Bellator MMA kicked off its Summer Series and had the debut of its new MMA reality program, Fight Master. Both were met with what could only be described as disappointment.

The initial run with Bellator on Spike TV saw ratings jump up for the fight promotion. That’s to be expected given that they were airing fights on MTV2 prior to the move, but it appears the honeymoon may be over for Bellator and Spike TV.

Bellator 96 featured the promotion’s biggest star (outside of the newly signed Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) in Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, and it still failed to make a splash.

Much could be said of Fight Master as well, given the show only drew an average of 432,000 viewers. Even worse, the show scored an average of 109,000 with viewers 18-34, and just 67,000 with men 18-34, which is the primary MMA demographic.

Although the show did poorly in ratings, it seemingly did well with those who actually watched. The ratings just won’t prove that. The show did something The Ultimate Fighter has failed to do through multiple seasons: make the focus on the fighters. Make no mistake, Bellator is marketing the initial season about the all-star coaching cast, but by showing nearly all of the few fights that aired, along with the fighters asking the coaches questions, Bellator demonstrated that they’re committed to creating stars.

The first episode had some good stuff going on, but is it enough to carry the show for another season?

The answer depends on how Bellator handles the rest of the season. Yes, the first episode showcased some great fights and fighters, but there has to be some concern that the team selection process will take too long. TUF stuffs all of its qualifying-round fights into one or two episodes, sometimes stretching the season debut to a two-hour stretch to achieve this objective. Therefore, the UFC’s series gets teams selected by the second episode or sometimes even ends the first episode with the selection process.

With Bellator, things are not moving along at quite the same breakneck speed. There are 16 qualifying-round fights, but we’ve only seen five as of episode one’s conclusion. Do the math, and it looks like we may not know who’s on what team until episode three or four. That leaves very little time for fans to see the real reason for tuning in—the coaches. With Greg Jackson, Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock and Joe Warren, Bellator has quite a cast of characters to showcase. It’s easy to understand why Bellator wants to focus on making the fighters household names, since they will be competing in the Bellator cage soon, but the promotion also needs to understand that the fans are tuning in to see the coaches.

And that’s where the major problem arises for Bellator and Fight Master. With a cast of relatively unknown fighters, the coaches become the main attraction. With such a standout cast for the initial season, Bellator cannot likely do much better for any following seasons. Coaches like Jackson, Shamrock and Couture are likely to make a return to the show due to their popularity, but the world of MMA isn’t full of very well-known coaches who can not only drag an audience in, but keep them there. Some coaches like Firas Zahabi, Renzo Gracie and Javier Mendez, among others, are well-known throughout the MMA world, but their names carry little weight with the newer fans.

Another problem Bellator will have to overcome is the fact there are very few “diamonds in the rough” these days. MMA has gained incredible popularity and scouts for nearly every MMA promotion continuously scour the professional ranks. Top prospects can now sign directly with a major promotion rather than having to go through a reality show. Gone are the days when high-caliber fighters like Josh Koscheck, Rashad Evans and Nate Diaz need to appear on these types of shows. Regardless of how much hype Bellator places in these unknown fighters, odds are that while they’re competing in the Bellator cage, that’s just the way they’ll stay.

Bellator did some things right, but also did a number of things wrong with the initial episode of its new series. Like any new show, the producers will have some things to tinker with in order to create a perfect formula for success. It’s only been one episode thus far, so Bellator has quite some time to fix the problems. Luckily for Bellator and Spike TV, there’s only one way to go after an underwhelming debut.

Photo: Fight Master Logo (Spike.com)

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.