Spike TV was once a name synonymous with the MMA world. The network became the home of the UFC during its boom period following the success of The Ultimate Fighter reality series. Of course, as everyone knows by now, the partnership between Spike TV and the UFC fell apart, which led to the company moving over to the Fox family of networks.

Spike TV has continued to run UFC programming and even attempted to run counter-programming against other UFC events. But without any new content, Spike TV was left looking like a jilted lover spreading around old love letters.

Enter Bellator.

The Chicago-based promotion is relatively new to the fight game compared to some of the other big-name promotions in the world, but since the Zuffa buyout of Strikeforce, Bellator has become the number two MMA promotion.

Yet, despite putting on entertaining shows on a regular basis, the promotion has struggled to build its brand and identity. Part of that struggle has been a lack of a major network deal. Airing on MTV 2 was a nice step up from its previous broadcast homes, but ultimately failed to materialize any benefit for both parties involved. Now, the company is set to premiere on Spike TV in 2013, which should usher in a new era of popularity for Bellator along with possibly aiding MMA’s growth as a sport as well.

With the boost in having a quality cable broadcast outlet, Bellator must build a strong foundation of superstars in which to grow the promotion. It’s great that the promotion can put on exciting fights and generate interest given its tournament format, but as the WEC proved, exciting fights aren’t everything. They’re a very important piece of the puzzle, but perhaps the most important piece is starpower.

Fans need a handful of fighters to readily identify with as the cream of the crop in Bellator, something the promotion hasn’t had a problem with in the past. Hector Lombard and Eddie Alvarez are two of the most influential names in Bellator history thus far. However, Lombard bolted for the UFC as soon as his contract and “champion’s clause” ended, and it appears Alvarez may very well be out the door as well.

That leaves Bellator with some major voids to fill in the first year of its new deal. Luckily, Bellator has shown to be excellent at creating homegrown talent. Fighters like Alexander Shlemenko and Michael Chandler are very good fighters who could see their popularity rise given the proper push by the promotion. Ben Askren is a dominant champion, but I don’t believe it would be wise for Bellator to promote him as their main guy given his polarizing fight style.

Another area where Bellator could stand to gain ground on the UFC is with women’s MMA. The promotion has long featured some of the best female fighters in the world, and with the UFC likely taking it slow in terms of backing WMMA, Bellator could become a leading force in WMMA along with Invicta FC.

The promotion has a number of tools at its disposal, but none of it will matter if the promotion doesn’t change the tournament format. It’s a lovely niche that reminds MMA fans of the good ol’ days of Pride, but it’s a concept that just doesn’t work anymore. Given the frequency of injuries and upsets to major stars, the unpredictability of hosting tournaments will always be a detriment to Bellator’s growth. If the promotion wants to keep the tournament around for maybe one time a year to help generate some extra buzz, then it could be a useful marketing tool. But if it hopes to firmly entrench itself as the world’s number-two promotion, it must move on from the tournament format.

With a bevy of talented prospects, the future is very bright for Bellator and Spike TV. The first year will be tough, as even the UFC has struggled on Fox, but if Bellator can create some stars from within its own ranks and learn from its past mistakes, the future could become very fruitful for Bjorn Rebney and company.

Photo: Pat Curran (Dave Mande/Sherdog)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.