The Bellator MMA circus dropped its tent-pole in Houston to get the weekend started on Friday and, brother, it did not disappoint. At least it didn't disappoint in the sense of being exactly that -- a bonafide circus. Kimbo Slice and Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris. That' a fight you can't un-see. A trilogy bout between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock that -- unless I'm missing something here -- no one asked for, except apparently Shamrock himself.
It was an expectedly weird weekend in combat sports. Here's what mattered most:
The ratings ... and that nobody got seriously hurt.
So, here's the truth. Very little "matters" about this kind of event besides the numbers. The ratings. If they're good (and indications are they will be), Bellator isn't shutting down this big top anytime soon. Long live the circus.
Had Slice lost to "Dada 5000," maybe that might have mattered? You want your A-side to win and Slice is nothing if not an A-side. But frankly, he has lost before, looked pretty bad in the process, and it clearly didn't kill his selling power. So, actually, a Slice loss might not have mattered much.
And as far as Gracie's knockout of Shamrock? The result of that fight never mattered either. Oddly, these fights are more about the means than the ends. Bellator is giving us ugly, funny, guilty pleasure fights. Who cares who ends up getting the "W" at the end of the night?
For the record, this wasn't a bad night for the sport -- as many like to claim. The pure grossness of Friday will have zero impact on the general public's interest in MMA. No one watched Slice-Dada and decided, "This is MMA? I'll never watch again!" And to go a step further, it's not a bad night for Bellator either. It wasn't a particularly riveting experience being there, I can personally attest to this, but long term? You're kidding yourself if you think Slice and Harris gassing 20 seconds into a fight will hurt Bellator's next circus ratings.
And that's the bottom line here. Bellator is doing what it has to do to pull numbers. I'm not sure that it's necessary at this point to rip them for it -- nor do I think we should go out of our way to praise them for it. "Creative ingenuity! Scott Coker really knows how to throw a party!" -- that kind of talk. It's fun to occasionally visit the circus, but no one wants to live there.
Friday's card was built out of necessity. Bellator's next "tent-pole" event will feature "real" MMA. Phil Davis vs. Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal. Josh Thomson vs. Michael Chandler. And make no mistake, ratings will be down when compared to this event. That says it all, really. Eventually (could be right now, actually), there will be no reason to repeatedly have this post-Bellator fiasco conversation. As long as Kimbo-Dada is outdrawing every single championship fight Bellator can promote, what do we really expect them to do? Stop doing it?
So, what matters on a night like this? Besides the ratings, it's that everyone made it out in one piece. Barely. When you book a fight for a 38-year-old, 300-pound man like Harris, give him three and a half months to get down to 265 pounds and fight (potentially) for 15 minutes, you are walking that line between "MMA is inherently dangerous" to "someone is going to get seriously hurt, here." Harris found himself in critical condition late Friday evening, before stabilizing Saturday morning.
That was a sober reality after one of Bellator's "fun" weekends.
But Slice talking about "baby nuts?" Suspicious money pouring in on his opponent at the betting windows? Shamrock going on about something that happened 20 years ago? All good times.
Mike Tyson in the commentary booth? Bikini-clad ring girls with T-shirt distribution guns? Embrace it, throw results out the window and hope the guys in the cage are at least healthy enough to provide comically bad MMA but not get seriously injured doing so.