So, Bellator went and did it. The Frank Stallone of American MMA promotions announced via its vaunted and widely-read Public Relations Twitter account on Wednesday that beginning January 1, 2022, all of its main event fights will be five rounds henceforth and forever, on and on into eternity or whatever.
This move obviously comes on the heels of two well-publicized main event-related snafus over in Bellator. First, Yoel Romero was noticeably surprised to learn, following his split decision loss to Phil Davis on Sept. 18, that their bout was only scheduled for three rounds. Then, last weekend, Michael Page eked out his own controversial split decision win over Douglas Lima, in a rematch that sure seemed like it could have used 10 more minutes.
And lo there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Not sure if you guys know this or not, but MMA people in general really like to make a big deal out of stuff. There was noted criticism online that Bellator hadn’t yet adopted an all-five-rounds-all-the-time main event policy like the UFC. Apparently, that criticism was heard and, eventually, Bellator capitulated to it.
From the looks of the first few replies to the Bellator Public Relations Twitter account’s tweet, the move seems to have been well-received:
You know who’s actually right here, though? @ClickClackCathy, that’s who. It does seem like Bellator got bullied into this. And you know what else? It was the wrong move.
The idea that every MMA main event needs to be five rounds is utter horseshit. Always has been. Always will be. In fact, it makes no goddamn sense.
Title fights should be five rounds. All the time. That makes sense. But when it comes to deciding whether or not a non-title bout is scheduled to go five rounds that shit should be based on two factors and two factors alone:
1) If the two fighters involved agree their fight should be five rounds.
2) If the fight itself is generally regarded as being awesome enough to demand five rounds.
That’s it. That’s the list.
Whether a fight happens to be the “main event” of a certain fight card should have nothing to do with it. When you do that, you’re essentially deciding that a fight should be five rounds based not on the quality of that match-up itself, but the quality of the other fights scheduled for the same night.
Here’s an example: Take Mackenzie Dern vs. Marina Rodriguez. Nothing wrong with that fight. Seems like a perfectly good fight. Right now, it’s scheduled to go down this Saturday as the main event of a very lackluster Fight Night card and is therefore automatically scheduled for five rounds.
Because that’s how you do it, right? It’s a main event, so it must be a five rounder.
But wait. Let’s say you postponed Dern vs. Rodriguez for three weeks. Then, their fight would land at UFC 267 on Oct. 30, where it would share the card with a couple title fights and obviously wouldn’t be the main event. Hell, it might not even be on the main card. So, in that case, it would only be three rounds.
WHAT? How does that make any sense? It’s the same damn fight! But you’re gonna sit there and tell me that on Oct. 9 it’s good enough to go five rounds and on Oct. 30 it’s not?
Now, granted, in a perfect world every main event would be a match-up good enough to justify going five rounds. In the #JustSomeFights era, however, that’s becoming less and less true all the time. It hardly means anything for a fight to be the “main event” anymore. It actually feels totally random these days.
What is more, fighters should get paid more when they go five rounds. As Dan Hardy once told me when I interviewed him about fighting GSP for the title at UFC 111, five rounds is almost twice as long as three. It’s almost two fights! But, by and large, fighters don’t get paid any more just because they main event some shitty Fight Night card in the middle of October. So, not only is it totally random to make them go five rounds, you could make the case that it’s also a super crappy deal financially.
You know what this really is? It’s just another example of how completely the UFC controls and indeed shapes the fabric of this wackadoodle sport. Here’s how it works: At some point, the UFC makes some policy decision, usually at the whims of one bald man who got mad one night about some thing nobody will remember a few weeks later, but uses it as an excuse to make sweeping rules or structural changes.
Then, time passes and people come to accept the change–which was almost certainly completely arbitrary and nearly always based in the exclusive best interests of that one bald fellow–and they think things must have always been this way. They assume this was just as the MMA gods intended it from time immemorial.
That’s what happened with five round main events. Basically, back in 2011 the UFC announced that all pay-per-view and Fox Sports main events would be five rounds. In early 2012, it expanded that to include all main event fights—which at the time meant fights on Fuel TV and whatnot.
Fast-forward nine years and just because the UFC does it, we’ve come to think of five-round main events as “normal” and any promotion that doesn’t do them as weird or “five years too late” in making the switch.
But you know what? Bellator actually had it right to begin with. Some fights should be three rounds and some fights should be five rounds. It should be decided according whether that particular fight is expected to be awesome. It shouldn’t have anything to do with whether it’s the main event.
Bellator fucked up with MVP-Lima II—that one should have been five, because that’s a good-ass fight.
But Davis vs. Romero? Ehhhhhh, maybe not. Maybe we were actually all set after sitting through 15 minutes of that one.
On the bright side, at least we now know there is Bellator Public Relations Twitter account.
Photos by Lucas Noonan/Bellator MMA
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