10 biggest moments in Bellator history: Free-agent acquisitions usher in new era

In the days leading up to Bellator’s historic Bellator 200 event, which takes place today in London, we’re counting down 10 of the biggest moments in the promotion’s history. Today, we look at the new era of the promotion’s big free-agent signees.

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When UFC Hall of Famers Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar met in the Bellator 131 main event, the big news that came out of that bout wasn’t that Ortiz won the fight by split decision.

The dominant takeaway was that the event averaged 1.8 million viewers with a peak viewership of 2 million.

After the event, Bellator President Scott Coker seemed happy.

“I just thought it was an amazing event, something we can be proud of,” Coker told MMAjunkie Radio. “And the numbers speak for themselves. I mean, a 2.2 million peak? I mean, that’s pretty amazing.

“I think one of the things we were able to do is bring the fringe fans back, the casual fans back, to MMA. I think that’s something that MMA needs. Let’s bring back those fans and not rely on just the hardcores.”

And with that, a new era seemed to begin for Bellator, one in which the promotion supplemented its stable of homegrown stars with an ever-expanding group of highly ranked free agents and recognizable fighters with drawing power.

Coker brought names such as Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, Jon Fitch and Mirko Cro Cop into the promotion in the hope of capturing the eyes of the casual fans.

At the same time, Bellator made a play for the dedicated hardcore fans by signing high-profile free agents like Rory MacDonald, Gegard Mousasi, Benson Henderson, Phil Davis, Ryan Bader, Lorenz Larkin, Michael McDonald and Matt Mitrione.

While the promotion made those deals, it continued to push its established and up-and-coming stars like Michael Chandler, A.J. McKee, Paul Daley, Muhammed Lawal, James Gallagher, Aaron Pico and the Freire brothers.

Bellator has had some success with this approach. MacDonald and Bader are Bellator champs. Davis is a former titleholder. Mousasi fights for the middleweight title at Bellator 200. Mitrione, Sonnen, Emelianenko and Bader are the four fighters remaining in the heavyweight grand prix, a tournament that will crown the next heavyweight champion. Fitch and McDonald could be closing in on title shots.

As for the fans, the ratings seem to indicate they enjoy what’s going on under the Bellator tent. The most recent event that was headlined by a pair of big names was Bellator 198. The main event of that card featured Emelianenko vs. Mir in the opening round of the heavyweight grand prix. While the event averaged a reported 830,000 viewers, the peak of 1.5 million viewers came during that main event fight, which Emelianenko won by first-round TKO. That event went up against boxing cards on FOX and ESPN as well as the NBA playoffs. Those numbers were a big jump from the 400,000 viewers that Bellator 197 drew. That main event of that fight card saw ex-Bellator champion Michael Chandler submit Brandon Girtz in the first round.

Coker recently said he expects the Bellator roster to come into its own soon.

“If you look at the roster now, it’s something I’m very proud of,” Coker told MMAjunkie. “But give us another 18 months – not 18 months, maybe another year.”

Also see:

10 biggest moments in Bellator history: Bjorn Rebney and the season tournament era
10 biggest moments in Bellator history: Toby Imada and the first time Bellator went viral
10 biggest moments in Bellator history: When one night features two of the greatest fights ever
10 biggest moments in Bellator history: Inaugural champs included Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard
10 biggest moments in Bellator history: Viacom’s purchase and the move to Spike TV
10 biggest moments in Bellator history: A pay-per-view debut with ugly main-event aftermath
10 biggest moments in Bellator history: The arrival of Scott Coker – and a play for ‘casual fans’
10 biggest moments in Bellator history: That time a flying knee caved in a fighter’s forehead
10 biggest moments in Bellator history: Like Cormier in Strikeforce, Coker focuses on wrestlers

For more on Bellator 200, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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