If there is one thing I love about the Bellator Fighting Championships, it is that throughout their tenure they have stuck to their game plan of using tournaments to crown their champions. It has become their niche and the backbone of their creed, "Bellator is where championship opportunities are earned not given." However, that said, there are pros and cons to tournament style MMA.
Saturday night as I watched Bellator 55, which featured the semifinals of their season five bantamweight tournament and also featured a non-title bout with their light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion Christian 'Ton-Ton' M'Pumbu, certain things just didn't sit right with me. First and foremost, it had to deal with their champion M'Pumbu (Pictured above) not defending his title. I understand he has to await the winner of an actual tournament, yet herein lies the problem.
In using tournaments to determine who should be the next contender for your championship, the champion himself must lie dormant and wait for his next defense. Seems perfect in theory however, there are flaws when a tournament is not held every season. This cannot be done since Bellator currently has champions in seven different weight classes. Therefore, a champion, if lucky, gets to defend his title once a year.
For example, Bellator heavyweight champion Cole Konrad won his title in October 2010. Since then he's had only one fight, which took place in August, ten months after his last fight and it was a non-title affair. Bellator is currently having a heavyweight tournament this season to determine a challenger for Konrad, However, that means he won't actually defend the belt till early 2012; if lucky, about a year and a half after he won it.
For a guy like Konrad, who has had only eight professional fights in his career, it's difficult to progress as a fighter without actual fight experience. Thus, he's a world champion, but his career has stalled. I give pro wrestling's World Wrestling Entertainment credit; they have their champion defend his title just about every time he steps into the ring; sometimes four or five nights a week. However, like the Harlem Globetrotters, it's always against the same opponent.
Another negative to tournament style MMA, is the rule that no elbows can be thrown during the quarter and semifinal rounds. This is to try and insure that fighters will not be cut or damaged to the point they cannot return a month later to continue in the tourney. Seems logical I know, but there are flaws in this ideology.
The most prevalent is that by removing such a vital part of a fighter's arsenal, one that usually ends fights, you have a higher percentage of matches that tend to go the distance. On Saturday night, both semifinals went the full three rounds. Granted there are other ways to end fights, but adding elbow strikes sure would help. Then there is another issue; theoretical, but factual as well.
It has to do with the fundamental theory that by removing elbow strikes, which is such an integral part of what makes Mixed Martial Arts what it is; you truly don't have a full blown MMA fight. Therefore, to remove something that is legal within the rules, for the purpose of continuing a tournament, somewhat dilutes the tournament if you think about it. Is it actually MMA?
However, not all is bad when it comes to tournament style MMA. One of the great things that Bellator has accomplished by using this format is giving an opportunity to young, unknown fighters who normally wouldn't get a chance on a big show. It has helped fighters gain notoriety and in the process, has helped Bellator create stars. It has also helped give fighters numerous paydays; while champions have to sit and wait, tournament participants can have up to three or four fights within a year.
Finally, the biggest positive is there are no ifs, ands or buts as to who deserves the next title shot. A tournament determines who rightfully gets to fight for a championship and no will question whether or not that person has earned it; that falls right in line with Bellator's motto. However, just like everything else in life, there are definite pros and cons to tournament style MMA.