This could get good.
Bellator turned heads recently with the announcement that it had reached a deal with Gilbert Melendez, one of the top lightweights in the world, to jump from the UFC to the second-biggest MMA promotion in the U.S. Then Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney announced that the company would sign more top fighters from the UFC.
Could it be time for a Bellator invasion, with MMA’s baddest group of rebels leading the charge? It could happen.
Melendez is part of Team Gracie, which also includes the Stockton “Bad Boy” Nick Diaz, equally tough and volatile brother Nate Diaz, and soft-spoken, but tough and legit Jake Shields. Can you imagine the buzz if these four guys showed up, “unexpectedly” at a Bellator show, announcing that they were “taking over?”
These four would be the perfect group to pull such a feat off. They are real-life friends, and they don’t see themselves as UFC-made. They helped make each other, growing up together and training in the gyms of California’s Bay Area.
Such an flamboyant and over-the-top display would certainly appear gimmicky, but it’s exactly the type of risk Bellator needs to take. And let’s get real; Bellator already has one foot in the professional wrestling door, tag-teaming with Dixie Carter and TNA, to get Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal pro wrestling gigs.
Those four appearing on live Bellator TV would jump the Bellator ratings and make Bellator seem cool and rebellious.
It has happened before.
In 1996, WCW, owned by media giant Ted Turner, opened the pocketbooks and signed over some the WWE’s top talent, starting with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. In the WWE, these guys were top stars known as Razor Ramon and Diesel. Even though they both had great runs in the WWE, at their core they were individualists who wanted more creative options, along with the opportunity to make more money.
So they jumped to WCW. The company played it perfectly. WCW didn’t announce that “next week, Hall and Nash will appear on our TV.” No, instead WCW ran its regular live TV show, and out of nowhere, guess who appeared? Hall, basically playing his Razor Ramon gimmick, but less cartoonish, and in street clothes, not glitter.
Hall promised more to come, and eventually, Nash showed up, and the two formed the controversial and outlandish group known as “The Outsiders.”
Hall and Nash proceeded to make WCW must-see TV. For years, the fans had been trained to see the WWE as the No. 1 professional wrestling promotion in the world. Now fans couldn’t believe their eyes: Two top WWE stars were now in the second-biggest promotion in the world. The thinking was, if they left the WWE for WCW, then WCW must be the cool place to be.
Eventually, Hulk Hogan dropped his stale American hero gimmick and joined The Outsiders to form the “NWO,” creating perhaps the greatest storyline and gimmick in pro wrestling history. Even though the NWO took off in 1996, nearly 20 years later, you can still find fans, young and older, wearing the black-and-white NWO T-shirts and WWE live events. The gimmick worked and was responsible for the WCW slamming the WWE in ratings for about two years.
Those guys made WCW seem cool. Eventually other WWE wrestlers jumped to WCW and the NWO, including Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
Bellator is in a perfect spot to change the state of MMA. Yes, the UFC has done incredibly great and powerful things for MMA. But behind the scenes most of the fighters want options. As most business people know, competition makes everyone better.
Bellator is owned by the deep pockets of Viacom and could make MMA cool again by “stealing” a few top stars.
At the end of the day, fans largely just want to watch great MMA action and appreciate great television. What worked yesterday or today, may not work tomorrow, and Bellator may have the perfect cast of characters, at just the right time, to create something that works tomorrow.