This has been something on my mind for a while and with Bellator’s Season 8 slate of tournaments in full-swing, now is the perfect time to expand on it. Quite simply, Bellator is killing fighters’ careers with their tournaments. In modern MMA, fighting once a month is far too much and there is evidence to back this theory up. Bellator fights are known by both fans and gamblers to be harder to predict than the bouts seen in other promotions. That is not a coincidence. The short turn around for their tournament fights (normally only 4 weeks) does not give fighters enough time to recover and get a full training camp in before they are pushed back into the cage. We have seen how fighters are prone to underperform when they are over-trained, and that is what is constantly happening with fighters in Bellator tournaments. Even when a fighter in another organization is training for a bout that gets pushed back due to injury or some other circumstance, we often see a decline in performance when the fight eventually happens. In Bellator tournaments, participants are training for 3-4 straight months without a break — which is already too long — and on top of that they have to fight 3 times throughout the course of the tournament in order to win the big cheque. The training and the fights combined take far too great of a toll on a fighter’s body. Look at all the fighters who suddenly found themselves on a drastic decline after a short time in the organization. Great prospects suddenly grow old after only being there for just a year or two. Take Marlon Sandro for example. He was a great prospect and looked great in his first tournament. Then he began declining at a very fast rate during the second one he competed in. Now? He’s a shell of the fighter who was tearing through solid competition in Sengoku. Why? Because he’s had 9 fights in only 1.5 years since joining the Bellator ranks. In this era of MMA, that is an astronomical number of fights. In the past, fighters like Jeremy Horn made their names by staying active and saw no ill effects, but this is not the turn of the millenium any more. Unlike Horn and his contemporaries, not only has Sandro been fighting incredibly often, but he hasn’t been just facing a bunch of cans, they have been tough opponents in Bellator’s most talented division. That, in my opinion, has caused his sudden decline. Sandro is not the only example, he’s just the most recent one. Now look at the way a promotion like the UFC operates. They have their champions fight 1-2 times a year while contenders fight 2-3 times over the same span. Of course, they would love to have their more popular guys fight more often to save the them from watered down cards, but they understand that there is a limit to how often they can fight while preserving the longevity of a fighter’s career. And on the rare occasion where a fighter does fight 4-5 times in a 12 month span in the UFC, it shows. Donald Cerrone was on a great 4 fight win streak all in 1 year, but then for his 5th fight in just 12 months, he looked horrible vs Nate Diaz. In fact, he is just 2-2 since that 4 fight win streak and looked either flat or down right atrocious in 3/4 of those fights, including one of his wins. And again, this is not the only example for UFC fighters, just the most recent one. Of course, you see UFC fighters who only fight 2-3 times a year and still decline as well. However, it is much less common even though the UFC has a far larger roster than Bellator. Some people will likely point to Pride’s one night tournaments as a counter to this idea. However, I have already thought of that. Consider these 2 points:
1) There were still a fair share of young Pride fighters who suffered the same fate as those who I mentioned above and prematurely grew old as fighters. As an example, Wanderlei Silva was only 30 when he began to lose his recovery ability and look old as a fighter. He was one of Pride’s most active fighters, which certaintly played more of a role in his decline than the one tournament where he competed twice in one night (the 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix).
2) The one night tournaments are actually better for a fighter because they don’t have to train 3-4 months straight and have a fight every 4 weeks during that. Fighting twice in one night is not all that much different than 1 long fight in 1 night.
So, there you go. Just my 2 cents on something that has been on my mind for a while. As long as Bellator continues to operate with the tournament structure, they’ll be pushing their fighters too hard and we’ll be seeing more bouts with unpredictable performances and results. Obviously from a gambling perspective this makes things difficult, but the bigger issue is the long term well-being of the organization’s fighters.