Just a few years after crowning Zoila Gurgel as the first women’s champion in Bellator’s history, Bellator has cut all ties with its remaining female fighters and disbanded its women’s division.

It’s never a good sign when one of the top promotions in MMA abandons an entire division, and it is only magnified more when it’s women’s MMA. The ladies are trying to grab a foothold and bring in new fans, but being cut from Bellator signals the challenges ahead for fighters outside of the top women’s promotions.

Of course, Bellator’s loss is Invicta FC’s gain. Now, more top female fighters enter the free agent pool just waiting to get snapped up by a major promotion like Invicta. In the women’s side of the sport, where the talent level is so drastically different from top to bottom, adding more skilled veteran fighters like Felice Herrig, Jessica Aguilar or Jessica Eye can only help Invicta to strengthen its product. The top talent cannot be dispersed over a wide range of promotions, otherwise fans will get stuck with mismatched fights.

Bellator’s decision shows just how hard it is for any promotion—big or small—to make headway in MMA and especially with female fights. The U.S. market, predominantly focused on the UFC, isn’t exactly an easy nut to crack. Bellator’s move to disband the division was a good one from the company’s point of view. Why continue putting effort, money and time into something that really isn’t going anywhere? Bellator barely had any female fights anymore. Bloody Elbow’s breakdown of Bellator’s fights dating back to March of 2012 makes this clear. Out of 36 events and 380 fights, only 10 featured the ladies from Bellator’s roster. That’s right, a whopping 2.6 percent of the promotion’s total fights.

It takes more than just good fights to bring in eyeballs. That star power needs to be there if a promotion wants to play with the big boys. If the recognizable names aren’t there, why would any casual fan tune in? In addition, if the marketable names are limited to only a handful of compelling match-ups and see the rest of their bouts come against scrubs (or, worse yet, see no action for long durations), those fans will be even less interested.

You have the diehard fans who will watch anything that calls itself MMA. It doesn’t matter if it’s George St-Pierre or some local fighter fighting on a regional card, they’ll tune in because they love the sport. However, nobody can build a promotion off just a select base that isn’t large enough to bring the ratings or pay-per-view buyrates to be considered a success. Bellator knows that. It’s why divisions like the promotion’s heavyweight, light heavyweight and women’s classes have struggled so mightily.

When former heavyweight champion Cole Konrad retired, we almost saw the end of the heavyweight division in Bellator. There just wasn’t the star power, or even the talent level, to signal a promising future for Bellator’s big men.

Legacy FC is taking a step in the right direction to build itself up in women’s MMA by signing Holly Holm to its women’s division. To say Holm was a successful boxer would be an understatement, and all of her MMA bouts have been dominant performances. Yet, the promotion will struggle to find the proper level of talent to pair with Holm in the future. However, Legacy can simply try to showcase Holm on its cards, much like the UFC showcases women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

The UFC is headlining cards with Rousey, why? Because she’s a hugely popular name and a dominant champion who is leaps and bounds ahead of everybody she faces. The UFC can get away with that. It knows that pushing her will bring the promotion success. Rousey’s last fight at UFC 157 brought in an estimated 450,000 buys on pay-per-view. Compare that to UFC 156, featuring featherweight champion Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, that brought in an estimated 330,000 buys. Legacy could have a similar situation on its hands with Holm, but can it build similarly compelling match-ups to those that the UFC concocts for Rousey?

Then there are the promotions who set their sights on developing talent that hasn’t quite reached the upper echelons of the women’s divisions. Championship Fighting Alliance, with its women’s tournament, and the XFC, with a growing roster of female fighters, do a great job in helping build these fighters. Both promotions have opted to shine the spotlight on female fighters, providing them with experience and a stage upon which they can showcase their skills en route to advancing to the big show.

Unfortunately, XFC, CFA and even Legacy FC are just regional promotions. They are seeking to break into the big time with television deals with big networks and sponsorship deals with big companies in the United States, but they still have a long road ahead in achieving those goals. In the meantime, they provide a breeding ground for new female talent.

Meanwhile, Bellator has a different goal in mind. The promotion holds a prominent position as the No. 2 organization in the United States (and, arguably, the world), trailing only the UFC in terms of market dominance. It must offer up high-caliber fights and provide its champions with regular fight opportunities against legitimate challengers. On the female side of the sport, this proved to be impossible. In dropping its women’s divisions, Bellator has confirmed what we knew all along: Invicta FC and the UFC share the monopoly on high-level women’s fights.

Photo: Jessica Eye (Dave Mandel/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.