Bellator 35 Represents a New Beginning and New Challenges

Bellator’s fourth season kicks off Saturday night as the upstart mixed martial arts promotion begins a whole new era. Debuting on a new network (MTV2), at a new time (9pm EST), and on a different day of the week Bjorn Rebney and company hope that this mild face lift is just what’s needed to move them into the number 2 slot in North America. This season they will be returning to the four tournament format that they abandoned last season. In the Light Heavyweight division they will be looking to crown their inaugural champion, and in the welterweight, lightweight, and featherweight divisions they will be determining the number one contender.

Bellator 35 will focus on the welterweights as all four quarterfinal bouts will be contested and we will get to see Lyman Good vs. Chris Lozano, Jay Hieron vs. Anthony Lapsley, Rick Hawn vs. Jim Wallhead, and, in the main event, Dan Hornbuckle vs. Brent Weedman.

As Bjorn Rebney’s company continues to turn up the heat on Strikeforce the one area that seriously favors Bellator is the all important match booking. Recently Scott Coker has been running all over the world trying to drum up attention for his Heavyweight Grand Prix which is totally understandable, people like tournaments and all that, but Bellator is always running tournaments. They also make it so that their tournaments mean something because to get a title shot in any division you must win an eight man single elimination one. Sure, Strikeforce’s Grand Prix has the star power but in the end their heavyweight title really doesn’t even figure into the picture, and it seems that the one sure way to secure a title shot is to be named Dan Henderson.

It’s also worth applauding Bellator for their insistence on discovering young talent and then growing them into commodities. It’s probably not as easy as Strikeforce’s “let’s take the shortcut” strategy of signing and then overhyping ex-pro wrestlers and football players but it has much more integrity and, if they can survive, should pay large dividends in the future. Of the fighters competing on Saturday only Jay Hieron had any sort of name value before entering the promotion and that was thanks to his days in the IFL. Lyman Good, their former welterweight champion, and Dan Hornbuckle have become established up and comers in the MMA community and are athletes who deserve the attention of the average fan.

It is rather unfortunate then that now that Bellator is beginning to find their stride they are being forced to go head to head with Strikeforce for the first time ever. Much has been made of the decision to move them from their Thursday night perch where they never always had the night to themselves to the traditional MMA night Saturday where they will be forced to lock horns with the UFC or Strikeforce on at least a bi-weekly basis. Rebney has said that on the nights that the UFC is running a card he has the flexibility to move his show up to 7pm thus creating a cage fighting superblock that would stretch for six hours. However, when Strikeforce is running a show, like this weekend, Rebney says that he sees no reason to switch anything up since MTV2 is in 67 million more homes. Political spin aside Strikeforce is the older, more established brand that has Dan Henderson fighting in their main event so I would say only a fool would pick Bellator to pull off a ratings upset this weekend. That said, stranger things have happened and the 10-11pm ratings will be one of the more interesting hot topics of the coming week.

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