It was no surprise when Bellator MMA released welterweight champion Ben Askren on November 14 of last year. The two sides had been at odds with each other because of issues of money and Askren’s one dimensional fighting style. However, this latest release seems to be something of a recurring pattern for the arguably number two promotion in the US.
This pattern seems to be the pattern of releasing the more dominant champions to allow them to fight elsewhere rather than keeping them in the promotion. Granted this partially has to do with Bellator’s unique fighter contracts but it can also legitimately be argued that the promotion genuinely doesn’t like dominant champs.
This pattern is applicable to half of the champions which left the promotion and would go on to fight elsewhere. The first of these two champions was Hector Lombard. Even though Lombard technically only defended his title once, his total Bellator record stands at 8-0. Granted three of these fights were his only tournament bouts on his way to becoming the first middleweight champion. The other four fights though against Jay Silva, Herbert Goodman, Falaniko Vitale, and Trevor Prangley were all “super fights” that Bellator would put together in the early days of Bellator so that the champions could still compete.
Both Askren and Lombard dominated their opponents in Bellator and because of that it almost seems like Bellator was reluctant to keep them. The story is rather different for the other two champions that were released by the promotion and even for a fighter who wasn’t a champion. Heavyweight champion Cole Konrad was a dominant champ but vacating the title had more to do with his deciding to go into the working world whereas the release of women’s strawweight champion Zoila Gurgel had more to do with Bellator’s lack of commitment to women’s MMA.
Then there’s the strange case of current lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez who was blocked from signing with the UFC by Bellator and upon finally coming to an agreement with the promotion, skipped the traditional tournament format and got an immediate title shot against Michael Chandler who originally took his title. Aside from their matches with each other, both men have been dominant.
Obviously there are still many unanswered questions. Questions of money also come into play as do choices made by Viacom rather then Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney. Considering the fact that there are other champions who seem to be reigning supreme, there is still time to see if this is indeed Bellator’s policy. Another thought is do they dislike dominant champions because they want exciting fights? We will see.