Bellator MMA put on their first ever show in the UK this weekend as the promotion headed to London and the o2 Arena for Bellator 158. The show, headlined by Brit Paul Daley taking on Douglas Lima featured a total of thirteen professional bouts with only five of those going the distance, making for an entertaining evening.
The highlight of the night for me was the fights which I had expected to, living up to the hype and delivering. Daley Vs Lima, Wood Vs Morton, Mulheron Vs Grove & Page Vs Santos to name just a few, all delivered from start to finish. There was also some spectacular performances from Danny Mitchell, Jason Radcliffe, Pietro Menga & James Gallagher that really showed just how much it means to these guys to get the performance on the big stage.
There is no questioning that all of the guys stepped up their game on the night and whilst Scott Coker wouldn’t give away too many secrets backstage, it was certain that he would be reviewing the whole card and looking at the talent on display to see if he felt any of the fighters deserved another call-up to Bellator.
Another highlight was the reaction of the crowd throughout the night, naturally weighted towards the British fighters but also appreciative of the other fighters on the card. From start to finish the crowd were in high spirits and although as you will see from below it wasn’t the biggest crowd in the o2, they certainly did their part in making the debut of Bellator in the UK a memorable one.
But there were certainly a few learning points for the promotion to take away following the show that will be high on the agenda of Bellator President Scott Coker in considering if the promotion will be back on UK soil any time soon.
One thing that did take me by surprise was the lack of attendance which if I had to take a guess at would say was no more than four thousand fans. The arena had vast amounts of empty spaces and I can only suspect that if the ticket prices had been lower across the board then the issue wouldn’t have been so visible.
Charging £45 for a ticket in a sport which still is struggling to break into the main stream isn’t going to bring in the fans who are sitting on the fence as to whether or not they should attend. £15 on the other hand would and I think that would be a far better strategy to adopt to bring in as many people as possible. I note that the promotion were offering tickets cheaper in the week or so before the show but by then its a little too late.
Something else which really was an oversight by the promotion was the lack of entrance music and introductions for a lot of the card. Pretty much the entirety of the prelim card fighters had to walk into the cage without their pre selected entrance music and the crowd were not event aware that the fights were starting as there was no introductions until the fighters had already made it to the cage. For a promotion the size of Bellator that really shouldn’t be an issue and although it will be a quick win to resolve, did take away from the build up to the fights.
Conflicts of interest happen in life and I get that. But we should never be in a position were we see a fighters manager, actively cheering and yelling words of encouragement to a fighter on a show he is also promoting. Unfortunately we witnessed that during the Manuel Garcia and Alex Reid fight and I can’t not mention it. It certainly left a sour taste in the mouth of all of the press who witnessed it.
Either you are promoting a show or you are managing a fighter, we shouldn’t be seeing guys do both in my eyes but if they do then they should absolutely be doing everything they can to stay impartial and thats from the matchmaking to the fight taking place and everything in between.
In summary its a mixed reaction to the first UK show for Bellator MMA. The fights we all expected to deliver, delivered and there was some real stand out moments throughout the entirety of the card.
But there was also a few hiccups which will tarnish the show for some. Having had the chance to catch up with Scott Coker backstage, the Bellator checklist for shows returning to countries is ticket sales and TV numbers and whilst I suspect the TV numbers will be acceptable it could be the ticket shows which may delay their return to UK soil. But lets hope that isn’t the case.