At Bellator 138, unfinished business was, hopefully, settled once and for all when Ken Shamrock, just 51 years young, took a TKO loss to Kimbo Slice, a man ten years his junior. Such age discrepancies are commonplace in MMA — when you’re talking about a 35 year old taking on a 25 year old. 51 and 41? Not so much. Yet it was a fight between marketable names, notorious names if you will, that Bellator used to draw eyeballs to the other fights on the card, featuring names like Michael Chandler, Bobby Lashley, and Patrício Freire.

In short, the headliner, a non-title affair of no real consequence other than bragging rights and as a historical footnote, was the old bait and switch, a promoter’s favorite tool: come for this, but check out that while you’re at it.

It’s not a bad tool, used in moderation.

The problem here is, Bellator doesn’t seem willing or able to practice moderation.

Shamrock vs. Slice should have been a one-off. Yet already, fights are being talked about for both men. The seriousness of those talks remains to be seen, and Slice can probably take a couple of fights against lesser competition and at least not be totally embarrassed, but beyond that? Shamrock has said he’d take a rematch without question, and while it shouldn’t happen, ironically, Shamrock might have come out of the fight looking better than the victor: no one even expected him to come close to winning, yet he did, though the choke he employed was poorly executed. Slice, meanwhile, won your basic no-win situation: he beat a guy he was supposed to, a 51 year old man, and looked as lost in mixed martial arts as ever, displaying absolutely no takedown defense against some severely slow takedowns.

If Shamrock does get a second fight, which he shouldn’t, Royce Gracie’s name has been thrown around. At least then he’s fighting someone less likely to do him serious head trauma, but still, that fight is just out with the old, in with the older.

As for Slice, well, what is there for him? He seems to want to stick around, no doubt knowing that with Bellator, there are a couple of fat paydays waiting for him. Yet a name like Lashley would simply take him down (and they count each other as friends anyway), and fighters like Cheick Kongo (who did just that to Alexander Volkov this past Friday) and others would no doubt do the same.

In short, there aren’t a lot of options that wouldn’t seriously expose Slice’s lack of a ground game in the heavyweight division.

If Slice and Shamrock were the long and the short of this situation, however, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue. You’d have one talent way past his prime, and another who never developed as a fighter, in a promotion that actually has some solid, legit names with the likes of Chandler, Will Brooks, the Pitbull brothers, Pat Curran, Marcin Held, Michael Page, and others.

However, it seems the freakshow fight trend with aged stars is far from over. And while Slice vs. Shamrock was simply an oddity, Tito Ortiz vs. Liam McGeary isn’t — and it spells trouble for Bellator.

Ortiz, the former UFC champion, has been announced as the next challenger for the Bellator light heavyweight title. And while he’s coming off two wins, those wins were against an undersized Alexander Shlemenko (who, incidentally, has since been banned from the sport for three years for a doping violation) and perhaps the worst incarnation of The American Psycho, Stephen Bonnar, fans have ever seen set foot in the cage. If the submission of an undersized opponent and a lacklustre decision earns you a title shot in Bellator, well then the promotion has come a long way from its days as the promotion where title shots are earned, no given. Sadly, it’s the wrong direction.

Make no mistake, Ortiz getting the title shot is about name, and it’s a given shot. And that would be fine, if Ortiz had fought and won against some higher level competition. It’s even nice to see Ortiz doing well. Watching him do his grave digger routine in Bellator has been a great nostalgia kick, frankly — but Ortiz already sent one Bellator champion (Shlemenko) on a downward spiral, and should he somehow manage to upset McGeary, he’ll have wiped out a potential star in the making.

Meanwhile, against, we have a no-win situation of a fight for a Bellator champ: if McGeary does anything less than steamroll through Ortiz, even if he wins, he loses.

This is the type of fight that, if a title weren’t on the line, the bout might be seen as a fun one. Yet worse than a freakshow fight, this is a train wreck in the making. Everyone will watch, which is just about the only upside for Bellator, but it’s no way to grow talent for the long term.

Which brings us to the signing of Josh Koscheck. Bellator’s announcement at Bellator 139 that they’d signed the Ultimate Fighter 1 vet was a head scratcher to say the least. Few saw Koscheck defecting to the competition after fighting with the UFC for a decade, and amassing over twenty fights with the organization. If anything, retirement seemed to be losing, as Koscheck had lost five straight and hadn’t won since February of 2012.

Yet now he’s with Bellator — and again, it’s all about name value, but comes with a potential side effect: while Koscheck might draw some eyeballs in the short term, the reality is his days as a top fighter are over. They have been since Georges St. Pierre spent twenty-five minutes targeting his eye socket at UFC 124 in 2010. Should he find success in Bellator, it may cause casual fans to see the promotion as the minor leagues. After all, a guy who could no longer hang with the best in the UFC, coming in and clearing house in the promotion? That wouldn’t exactly look great for Bellator.

So what does the promotion need to do? Put the spotlight on its own talent. If it wants to use a few old war horses to draw people to the young studs, fine — but don’t let them overshadow the real talent, and don’t risk the future for a quick short term gain.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.