Pat Curran (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)Bellator MMA: No Longer the Place ‘Where Title Shots are Earned’? Sal DeRose February 7, 2014 Editorials, Feature Stories, Spotlight Bellator has had the moniker “Where title shots are earned” for quite some time now. It was a great idea and gave the promotion a leg up on the UFC, which does not utilize the tournament format to determine title challengers. Bellator’s system worked and gave the promotion exciting, meaningful tournaments, year in and year out. Unlike in the UFC, where the promotion looks at fighter records and picks a worthy challenger, fighters in Bellator know what they have to do to get their crack at a piece of gold. In Bellator, there are three men—and sometimes just two, in shortened tourney formats—who stand in a fighter’s way. Beating all three is a must to get that glorious title shot. In the last year or so, however, the “Where title shots are earned” slogan has seemingly evaporated. The tournament system for awarding title shots has lost its importance. Take the Bellator featherweight championship, for example. Current Bellator featherweight kingpin Daniel Straus is set to rematch former champion Pat Curran, much to the chagrin of Patricio Freire, who earned a shot at the title with his season-nine tournament victory. Curran was beat easily in his last fight with Straus. The fight wasn’t one of the exciting championship bouts Bellator has become known for, and his instant rematch is certainly not justifiable considering how easy Straus was able to defeat him. Straus was the better fighter that night, but he isn’t the champion Bellator wants. He is a fantastic fighter and a flat-out winner, but his style is far from sexy and won’t fill the arena seats and turn eyeballs to the television screen. Curran, on the other hand, could be considered a great champion and everything that a big business like Viacom would want. He is an exciting fighter with a title history to spark interest in this rematch. Bellator currently has two featherweight tournament winners waiting in the wings for their opportunity to fight for the title, yet Curran gets the nod despite not having fought in the tournament to solidify his title shot. Patricio Freire—one of the men waiting for their title shot—has every right to be upset with Bellator. Freire fought through the tournament and finished Justin Wilcox and former UFC featherweight Diego Nunes along the way. He wasn’t fed opponents. This right here isn’t a step for Bellator in moving away from the tournament format. Rather, it’s a leap. Bellator has so many high-profile assets, and the promotion is intent on squeezing the life out of them. Whether it be Eddie Alvarez, who will headline his first pay-per-view in the coming months in a rubber match with Michael Chandler, or Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, who yet again is set up for an easy tournament run. The promotion has these superstar assets, and removing the tournament format only makes sense to make the utmost use out of them. Lawal has been set up for Bellator greatness before. A typical Bellator tournament is comprised of an eight-man bracket that requires a fighter to conquer three opponents en route to the championship. However, Lawal will once again be in a four-man tournament to decide the light heavyweight title challenger. A four-man tournament, not an eight-man tournament. Bellator has tried so hard to push Lawal on the fans, going even so far as to declare an interim Bellator light heavyweight championship bout between Lawal and Bellator foe Emmanuel Newton. The champion, Attila Vegh, for a plethora of reasons was unable to defend his title, and in the amount of time he was out, the promotion rushed to declare an interim bout. All that despite having been through the same issues before and never issuing an interim championship. Lawal ended up getting beat by Newton, again. This time, instead of getting knocked out, he went the distance. Yet, here we are, Lawal in his third tournament, and this time he is joined by another big Bellator asset, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Rampage made a name for himself in Pride and the UFC, rising to become a champion in the UFC and winning over fans with his performances and personality. Whether it be Rampage or Lawal, Bellator would love either of these two men as its champion over someone like Newton or Vegh. Nobody knows Newton and Vegh, but people know Rampage and King Mo. They tune in to watch those stars, and that in turn will increase the bottom line. If Lawal and Rampage were to somehow lose in this upcoming tournament or in the title bout that follows, the tourney format could conceivably vanish like something from a David Blaine magic trick. Poof, gone. The tournament format has lost much of its importance because these title shots are either being gifted to big-name fighters or the tournament winner is bypassed in favor of a better draw who has not earned the shot. If Bellator wants to be the place where title shots are earned, the promotion has been doing a really poor job of showing it since the Viacom deal. However, as with any business partnership involving a large company, the bottom line is all that matters. If the promotion doesn’t sell tickets or get a better television rating and there’s a better option out there, then the promotion will be left behind. The bottom line is the end all be all, and the tournament format just doesn’t serve that anymore. Bellator took a leap with the Curran/Straus rematch, and it very well could signal the beginning of the end for the tournament format.