It’s rough being number two. You’re always living in the shadow of whomever is at the top, which makes it as though your flaws glow that much brighter while standing in the shade of first place. It’s as if your drawbacks are more fit for discussion than the good qualities that earned you your respectable position as runner-up. You can’t give up, however. Perhaps with more time and effort, you’ll inch your way out of that shadow and thrust your head high enough to see how the sun shines at the top. Or, at the very least, you will be able to continue to receive the thrill and the reward of playing the game.

We can say that Bellator is making a crawl towards greater significance as the No. 2 MMA promotion in North America with the announcement of its first-ever pay-per-view event on Nov. 2. It’s proof of the promotion’s maturity. Even if it’s not anywhere within earshot of its direct competitor, the UFC, at least we know the promotion is making moves away from being completely engulfed in the darkness of the UFC’s shadow.

The announcement of Bellator’s planned event came at Bellator 97 on July 31 and pricked the ears of the MMA fan base, although initial opinions were discordant regarding its significance. The feelings were chiefly based on the perception of a main event that has MMA legend Tito Ortiz returning to action against newly acquired Viacom commodity Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Some cried that the match was weak or insignificant, whereas others saw it as awesome or interesting to see either return to the cage, let alone against each other. The announcement certainly gained a wide reach of attention and even anticipation. In the world of fight promotion, that’s already a great sign. Bellator is smart for using two very well-known names, both of whom enjoy crossover success in other forms of entertainment in addition to their casual fan appeal within the MMA world, in the main attraction of the event.

At this point, two additional matches—title affairs—have been announced for the show. In that light, it appears that the main event will serve as a nice cherry on top for what looks to shape up as a promising and well-constructed main card.

If taken as a whole, with the few already-announced bouts, then the event as a pay-per-view offering is indeed a worthy product.

Ortiz vs. Rampage is a semi-legitimate match-up and the name recognition for both fighters alone makes it an attractive fight to a large segment of fans. Is it attractive enough to buy on its own? That’s another story.

Both guys are appealing to audiences (or at least can get the audience talking), but they exited the UFC on losing streaks, though with a good amount of drawing power still intact. As far as their competitive significance at light heavyweight goes, let’s just say that it’s probably best that they are now competing outside of the Octagon.

Ortiz has had one foot out the door in regards to MMA competition for some time now. He’s dealt with lingering injuries for years and has transitioned to a career outside of the cage that includes a role as a manager to fighters. He was only able to capture one win against Ryan Bader in a stretch of nine fights for the UFC from 2006-12. Granted, the losses were against top-10 caliber 205ers, but the conclusion that he’s no longer a factor as one of the world’s best fighters has been long drawn.

Rampage vocally exited the UFC on a three-fight skid. His recent performances were uninspired and even frustrating to watch, but he wasn’t getting badly beaten, save for being finished by Jon Jones (though there’s a certain amount of forgiveness to be had since the loss was to a truly exceptional fighter). For whatever of his various reasons, his ability to participate in exciting fights has noticeably dampened over the course of the last four years.

Despite the lackluster records of Ortiz and Rampage in recent years, there are plenty of fans that still love to watch both fighters work in and outside of the cage. A lot of that has to do with the goodwill each fighter purchased through the course of their admirable and entertaining careers. Their meeting might not be a meaningful fight by modern standards, but each veteran’s individual presence is more than enough to capture an audience’s attention.

Ortiz and Rampage give Bellator two familiar faces to put on event posters and television ads, but the true substances of the event lies in the supporting cast of main-card bouts.

The co-main event for the Bellator pay-per-view is a truly significant fight between two of the world’s top lightweights at 155 pounds, Bellator champion Michael Chandler and former champion Eddie Alvarez.

Since battling in what was considered one of the best fights of 2011, both men have gone on to notch impressive stoppage victories. Alvarez succumbed to a Chandler rear-naked choke when they met, but he rebounded by stopping Shinya Aoki and Patricky Freire before his contract with Bellator was up and he endeavored to move on to the UFC. That attempt to transition to the Octagon is really the catalyst for this entire pay-per-view concept. Alvarez is one of Bellator’s biggest stars and the promotion was not content to let him go without a fight. The main sticking point for Bellator’s side of the argument focused on whether it could match the UFC’s ability to offer Alvarez a cut of pay-per-view revenue even though Bellator had given no confident indication of a desire to join the pay-per-view market before that point. That point of contention led to the two sides to court and put Alvarez’s career on hold. Well, here we are, with Bellator set to prove the validity of its claim.

The 29-year-old former champion decided to step out of the protracted legal battle with Bellator in order to return to action instead of spending his time collecting rust and meddling with lawyers. Otherwise, he’d be sitting out for a significant amount of time waiting for a court date in the latter part of 2014 without the ability to fight for any organization. It wasn’t his first choice to re-sign with Bellator, but it’s an understandable move given the circumstances.

In Alvarez’s stead, Chandler has continued to hold the top spot he took from Alvarez as Bellator’s best lightweight. Chandler’s recent starching of David Rickels in July has many observers stepping back to consider him for a top-five spot in the world rankings.

Enough time has passed between their first meeting that this fight doesn’t seem rushed. It helps that each man is coming in with sensational wins under their belt. Alvarez got to jump the line for the title shot, but not many would argue that he doesn’t deserve it. It’s anticipated to be a great fight between two of the world’s best, and it holds its place as the most serious fight on the card.

The other bout recently announced was a rematch of Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Emanuel Newton, this time with an interim light heavyweight title on the line.

If it’s not blatantly obvious to fans, Bellator is desperate to crown Lawal as one of its champions. This is understandable from a promotional standpoint, because Bellator’s light heavyweight division is a barren land and Lawal would bring much-needed personality and intrigue as its potential ruler.

Bellator’s current light heavyweight champion, Attila Vegh, has had issues with his shoulder in the past. He was forced to postpone his championship-winning fight against Christian M’Pumbu from the end of 2011 to February 2012. Apparently, he’s having more problems with his shoulder, which wasn’t a significant news story until it meant that Bellator could thrust Lawal into a match for a belt on pay-per-view. It’s as if Vegh called the Bellator offices to update the promotion on his situation and the promotion immediately ordered up an interim belt after hanging up the phone.

It feels a bit cheap and transparent for Lawal to suddenly fight for a title given how he lost his spot to vie for the belt legitimately due to a spinning back fist from Newton. Further supporting this notion is the shorter route afforded to him through the four-man Summer Series tournament. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t intriguing aspects to this fight. Newton earned his shot to challenge Vegh for the belt by winning the season-eight light heavyweight tournament, but he would still have to wait for the champ to heal up. That would cause a log jam, with Lawal’s spot in line as the next challenger already secured due to his win in the Summer Series tournament. Therefore, a match between the two makes sense. Furthermore, Lawal is looking for redemption for his loss to Newton and is riding the strength of two exciting finishes.

On a side note, let’s not be so ready to call Newton an “upset” winner if he is able to topple Lawal again, because he earned his spot to be a title challenger and did so without any extra push from Bellator.

With just three matches announced, Bellator has put a strong foot forward with its first planned pay-per-view event. Although Ortiz and Rampage share the headlining honors, the most significant fight will be between Chandler and Alvarez. That is a fight that can warrant a premium fee from fans. However, the bait on the hook from the start has come in the form of the names of Ortiz and Jackson. Regardless of their recent records, they can still draw a crowd. Bellator is clever for building an event around that match.

It might not end up being the best event ever, but it’s about as strong a showing as Bellator could hope for with its resources in bankable talent. Even if the promotion is miles away from the UFC in terms of growth, at least we know Bellator is making steps in the right direction. Its first foray into payed viewing for an event is something that might be best viewed for what it is rather than seen for the criticisms that come from what it isn’t when compared to its much more successful competition.

That’s one of the drawbacks that comes with the territory of being number two.

Photo: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz (Bellator MMA)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.