into question.
The line between MMA and professional wrestling is already fuzzy. The UFC has followed the WWE's model for years and used it to built itself into a PPV powerhouse. Dana White's personality is very much like Vince McMahon's character you see every Monday night on Raw. The promotion of events and fighters mirrors the WWE's strategy. The two even focus on fan involvement by way of social media interaction.
But the difference is that the two never crossed paths or worked together in a co-promotional capacity.
Viacom and by extension Spike TV, are dead set finding the cross over. Their deals with Lawal and Jackson were heralded as cross-promotional, with the fighters also making their debuts on TNA wrestling. But until last night, MMA and pro wrestling were kept separate. Jeff Hardy hasn't ever shown up on a Bellator broadcast to challenge a fighter, nor has Ben Askren run in from the crowd to hit Kurt Angle with a steel chair.
Ortiz' debut on TNA Impact changes the whole game. And not in the sense that most people use the phrase 'game changer'. There is now a sense of realism occurring in wrestling story lines. We know that Ortiz is scheduled to meet Jackson at Bellator 106 in November. But now they're also feuding in professional wrestling as well? From the outside this should call the legitimacy of their fight into question.
It's very likely we'll see the build up happen over the next few months in the TNA ring. We'll see Jackson and Ortiz trade promos with Hulk Hogan. We may even see them work a match or two. Heck, maybe Sting comes down from the rafters and hits Ortiz with a Stinger Splash in the corner.
The reason why professional wrestling and MMA are able to coexist is because fans of both are able to separate the two. I follow MMA for the competitiveness but still find time to watch Monday Night Raw because I accept pro wrestling for all it's hokeyness. I know it isn't real but I love it just the same.
When Viacom and Spike TV made the conscious effort to make a sanctioned MMA bout part of a wrestling storyline, they spat in the face of everyone that has ever had to tell their friends that the UFC isn't fake and that John Cena isn't actually a wrestler. Doing that wasn't just a bad decision, it was bad for business.