MMA: Why Bellator Is The Number Two Professional Wrestling Fed Running Today

Last week at Bellator 138, millions tuned in to Spike TV to witness two things: a mixed-martial-arts card filled with numerous young, hungry, up-and-coming MMA fighters, many of whom are poised to become the next major superstars of the sport, and a sideshow main event featuring one 51-year-old MMA Hall of Famer who hadn’t fought in several years, and one 41-year-old street fighting YouTube sensation whose personality far outshines his technical prowess.

Bellator 138 was a tale of two stories, both masterfully woven together by Bellator’s ring master, CEO Scott Coker. Coker, formerly the head of popular MMA organization, Strikeforce, before the company was purchased by MMA hegemony UFC’s parent company Zuffa, LLC. Coker, whose reputation as a producer has always featured a blend of substance and sizzle, appears to have borrowed from UFC boss Dana White’s playbook, which was practically stolen blatantly from WWE Chairman Vince McMahon’s “sports-entertainment” playbook, which, incidentally, he wrote.

Bellator’s fighters, skilled and exciting competitors that are often poached by White in a manner reminiscent of professional wrestling’s other 90s impresario, Eric Bischoff. When Bischoff ran then-Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling, Turner’s deep pockets afforded him the ability to poach just about any and every promising young talent as well as aged stars of wrestling’s past such as Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and the Ultimate Warrior, who were easily lured by WCW’s lighter work schedule and willingness and ability to overpay for their name and star power. WCW Monday Nitro cards and pay-per-views were constructed similarly to Coker’s Bellator cards. The undercard was chock full of young, hungry talent who could be counted on to regularly turn in outstanding, high-energy matches before turning it over to the top three or four matches, which would feature the old stand-bys that people still loved to cheer and didn’t want to let go of.

When Ken Shamrock stepped into the cage against Kimbo Slice at Bellator 138, the build up by Shamrock, a former WWF Intercontinental Champion and no slouch to wrestling’s business/entertainment side, was pushed by a very vocal Shamrock, whose last fight, also scheduled against Slice, was altered at the last minute when Shamrock injured himself during the warm-ups, who took every opportunity to denigrate and smack talk Slice’s ability, promising to submit the near 300-pound street fighter with powerful knockout power.

Kimbo defeated Shamrock by TKO just over two minutes into the first round.

While it may not have been the prettiest fight, it was a successful one, as Shamrock’s and Slice’s return to the cage resulted in millions of people tuning in to the Bellator product who may not have otherwise. Coker explained the logic of booking what was essentially a sideshow attraction above his more serious championship fighters in a direct, succinct way during the post fight press conference, and in doing so, also offered an explanation to wrestling fans who complain about “part timers” such as The Rock or Brock Lesnar who work a limited schedule for WWE but are often billed either in the main event or as a main attraction nearly every year at WWE’s biggest and most successful event, Wrestlemania. Big names draw casual viewers. Getting those casual viewer’s eyeballs on Bellator’s product will help expose the younger, lesser known talent to them, and ideally, convert them into regular viewers and new fans.

It was also during this post fight press conference that the character roles, either crafted for or unwittingly adopted by several of Bellator’s top talents, and the closeness with which they mirror current and traditional professional wrestling archetypes.

Joining Coker on the dais were Hector Lombard, Daniel Weichel, Daniel Straus, Bobby Lashley, Kimbo Slice, and Patricio Pitbull. Each took turns answering what at times seemed to be questions with an agenda by the press on hand. During the press conference, each fighter displayed personality traits that sometimes bordered on caricature, and occasionally, they cut professional wrestling style promos on each other to build anticipation for future matches.

Kimbo, displaying a character reminiscent of Bad News Allen, better known in the WWF during the late 80s as Bad News Brown, is a hard fighting street brawler whose toughness is such that is can compensate for a lack of traditional skill, skill, which Slice points out, doesn’t mean much if you get hit with one of Slice’s heavy and well-known iron fists. He’s the everyman you root for; the street tough you hope makes good.

Daniel Weichel presented himself as a straight up technician; a quiet if subdued character primarily focused on the task at hand and the mistakes he can correct to better his chances in his next fight. The persona was reminiscent of Cesaro of today’s WWE or even the calm, respectful temperament of Bret “Hitman” Hart. He’s the respectful athlete whose work remains outstanding even in defeat.

Bobby Lashley, another pro wrestling vet and two-sport athlete as a concurrent Bellator contracted fighter and TNA Wrestling roster member, conducted himself with a quiet confidence whereby he gave the distinct impression that he was the best in the sport and could beat anybody, much alike, but a less-electrifying Rock. His charisma and ability lead him to be able to adopt either a heroic or villainous role.

Daniel Straus is a charismatic fighter hungry for gold. His intensity and brash forwardness conjure something of a blend between Bad News Brown and The Rock, but could more closely be related to a modern mix of WWE’s Dean Ambrose and Titus O’Neil.

Patricio Pitbull is the quiet, dangerous force whose Bellator Featherweight Championship came to him by way of his lethal ability inside the cage. Due to his language barrier, Pitbull needs the aid of a translator, which, in a smaller scale way, brings to mind the danger and fear of a Paul Heyman advocated Brock Lesnar, now back with WWE after a short departure as UFC Heavyweight Champion.

Lastly, there was Hector Lombard, who even as press members attempted to rile him with rumors of trash talk from a would-be opponent, remained positive, respectful, and presented himself with class. Lombard is arguably the face of Bellator, and came across as the John Cena of the company in this role.

Scott Coker knows what he’s doing with Bellator, an MMA company that has grown tremendously from its obscure tournament days. Coker is not only running a solid MMA alternative to UFC, but he has taken the elements of professional wrestling, as adopted by Dana White, and has implemented them into Bellator as a means of gaining publicity; the fun kind. No one will mistake Shamrock or Slice for modern contenders to any belt, but millions still had fun watching the former “World’s Most Dangerous Man” get his mouth shut by the lovable underdog Kimbo.

Scott Coker is not only running an MMA alternative to UFC’s WWE, but is also running a better WCW than WCW, making Bellator the number two professional wrestling company in the world.

[Image via Getty]

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