I’ve written in the past about the emerging Bellator vs. UFC battle that will likely dominate MMA news headlines in 2013.
That battle just got a whole lot more interesting.
Randy Couture, the four-time, two-division UFC champion and one of the most popular fighters in the promotions history announced today that he had signed a multi-year deal with Spike TV. Specifically, reports are Couture will front a new Bellator reality TV show set to air later this year. He is expected to be a coach on the new show.
And just like that, the upstart Bellator promotion got a serious boost in legitimacy and profile. They may also have drawn the full ire of UFC president Dana White – if they hadn’t already.
We know Bellator and the UFC are already engaged in battle on multiple fronts. For one, there’s the obvious fact that with the Spike TV deal, Bellator finally has a platform to challenge the UFC’s dominance of the North American MMA market. Spike TV was the home of the UFC for half a decade, and is the place where the UFC first rose to national prominence. For many fans, Spike TV is synonymous with MMA.
That’s certainly an association Bellator is hoping to cash in on.
Then there’s the legal battle over Eddie Alvarez, Bellator’s biggest star who is currently trying to jump ship to the UFC. Bellator scored a victory on that front this past week when a judge denied an injunction to allow Alvarez to fight on the upcoming UFC 159. It now seems Alvarez will be fighting it out in the courtroom, instead of the cage, for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, the legal drama over Alvare’z contract may be creating problems for Bellator down the road. Dana White has joined a growing chorus of fighters who wonder if these hardball legal tactics might discourage fighters from signing with the promotion in the future.
“Find a middle ground and pay the kid what he should’ve been paid,” White told reporters at the post-fight press conference for UFC on FOX this weekend. “There’s nothing wrong with this whole situation as long as Eddie Alvarez gets paid.”
Then again, neither Dana White, nor Randy Couture, is any stranger to hardball legal tactics.
Remember way back in that ancient time known as 2007, when then-UFC heavyweight champion Couture attempted to resign from the UFC in order to pursue a super-fight with Fedor Emelianenko. White and the UFC kept Couture tied up in court in much the same fashion as Bellator is now tying up Eddie Alvarez, and the two were at each other’s throats for months.
Of course, it all ended up being for nought. The Affliction promotion, where the proposed super-fight was going to take place, imploded in a blaze of Josh Barnett-induced glory. And Randy ended up burying the hatchet with the UFC in the face of an even more lucrative fight with Brock Lesnar. The two sides made up, and Randy fought 6 more times in the UFC (including big fights with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and James Toney) before hanging up the gloves forever. For now, anyways.
So what does this news mean?
For now, it’s hard to say. We still have no idea what Bellator’s reality show will look like, though chances are it will mirror the UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter”, which became a multi-season hit on Spike TV after its debut in 2005. The presence of an MMA legend like Couture adds a serious dose of legitimacy to the venture, much the same way his presence as a coach during the first season of TUF added legitimacy to that burgeoning show.
Bellator faces a similar problem to what the UFC faced that first season, in that they have to introduce a whole case of unknown fighters to an audience used to seeing its stars. The presence of Couture will give fans a recognizable face and name, though which they can key into the rest of the show.
With TUF having recently rejuvenated and rebooted it’s format with the latest Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen season (for the better, fi you ask me) it’ll be interesting to see how this news effects a sure to be coming reality TV brawl between the two promotions.