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Bellator 106: Pay-per-view that never was fraught with ironies from inception

Bellator MMA had high hopes for Bellator 106 tonight (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013), but after the show's main event fell apart, it shined a brighter light on just how many questionable decisions have gone into this show.

Esther Lin

And so it has come to this.

Bellator MMA -- the mixed martial arts (MMA) company that once prided itself on the meritocratic tagline "Where Title Shots Are Earned, Not Given" -- was recently forced to cancel its inaugural foray into the pay per view (PPV) marketplace because its scheduled main event, featuring two Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) wash-outs who are both winless in their past three fights, fell apart at the eleventh hour after the nearly 39-year old Tito Ortiz suffered a neck fracture in training for his big comeback bout with Quinton Jackson.

Somewhere out there Shakespeare's ghost is pissed he never thought of a plot with half as much delicious irony.

Now is not the time to focus on what a bad bet Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney made on the "Rampage vs. Tito" main event in the first place. Instead, lets pull the thread of irony running throughout Bellator 106, now rechristened "Chandler vs. Alvarez 2" and airing for free on Spike TV tonight (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013) and see what else we can unravel, shall we?

To begin with, there's the Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez Lightweight title fight main event. The bout is a rematch of an absolute classic between both competitors back at Bellator 58 in Nov. 2011. At the time Alvarez was the Bellator 155-pound champion, but Chandler took the fight to him and earned a fourth round victory by way of rear-naked choke.

An immediate rematch between the two was the biggest fight Bellator could make, but unfortunately Rebney's steadfast refusal to break from the promotion's tournament format kept the fight from becoming a reality.

Alvarez wasn't keen on the idea of going through another tournament to get a crack at the belt he just lost, so instead he went on to face, and defeat, Shinya Aoki and Patricky Freire in what he thought was the final two fights on his Bellator contract.

As it turned out, though, there was a matching clause in his contract with Bellator, which led to a protracted legal battle after Alvarez received a generous offer from UFC.

One of the major points of contention in the contract dispute was whether or not Bellator -- which at the time had never run on PPV -- could indeed provide a legitimate match of UFC's offer to slot Alvarez on the Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz-led UFC 158 card and provide him with a cut of the PPV profits.

Bellator maintained it was offering Alvarez a comparable opportunity now that it had softened its stance on the tournament format and were promising to book Alvarez in a rematch against Chandler on PPV.

Of course this was patently absurd to anyone with a modicum of understanding how this business works. UFC 157 did approximately 950,000 buys, which put it well above the most ordered non-ZUFFA produced PPV in history, Affliction "Banned," which did in the neighborhood of 100,000 buys (According to MMAPayout). Rebney not allowing Alvarez to fight in UFC cost him a life-changing amount of money.

Which brings us to to this Saturday. Not only is Alvarez finally getting his title shot without earning it in a rematch -- which was the smart promotional move on Bellator's part all along -- but now that the card has been moved to free television, all pretense Bellator offered Alvarez a fair match of UFC's contract offer is out the window.

There's also more than a little irony surrounding the interim Light Heavyweight title fight between Muhammed Lawal and Emanuel Newton.

It was reported early last month that Bellator 205-pound champion Atilla Vegh told a Polish media outlet he wasn't injured and Bellator was merely having him sit out because the promotion felt "King Mo" versus Newton was a more marketable match for PPV.

Bellator quickly issued a denial of this report that was, to put it mildly, fishier than the stench inside a tuna cannery.

Then, after news of the Ortiz situation broke, Rebney let slip in a conference call last Friday that as recently as five weeks ago Bellator had been telling Vegh to train and be ready in case either Ortiz or Jackson pulled out of their scheduled fight.

This despite the fact that Lawal vs. Newton for the interim title was announced more than two months ago

If one looks past the major inconsistencies surrounding this Saturday's card, there is a lot worth getting excited about. Chandler/Alvarez 2 should be a fantastic match and the Pat Curran vs. Daniel Straus Featherweight title fight will likely also be quite good.

However, the ironic tapestry overlaying Bellator 106 can mostly be chocked up to a mix of questionable business decisions on Rebney's part and a slowly dawning realization that the tournament format is a dead-end in terms of drawing money.

Where this leaves Bellator going forward is anyone's guess. The tournament format was a nice way for the company to stand out amid the glut of MMA start ups at first, but if the very attribute that defines Bellator is also holding it back from sustained growth, that doesn't bode well for the company's future.

In the long run, what may be even worse for Bellator than the tournament format is a perception the snafus surrounding this Saturday's show are indicative of a larger pattern. Not only do situations like the Alvarez legal dispute and Rebney's current impasse with Ben Askren make Bellator a promotion many fighters are surely thinking twice before singing with, but debacles like the company canceling its PPV because of an injury to an over-the-hill former UFC star send fans a message Bellator isn't a company worth taking seriously.

Considering that the value of title belts, feuds and other money-drawing promotional tools lies entirely in their perceived importance, being seen as a joke by the general public is a crippling handicap for any fight promotion.

Maybe it's about time Bellator takes a lesson from its own tagline. After all, in the arena of public opinion, respect is earned, not given.

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