We’re a few days removed from what has slowly become Bellator’s bi-annual venture into Dublin, Ireland.
From what started out as showcasing older veterans and a short-lived partnership with BAMMA, the promotion has come on leaps and bounds in harvesting homegrown talent in this country.
On Saturday night – Bellator were dealt a hand that would neither make or break them in Ireland, but could provide an interesting path for them moving forward.
Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives to weigh up after Saturday night.
There’s not much Bellator could do in the aftermath of the injuries announced weeks before the card.
In late January, it was announced crowd favourite Peter Queally would not be fighting fit for his US headliner with former champion Brent Primus. A big blow for the promotion, given Queally received such a raucous reaction in his last fight in the 3Arena.
Days later, perennial main eventer James Gallagher was also pulled from the card, citing a back injury. Another huge blow, but Bellator still had enough of a belief to continue with their withstanding fighters.
Bellator elevated Scotland’s Chris Bungard to the US main event slot to face Primus, and Ellenor/Gallagher was re-booked for a London card in May.
Given the roster of fighters at their disposal, they did the best with what they had. Some questioned the order of having Paul Redmond or Frans Mlambo not on the Bellator Dublin card, but aside from that they did a good job of maintaining a competitive card.
The Main Event decision
It didn’t take long for Bellator to act on the injuries, and promote Leah McCourt vs Judith Ruis to the main event slot. It would be the first female non-title fight main event in a major MMA promotion.
A risk? Maybe it was. However, Bellator were clever in maintaining an Irish presence in this slot, likely hoping for a hometown reaction as seen with previous cards.
McCourt rose to the occasion even before stepping into the octagon. She transcended the sport in this country in the build-up, gaining lots of mainstream media attention and doing a great job on her social channels.
And the performance was there to back it up. In a division with only a handful of contenders, McCourt proved her worth in a decision win.
The risk definitely paid off, and Bellator now have a fighter with a much heightened prominence that can main event or co-main event on cards here to come.
The card structure
An issue Bellator needs to address is the structure of their fights.
Now, this is purely from an Irish perspective, but as Barry pointed out on this week’s podcast – there are two main markets for this card. The Irish and the US market.
Bellator have their prelims, a Bellator Dublin main card (usually on Irish TV) and a Bellator numbered main card. The Bellator numbered card (Bellator 240 etc) usually airs on US TV during prime time, which ends up being 2am or 3am over here.
You can see where Bellator is coming from delaying a certain number of fights. They want to market the event to a US audience, at a time that suits them.
On the other hand, there’s a portion of fights on the numbered card that doesn’t get aired over here until late at night – that most people won’t stay up for.
It’s a case of deciding to take the gamble of broadcasting a full main card in the afternoon in the US for the benefit of European audiences, or to continue with what they’re doing.
Nonetheless, it’s a point that needs to be addressed.
The European effect
As the cards have progressed, Bellator have become less reliant on bringing over US fighters over here to fill the card.
A lot of that has to do with their investment in domestic fighters, but a lot of that has to do with the establishment of Dublin as a destination on the European scene.
The UFC have failed to capitalise on the influx of MMA fans over the past 5/6 years by not making Dublin a regular destination on their calendar.
When there have been big MMA cards over here, the fights have delivered and more importantly – the fans have delivered.
European fighters are noticing this, and it’s not coincidental that many top European prospects from the UK and beyond want to fight in Dublin above all else.
Aaron Chalmers is a prime example. A notable name with drawing power in the UK – seemed to relish fighting in Dublin and for the Irish fan base.
The Live Setup
There were a combined 20 preliminary fights in Bellator over the past two cards. That’s an insane number of bouts, and there’s positives and negatives to draw from it.
The huge positive is the sheer amount of inexperienced fighters getting to fight in one of the top MMA promotions early into their career. The negative is the laborious nature of so many fights if you’re watching at home or in the arena.
The structure of the numbered card/Dublin card is a little confusing, even as a fan in the arena, you can’t be sure who’s going to walk out next.
Providing fans with regular upcoming fight schedules live on screen in the arena would help. Preventing any postliminary fights (when everyone has left the arena) would also help.
Basically, Bellator need to shorten their card in some capacity, for the benefit of the fan. 7 hours is far too long to expect someone to watch each and every fighter. By keeping a structured preliminary and main card, with less fights, it can be easily achieved.
However, it is great to see so many young Irish fighters make waves on the big stage so early into their careers. It’s just a pity not all of their fights are being watched.
Essentially, there’s room for improvement in Bellator’s venture over here. But it’s their consistency that is the overlying positive.
Over the past few events, we’ve seen fighters grow in their ability, their media traction and their overall popularity. Names like Peter Queally, Kiefer Crosbie and Leah McCourt are now becoming household MMA names over here.
The credit has to be given to Bellator for their investment in this market. They spotted the post-McGregor MMA wave and took the bull by the horns.
As much as their last card here wasn’t their greatest, it still caught the attention of as many MMA fans as the last. It’s consistently growing the popularity of the sport over here, and providing fans with a regular event to attend and look forward to.
As the old saying goes – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Bellator Dublin will be no different. But for now, we should be grateful of their investment in this country, and with the UFC likely to struggle to have big domestic names on their card come August, – Bellator have full advantage in a chess match won years ago.