Is MMA big or is UFC big? Spike will find out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

MMAJunkie’s Ben Fowlkes – whose wife BTW just had a baby named Willa Jane – details Bellator’s bet. Founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney believes that Spike and MMA are synonymous in the public’s mind.

If MMA is not the world’s fastest growing sport, if rather the engine is not the sport itself but the UFC, then Bellator may join Affliction, ProElite, IFL, Strikeforce, etc in the graveyard of businesses that didn’t get it. If they are right, then there could be the only real championship fight between fight businesses since Pride.

With Bellator’s Spike TV premiere tonight at 10 pm ET/PT, we will begin to find out.

While the ratings for Bellator weren’t exactly spectacular on MTV2, neither were the expectations. If you don’t count the Lingerie Football League, it’s not a network known for its sports programming. It’s definitely not a network known for MMA programming. It’s not Spike TV, in other words.

Bellator’s chances for success all rest on a pretty simple theory: Fight fans are so accustomed to getting their MMA from Spike TV that they won’t care which brand name is on the mats. Not as long as the fights are good, and not as long as the quality of the broadcasts remains as high as it was during the UFC era on Spike TV.

“MMA fans like myself, along with millions of MMA fans across the country, associate Spike TV with MMA,” said Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebne.

Even when those taped fights aired on Spike TV opposite live UFC events on FOX or FX, Spike TV regularly drew audiences in the hundreds of thousands. Nearly a million people were reportedly at home watching old UFC fights on Spike TV even as Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez fought live and for free on FOX in November 2011.

What does that tell us, aside from suggesting that maybe some MMA fans have a pretty poor grasp of how to use the “guide” function on their remotes? According to  Spike TV President Kevin Kay , it’s proof that “Spike and MMA are synonymous in a lot of viewers’ brains.”

Then again, maybe it’s just proof that Spike TV and the UFC are synonymous in viewers’ brains.

Spike TV is giving Bellator every advantage it can. On Thursday nights at 10 p.m., Bellator will have “TNA Impact” as a pro-wrestling lead-in. It will also have the full weight of a partner that has literally bought in to the product, which, according to Rebney, means Bellator doesn’t have to worry about getting canceled if its initial ratings aren’t outstanding.

As Kay put it, “I think it all comes back to great fights.” After all, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar weren’t household names in the MMA world before their legendary fight at the first finale for “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Then again, you never know when you’re going to get a fight like that. All you can do is put your best fighters out front and hope for the best, which is exactly what Spike TV and Bellator will be doing every Thursday night for the next couple months. One way or another, the hypothesis must eventually give way to a conclusion.

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