Bellator 131 "Tito vs. Bonnar" takes place this weekend (Sat., Nov. 15, 2014) at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California. The main event sees two former UFC light heavyweights square off in perennial bad boy Tito Ortiz and previously "retired" fighter Stephan Bonnar. Their war of words will finally give way to a flurry of fists.
The co-main event sees Michael Chandler take his second crack at Will Brooks in an attempt to regain the lightweight title that was once his.
Bellator MMA commentator Sean Wheelock took a break from his duties for the promotion and as a sports broadcaster to chat with MMAmania.com about Saturday's loaded card. Wheelock believes this is the first Bellator card that really has new Bellator MMA President Scott Coker's signature touch.
"A lot of people have been saying 'Oh you're Bellator 2.0'. I think we've been 1.5 since Bjorn Rebney moved on and Coker came in. It's still Bjorn Rebney's fighters, some of his venues, we had to finish tournaments. To Scott Coker's credit he honored all the tournaments, he could have just pulled the plug on that, but he honored (all of) the contracts. This show on November 15th, I'm incredible psyched up for it, this is a real Scott Coker show."
Wheelock is aware of the criticism that Bellator is relying on people who made their names elsewhere to headline their shows, but notes that as recently as the days of PRIDE FC, fighters jumped between promotions regularly.
"When PRIDE was very dominant and at their best, you saw Josh Barnett leave the UFC and go to PRIDE. Chuck Liddell, Rampage Jackson would move back and forth. Wanderlei Silva was in UFC, PRIDE and back, and there was that movement. Fair enough to fighters, they want to make as much money as they can, because like all professional athletes they have a very small window in which they can perform."
Wheelock is not at all worried about the competition from UFC 180 and WSOF 15 on Saturday, as he believes that it can be a smorgasbord for everyone to feast on.
"It's not the 1980s where you have to make a choice or you have to pull out your Sony Betamax. Go wall to wall. Let it be a day for MMA fans to absolutely love and they can time shift around. There's this great thing in television now called DVR+3 which means that advertisers will count people who watch their DVR within three days of the live broadcast. I hope people watch us live, but I just hope people watch us."
Stephan Bonnar and Tito Ortiz are being used to lure in fans to watch the live broadcast, and Wheelock rates Ortiz in particular as a great personality with which to hook casual viewers.
"What was really staggering to me back in May, in our pay-per-view just outside of Memphis, Rampage Jackson is from Memphis -- the main event is Rampage Jackson and King Mo Lawal -- there's a feud and there's all this heat. We're in Rampage's hometown, 20 miles where he grew up, and yet the biggest ovation of the night entering and exiting the cage was for Tito Ortiz. He's that love to hate him athlete. Every single sport has that type of athlete. You either love him or you hate him but you can't ignore him and that's Tito Ortiz."
For Wheelock, the co-main event between Michael Chandler and Will Brooks is a prelude to great things to come. Whoever emerges the undisputed champion on Saturday night has contenders waiting in the wings.
"(Marcin) Held has gotten a lot better. He's gotten older, he's gotten bigger, more mature. He's moved from a brown belt to a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Brooks is the real deal, Chandler has definitely proven himself, and then lurking right there you have Held and you have (Dave) Jansen. It's pretty stacked at 155 in Bellator."
Naturally, there's only one question you could ask after that: could Bellator have season seven tournament winner Jansen and season 10 tournament winner Held square off to determine the next No. 1 contender?
"If we had this conversation a year ago with Bjorn Rebney, he wouldn't even bring that up, because that's not going to happen. At best those two would be on opposite sides of the bracket in an eight-man tournament. There are no more of those machinations of 'Wow, I hope this guy beats him and maybe he'll beat him and then he can beat him and he'll beat him.' Throughout my five-and-a-half year history with Bellator, somebody was brought in, they were supposed to win this tournament win this fight to fight this guy, and 100-percent of the time it DID, NOT, WORK."
A complete audio file of our interview with Sean can be found HERE.
You can hear Wheelock calling all of the action alongside Jimmy Smith this Saturday (Nov. 15, 2014) for Bellator 131 "Tito vs. Bonnar," taking place live at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California. MMAmania.com will bring you complete coverage of the show from the Spike.com prelims all the way through the explosive main event.
See you then!