If you haven't been following the saga of Bellator's London card, it makes the shit storm around UFC 200 look tame. Part of it is due to Scott Coker's continuing commitment to being the P.T. Barnum of mixed martial arts, and part of it is just plain bad luck. After Bellator almost got the 300lbs non-athlete Dada 5000 murdered in the ring by full time paid fighter Kimbo Slice, Slice tested positive for steroids (along with the co-main eventer, Ken Shamrock). But Bellator expects that, that is why they host events in places with no athletic commission or at least an athletic commission that couldn't care less. The Kimbo – Dada fight was in Texas which almost encourages PED use but still agreed to a year long suspension.
Coker decided that was too long to keep Slice out of action and booked him in to face James Thompson in the rematch no one was clamoring for in London, during his suspension. The story of hilariously irresponsible promoting stopped being funny pretty quickly, however, when Kimbo Slice died tragically young of heart failure at the start of June. This left Bellator's first UK card without a main event and for about ten awful minutes there were rumours that the promotion was in talks with Slice's son to take over the main event spot as some kind of weird tribute—thankfully that did not come to anything.
Then Matt Mitrione, who debuted for Bellator less than a month ago, was also booked to fight on the London card. Again, because Bellator goes out of its way to avoid respectable athletic commissions, Mitrione skipped the usual mandated down time that any fighter would be handed for getting knocked on his butt in his last fight and wound up fighting Oli Thompson.
Finally because this card was in England the local talent, Michael Page was thrown another easy knockout in the form of Evangelista 'Cyborg' Santos. Santos is most famous for being the former husband of Cristiane 'Cyborg' Justino. The two agreed to joint custody of the nickname when they divorced and permitted it occasional visits to Roberto Abreu. What Santos is known for more than anything is a brawling style, gassing in every fight (he gassed in this one after three minutes of holding side control, unanswered) and for getting knocked out quite a lot. In his thirty-eight career fights, Santos has been knocked out in about a third of his appearances.
I do not blame Michael Page. I can't stress that enough. Page keeps signing on to fight respectable tests like Fernando Gonzalez and missing out on the actual fight, only to be fed another easy knockout by Scott Coker. Two years into Stephen Thompson's MMA career he was thrown in with Matt Brown, two years into Raymond Daniels' kickboxing career he was thrown in with Bazooka Joe and Nieky Holzken—they both struggled, grew and now thrive in their respective sports. Page is almost half a decade into his MMA career, almost thirty years old, and the stiffest test he has faced is the forty year old Cyborg who is now 3-5 going back to 2011, being finished in every loss. This was another fight where Bellator's love of sloppy or absent commissions worked out for the best: Santos was TKOd in mid May—less than two months ago—taking 62 consecutive, unanswered blows to the head in that stoppage.
Frankly, Scott Coker is wasting Michael Page's athletic potential and harming fighters who shouldn't be in the ring with him if Coker believes him to be as good as advertised. If Stephen Thompson were still fighting Dan Stiggen level fighters now with a five year streak of easy finishes, you would be disgusted and rightly so. Here's the finish at any rate, it was the usual distance fighting stuff—waiting for Cyborg to close the distance, giving ground a few times, and then intercepting with the jumping knee. Textbook sen-no-sen which shattered Cyborg's forehead and might have ended his career.
Contrast that fight and matchmaking with the main event between Paul Daley and Douglas Lima which was tremendous. Lima has had difficulty over the last year with injuries but looked sharper than ever as he performed the most dangerous feat in boxing—he hooked with a hooker. Paul Daley's left hook seems to be the most dangerous blows in mixed martial arts and one of his donwfalls has been a tendency to get tunnel vision in looking for it. Against Lima he looked well rounded with his striking, a decision which might have been helped along by Lima countering every left hook he threw.
Lima's plan was very clear, he was waiting on the left hand. When Daley threw his right, Lima didn't even attempt to counter, he would simply cover up. But when Daley squared up for the hook, Lima would hook with him.
Or he would land a thudding right uppercut. In the second round he followed this with the left hook and right straight to send Daley stumbling backwards across the ring.
And when Daley would pump out his piston-like jab, Lima would meet him with the dipping jab and hurt him with reach. Or Lima would wait for Daley to retract the jab and follow his lead leg back with a hard low kick.
In the second round Lima came damn close to finishing the fight as he came off of the fence with a right hand and effortlessly took Daley down, posturing up to land unanswered hammerfists before the round came to a close.
This is what Bellator London hammered home to me: I don't care about knockouts for their own sake in the same way that I wouldn't pay to watch someone get hit in the head with a baseball bat. The fight between Lima and Daley, the one fight between two genuinely top tier fighters in the promotion turned out to be excellent but provided no easy knockout because that is the trade off in fair matchmaking. Fighters don't get the knockout as often when matched with even competition but that is what makes it so special when a guy like Stephen Thompson can knock out another top tier competitor, or when Demian Maia can get the submission. That is why I have been struggling to write about Michael Page or to get excited about his fights. I can see what he's doing technically and tactically but he has been doing it against fighters who have no business being in the ring with him, over and over and over for four years. If he's clearly so much better than these guys put him in with a decent welterweight because that's what we all want to see, not easy knockouts and foregone conclusions. It doesn't have to be Koreshkov or Lima or even Daley, just not guys with a handful of fights part-time or a guy with a dozen losses by knockout. But you know what? There's a chance that wouldn't produce a nice knockout for the Bellator social media accounts.
The magic wears off. If you follow MMA closely or watch a few fights each month you start to realize that anyone in the top twenty or even thirty of a division could finish every fight if they weren't fighting evenly matched competition in hopes of moving forwards. The manufactured knockouts become obvious and the five second clips become worthless. You come to terms with the fact that you don't watch this sport to see people get hurt. What most fans watch for, whether they realize it or not, is to see the better man impose his will or rally from behind. You win a fight? You move up. It is about finding a fighter's level and allowing him to compete at it. Not everyone is going to be Georges St. Pierre and they aren't expected to quit when they don't quite make it. So when they lose to a GSP we take a step back and match them with someone more to their level. If they're young, they have time to grow. If they're getting to the end of their career, they get another payday and a chance of a good scrap. Taking an superstar undefeated prospect and matching him with someone who probably shouldn't even be in the game anymore and got brutally knocked out two months before is cheap, exploitative, and ultimately empty.
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