Barreling down a hill at a pace too fast to outrun is a rushing wave of disregarded fighters, Reebok Fight Kits, UFC Fight Pass credit card info, too many UFC Fight Night cards to count, and the occasional Pay-Per-View.
Fight fans can’t outrun this wave; they can’t keep up to ride it either. The modern UFC landscape is moving with such speed that staying informed or getting excited about fights can feel impossible.
From October 27 to December 29, there will have been 10 UFC events (not including media tours, open workouts, or weigh-in shows). Content is king in a world of streaming television and YouTube, but it doesn’t help much when it comes to developing fans of fighters or selling the casual viewer on a Pay-Per-View. With the UFC moving on to ESPN and ESPN+ in 2019, this oversaturation is sure to continue.
While the UFC continues to push out show after show and expand their global brand they have allowed, Bellator MMA to move in and pickup talented, young athletes by the dozen.
Bellator has considerably fewer shows per year than the UFC. In 2018, they will have a total of 21 fight cards (the highest total they have had in one year) while the UFC will have 38, not including Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series or The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Because of this, Bellator is not as likely to gamble on fighter signings as the UFC.
Bellator officials are instead looking for talent to develop and not just signing fighters with winning records or big gym affiliations. This strategy from Bellator has proven to be effective as top prospects like Aaron Pico, AJ McKee, Adam Piccolotti, and Ed Ruth all came to the promotion with four pro fights or less. These talented young fighters all have the opportunity to be developed and promoted with Bellator MMA, had they signed with the UFC there is a chance that they would have fallen head first into a roster with seemingly interchangeable parts.
There was even a time when a young Brent Primus had just two fights to his credit and signed a deal with Bellator that would eventually lead him to becoming the Bellator Lightweight Champion.
These moves make Bellator a very desirable place for up-and-coming fighters, and we are seeing the youth of their organization highlighted at every event.
Recent Bellator signee and Gracie Barra Portland fighter Rudy Schaffroth has benefited from this since signing with the promotion. His first two fights for Bellator, including one at last weekend’s Bellator 210 card, ended in knockouts. These KO highlights have circulated MMA websites, Twitter, and Reddit. If these fights had taken place on the regional scene there would be little to see and even less to talk about.
However, due to the release of the video clips from Bellator, Schaffroth is being talked about as a future contender and will undoubtedly move up to a televised, main-card slot soon.
A few of Schaffroth’s teammates are also signed with Bellator and it appears that the Portland-based gym has become a hotbed of talent for the promotion. Just this week it was announced that Bellator signed Austin Vanderford, who trains at Gracie Barra and this signing is one Bellator likely didn’t think it would get. Vanderford is an NAIA National Champion wrestler (Southern Oregon University), who appeared to be on the fast track to a contract with the UFC after a stoppage win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. However, the UFC passed on Vanderford and Bellator was able to slide right in and sign the prospect who initially seemed destined to fight alongside his wife (Paige Vanzant) in the UFC.
As the landscape continues to change in the world of mixed martial arts, it would appear that the promotion with the scaled down schedule and penchant for developing young talent is growing in popularity. This isn’t just popularity amongst fight fans, but popularity amongst the young fighters on the regional scene who like what Bellator is doing.
Trends are never easy to spot early but when the future of the sport is signing with a promotion on the rise it would seem that betting on Bellator is a smart move.
For fight fans, Bellator’s wave is just the right size to ride and is moving just slow enough that you shouldn’t be afraid of it sweeping you away.