Bellator has always relied on its tournament format to draw the interest of fans. During its “Summer Series,” the promotion has utilized a shortened tournament that has sparked even more intrigue.

The result is Bellator’s July 31 card, Bellator 97. The event is stacked with a main card that features two title fights, two tournament finals and a featherweight fight containing one of the most entertaining fighters the promotion has to offer.

Bellator’s normal tournament consists of eight men fighting in a three-round tournament bracket with the eventual winner gaining a shot at the title. In the “Summer Series,” that bracket shrinks down to four men, and instead of taking place over three cards, the tournament is over in two. The quicker tournament format is an intriguing possibility that Bellator should consider as it’s go-to tournament format.

This approach would help keep champions more active, with the possibility of more than the two fights (if they’re lucky) that they see each year and also more title fights instead of the catchweight fights they get stuck with sometimes. Instead of waiting for the tournament to be over, or for a fighter to heal from injury after enduring three fights in such a short span, the champions would face an opponent coming off of two fights and, hypothetically, in better health. The brief turnaround time in this smaller bracket creates the perfect recipe for more complete and consistent Bellator cards.

Less may indeed be more, but there must be a level of consistency that extends to what format Bellator uses for all of its tournaments.

I’ve never been a fan of having the two different formats that Bellator has been using. To me, the prestige level and the difficulty of winning a three-tiered tournament is higher, due to fighters needing one extra win to capture the tourney championship. It’s easy to point out that three wins is better than one or two, but with a smaller tournament comes more legitimate title contenders. Instead of having the normal two or three fillers—guys who could in some cases be viewed as nothing more than a “can” waiting to be crushed—in the tournament, the four-man format allows Bellator to get straight to business by having four legitimate contenders. That gives more meaning to the tournament format and helps build up Bellator’s crop of fighters.

Bellator’s tournament is a fair way to claim a shot at the title, but having two different formats isn’t fair to the guys who win the eight-man tournament. They have to fight once more in about the same amount of time as a winner of the four-man format. This split in formats helps pull Bellator away from one of its primary philosophies: the fairness the tournaments bring to determining who receives a title shot.

That’s why I propose having the four-man tournament become the permanent Bellator format. It just makes sense, and coupled with more title fights, it leads to offerings like the July 31 card. It would even lead to more tournaments with different fighters, helping to break the sometimes agonizing and injury-plagued grind of the eight-man bracket. The stacked July 31 card is a perfect example of how the four-man tournament can help Bellator. Two title fights and two tournament finals? Sign me up.

With the eight-man tournament, you see the same fighters in every tournament outside a name change or two. Not only that, but some of those same names seem to be there merely to bang their heads into a proverbial brick wall. They don’t really do much in the tournament and are nothing more than a setup for a legitimate contender. There should be different fighters vying for a chance at that title shot, and they should be men who have the credentials to merit their inclusion. A four-man tournament would help bring that level of competition in the field up while still building a legitimate contender who has to earn the shot.

Again, less is more. To avoid this problem from an eight-man tournament, why not have shorter tournaments and a smaller number of events with a larger number of truly meaningful fights and title bouts per event? Not everybody knows a Vitaly Minakov, but they sure as heck know champions Michael Chandler and Ben Askren. Seeing champions and potential future stars on cards together would help build interest in the Bellator brand at a time where the promotion is at least trying to shorten the gap between itself and the UFC. And with the shorter tournaments, that combination of talent can happen more frequently on Bellator cards.

Tournaments are the bread and butter of Bellator. Since day one, I’ve been a huge fan of the way their method for determining title shots. But this “Summer Series” run illustrates what Bellator events have the potential of becoming on a regular basis. Therefore, it also shines a light on the need for evolution in the promotion’s format. After all, any promotion, even the UFC, will have a tough time selling the casual fan on a card that doesn’t have a title on the line.

Sure, you or I will likely watch whatever Bellator serves up because we love the sport and are wildly addicted to it, but the less-is-more approach that the “Summer Series” takes is better. The stronger cards make for some great ratings and great fights. Furthermore, the four-man tournament does the right thing and helps tighten up Bellator’s current tournament model by breeding consistency and perpetuating the fairness Bellator wanted to create with its tournament.

The tournament is a great way to help build a promotion and develop legitimate champions. Each guy going through the tournament has earned that shot, and the temptation for the promotion to sacrifice legitimacy for a quick buck made on the backs of grudge matches and trash-talking aficionados can be avoided. In adopting a smaller tournament bracket, Bellator can ensure that the man who is most deserving of the shot will get it and that the cards will grow to feature the depth needed to make fans take notice and tune in. That combination is exactly what Bellator needs.

Photo: Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.