Bellator: the Pittsburgh Pirates of MMA?


From the early to mid-2000s, I lived in a small City in Central VA named Lynchburg.  Lynchburg wasn’t the most exciting place to live.  On a Friday night most people would do one of two things for fun.  They would either watch paint dry or watch the grass grow.  Sometimes, they would even paint the grass to double the fun.

However, they did have a Minor League Baseball team in Lynchburg, the Lynchburg Hillcats.  For six months each year I would be entertained by the then Single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  One thing I knew each year, since the Pirates were annually one of the worst teams in baseball, they always had high draft picks.  So, there was always a bevy of talent coming through the Hill City in the Summer time, on their way to a career in the Majors.

My five years in Lynchburg allowed me to watch the careers of many Hillcats.  Names such as Ryan Doumit, Ronny Paulino, Jose Castillo, Sean Burnett and Jose’ Bautista all called City Stadium home.  All these players had one thing in common, a fast track to the Majors and at least three years with the MLB Pirates when they got there.

The average observer would think that with such a solid core of young, talented players that the Pirates would soon turn their losing ways around and contend each and every year for that October prize.  The thing was, Major League Baseball is a business and Pittsburgh is in a small market, which means they don’t have as much money at their disposal as the big squads like the Yankess, Mets and Red Sox.

So, what this meant was that these great young players were not able to be kept around once the big boys saw their talent and were able to start offering them more money and a better chance at being part of a team that would always be in contention to be the best of the best.

BellatorWhy am I sharing baseball stories with you on an MMA site?  Simply because last week, when I discovered that the UFC had signed Bellator’s Middleweight Champion, Hector Lombard, I couldn’t help but compare that to how the Pirates could never hold onto the talent that they created.

We can all agree that Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and Match Maker, Sam Caplan have made a fantastic product.  They’ve brought in outside talent, mixed it with their organically grown fighters, put them in a circular cage and allowed each and every fighter to earn what they have achieved along the way.  However, I think we all knew the day would come when the truly successful Bellator talent would begin flowing over to the UFC. Many thought Eddie Alvarez would be the first to make the move, but the loss to Michael Chandler may have slowed that train down a bit.

Since we all knew these defections would occur, I’m a bit puzzled as to why the Lombard jump has me a tiny bit shocked and a little saddened.  I mean, here’s a guy that has an 8-0 record in Bellator, the Middleweight strap and has been a staple of Bellator since 2009.  With his move to the UFC, he has essentially thrown that belt in the garbage and moved on, never having tasted defeat in a Bellator cage.  Replacing him as the Champion will either be a guy that couldn’t beat him (Schlemenko), a guy that possibly had a recent heart attack (Falcao) or a guy that “lucky” punched his way to a win in a fight he wasn’t even originally supposed to fight in (Spang).  I suppose, at a high level, I always thought Bellator would continue to bring in top tier Middleweights for him to mow down.  He was becoming Bellator’s Mike Tyson.  You either pulled for him in every fight or you would root for every opponent placed in front of him to try and see them beat him and show that he is mortal after all.

So, what, if anything, can Bellator CEO, Bjorn Rebney, do to stop the exodus of talent?  What moves can he make to lock up Pat Curran, Michael Chandler, Ben Askren and Eduardo Dantas for the long haul?  Loyalty isn’t an existing concept these days, so he needs money.  Will the new Spike TV deal be the catalyst for increasing revenues?  Will they get their feet wet in the Pay-Per-View arena?  Or, is it simply a foregone conclusion that they will benefit from the great young talent, while they can, just as the Pittsburgh Pirates would do until they had to let them go find greener outfields elsewhere?

Coming from someone who thoroughly enjoys the weekly product that Bjorn Rebney and match maker Sam Caplan provide us, I place a lot of importance into fighter continuity and hope that Bellator can continue to grow so that we can expect to see someone like Pat Curran in a Bellator cage, year after year, just like you would expect to see GSP and Anderson Silva in a UFC Octagon.

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Related terms: Bellator 40, Bellator 42, Bellator 48, Bellator 37, Bellator 36, Bellator 33, Bellator Scores, Bellator Meaning

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