Bellator MMA has made a lot of great moves of late, there’s no question about it. Signing the likes of Phil Davis, Josh Thompson, Matt Mitrione, and former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson proves that. There’s not a bust in the bunch, as all have paid off for Bellator already (even Henderson, in losing a welterweight title shot, given he can still steamroll the ranks of 155lbs).

That said, the promotion is still struggling, and it shows. Last weekend’s Bellator 157: Dynamite 2 proved it, especially following the release of ratings numbers that were anything but inspiring. Instead of a crushing win in viewership, something expected with names like Rampage Jackson, Matt Mitrione, and Michael Chandler on the card, the results were lukewarm: an average of barely over 600,000 viewers tune in, with viewership peaking at just over a million sets of eyeballs in the main event.

That’s not good. Not good at all. Bellator’s average show does somewhere in the range of 650,000 — and Dynamite 2 may be their most stacked card of the year. No, the main event of Jackson vs. Ishii wasn’t what we expected, but fans didn’t know that going in. And Mitrione’s debut, and Chandler vs. Patricky Pitbull, should have drawn more eyeballs then it did.

So, what’s the problem?

It may be two-fold. One, MMA fans don’t seem to be sold on the whole MMA/kickboxing hyrbid format, no matter how in love Bellator CEO Scott Coker is with the idea. The kickboxing portion of the card fizzled, and Bellator really needs to rethink any more of these outings before moving forward with another. If nothing else, they kill pacing: imagine if Chandler’s knockout of the year contender win over Pitbull came immediately after Mitrione’s comeback win. Suddenly, you’ve got people tuning in and sticking around, instead of saying “well I’ll just come back for the main event.”

That’s just speculation as to the cause, but it’s a strong possibility. Another may be the bad press Bellator took following their last big “tentpole” event, Slice vs. Dada 5000 in February. Between that and the horrendous Ortiz vs. Bonnar tentpole, fans may be having a once bitten, twice shy moment with the promotion’s “big” cards. Coming out of Dada and Slice, one man (Dada) nearly died, and had no place being in the cage to begin with. Months later, the other did die, when Slice tragically passed away after being informed he needed a heart transplant.

So what does the number two MMA promotion in North America do in this situation? It sounds like “stay the course” is the plan, but truth be told, it’s not a very good plan.

No, what Bellator needs now is legitimacy. They need to go back to pushing homegrown talent, and do away with the freakshow main events. Those may have worked in the short term, but the public is wise to the quality (or lack thereof) that all too often accompanies those bouts. Now, names like Chandler, Straus, Curran, Warren, King Mo, and others are more important than ever before. And they can be accented with the legitimate pickups of names like Thompson and Henderson.

The heavyweight division needs to be sorted out as well. As does Bellator’s women’s divisions, which seem to be an afterthought at this point.

In any case, as much as the promotion is a major player in the free agent market right now, they need to get better at putting on solid fight cards. Hopefully, a lesson was learned from Dynamite 2: gimmicks won’t do. Stick to MMA, stick to solid fights, ditch the freakshows and cross-promotions with other sports.

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.