Bellator Fighting Championships kicks off its eighth season with a bang on Thursday night. The season opener is also going to be the first time that live fights will be broadcasted on the promotion’s new network home, Spike TV. It’s a monumental moment in Bellator’s evolution, and it means an emphasis on all things big.

On average, the promotion drew approximately 170,000 viewers when it was broadcasting live on MTV2. According to reports, two taped shows that aired on Spike TV on Jan. 3 featuring past fights and analysis by Bellator drew an average of 487,000 viewers, which is nearly three times the size of the audience that tuned in for broadcasts on MTV2.

Two more taped episodes were shown the following week, all with the intent of getting Spike TV viewers ready for the debut on Jan. 17. While one could argue that most promotions would draw strong numbers from showing some of the best fights in promotional history, Bellator is going to do its best to add to that collection of fights in the future.

Right out of the gate, there will be two title fights on the first Spike card. The featherweight championship fight between champion Pat Curran and challenger Patricio Freire is first on the docket, with the lightweight title on the line later in the evening with Michael Chandler defending his belt against Rick Hawn in the main event. Sandwiched in between those two fights will be former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral in one of the promotion’s tournament bouts.

That gives the opening event two title fights and one tournament bout, a staple of the promotion, featuring a fighter that could be considered one of the best in the history of the sport. It sure sounds like the promotion is trying to continue to roll with the momentum that has been gained from its taped shows the last two weeks by putting an emphasis on big fights. Under the current schedule, there will be six championship bouts in the first two months on Spike. If that isn’t evidence of this emphasis, then what is?

But beyond providing big fights under its banner, Bellator is also eager to demonstrate that its champions are right there with the best of the UFC crop in their respective divisions. So, how do Bellator champions Michael Chandler and Pat Curran stack up with their UFC brethren?

Unfortunately for Chandler, the lightweight division in the UFC is probably the strongest weight class in the promotion. Champion Ben Henderson has a lot of potential suitors for his lightweight title, including Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, Gray Maynard and now Gilbert Melendez. The Bellator champ would be ranked behind all of these fighters, but if he were to head to the UFC and pick up a couple of victories, he could likely find himself a title shot.

Things look a little different for Curran, however. To call the UFC featherweight division weak would be ignorant, but it is a shallow pool in comparison to the lightweight division. “Paddy Mike” would likely enter the UFC as a true top-10 fighter, and he would likely get a shot at the title after a victory against a highly-ranked opponent.

Should Hawn or “Pitbull” pull off a victory at Bellator 85, then they more than likely would be ranked lower on these scales. They are both solid fighters, but neither has the name or drawing power that the current champions would have if they moved promotions. That’s not to say that they would do poorly in the UFC, it is just that considering the different respective systems of getting to the title, the current Bellator champions would have the shorter path.

But rather than play matchmaker, let’s just focus at the task at hand, which is to sit back and enjoy what Bellator has to offer. The promotion was on the receiving end of a lot of criticism after a fairly weak seventh season, especially since it saved a lot of big fights for Spike. Now Bellator will get to showcase those big fights and continue the momentum that it has already created from the two weeks of getting fans ready for what they can expect to see. Look for Bellator to make some noise in the world of MMA in the weeks to come.

Photo: Michael Chandler (William Musacchia/Sherdog)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.