If you were to browse around the internet trying to learn what a “battleground state” is, you’d more than likely come across a lot of political websites or information surrounding states that could be won by either a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate. But the sport of mixed martial arts is putting a new spin on the expression as the two biggest MMA promotions in the country battle for supremacy.

In May, Bellator announced that its 11th season of action will kick off on Friday, Sept. 5, from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., with Bellator 123. It will be the eighth time in the promotion’s history that it will roll into the Mohegan Sun Arena for an event, and it will mark the third consecutive time that Bellator’s season will kick off from that location. The tournament-based promotion has built a fan base in The Constitution State, and the organization hopes to continue that relationship.

It was all well and good for Bellator until its top competitor kicked everything up a gear. The UFC scheduled an event to take place on the same day as Bellator 123 from a venue that is approximately 10 miles away. In late May, the UFC announced that UFC Fight Night 50 will take place at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Conn. It will mark the fifth time in the history of the UFC that the promotion will hold an event in Connecticut, but it will be the first time since UFC 55, which took place in 2005, and it will be the first time that the promotion holds its event at Foxwoods. The four previous efforts came at the Mohegan Sun venue. It also marks the first time that the UFC has gone beyond just simple counter-programming in its rivalry with Bellator.

Why is the UFC doing this? Well, there are a number of reasons, some more abstract than others.

The Friday date, rather than the typical Saturday schedule, for the UFC event has been attributed to Fox Sports 1’s packed lineup of college football games on that Saturday, Sept. 6. But that alone isn’t really a good reason. The promotion could have scheduled an event the following day that would take place on pay-per-view and hold the preliminary fights on FX, similar to what is happening this weekend for UFC 174.

The unspoken truth, however, is quite obvious. The real motive behind the UFC’s scheduling of UFC Fight Night 50 lies in trying to establish dominance over what it considers an inferior competitor. Recent reports show that Bellator landed over 100,000 pay-per-view buys last month for Bellator 120. That’s considered a strong showing for Bellator, and it likely caused the UFC to perk up and take notice. The response is designed to not only erode Bellator’s television viewership, but also hurt ticket sales for the event—with the UFC and Bellator events taking place at the same time, just 10 miles apart, it’s a good bet that some fans who would otherwise attend the Bellator show will instead take a seat in the stands at Foxwoods for a night of UFC action.

However, there are advantages that each promotion will have when they go head-to-head that night. The UFC’s biggest advantage is the simple fact that it is already the bigger promotion, with a lot more depth than its competitor. It would be possible for the UFC to put on more appealing fights without destroying future cards.

Although the UFC is the bigger and stronger promotion as a whole, it may be Bellator who has a bigger opportunity on its hands that evening. The promotion has secured the better venue—the Mohegan Sun has an arena which regularly hosts sporting events, whereas the Octagon will be placed in a theater-style setup at Foxwoods.What’s more important, though, is Bellator won’t need to draw a bigger television audience, nor a bigger live attendance, but eclipsing either would be a huge feather in the promotion’s cap. And it may just be able to manage the latter.

Bellator’s undercards are generally littered with local talent, and this would be a big opportunity to sign top up-and-comers from the New England and New York areas and display them on the undercards. Generally, these fighters drive friends and family to the fights, which will help toward the attendance. Another contributing factor that will help is the fact that the tickets to Bellator are sure to be cheaper than those of the UFC, and the bargain may be more attractive to some fight fans.

Ultimately, though, Bellator will be aided the most by a strong card of its own to oppose the UFC lineup. Inserting Eddie Alvarez on the card across from Will Brooks to unify the lightweight championship belts would be a good start. Bellator would also benefit from having Pat Curran defend his strap. The better venue and better opportunity to capture the local scene should help Bellator’s cause, but a compelling main card will go a long way to put bodies in the seats.

When all said and done, it will be interesting to see how everything plays out. Both promotions are likely to keep their cards close to their chest in an effort to try to one-up each other, which only helps the sport and benefits the fans. It is important for Bellator to realize the opportunity at hand to prove to the world that it can hang with the UFC. CEO Bjorn Rebney and company can prove that they will not simply be pushed around and bullied by the UFC. Connecticut has turned into the battleground state, and on Sept. 5, we will see just how everything will unfold.

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.