MMA fans will be forced to make a choice next Saturday night as to what they watch. Not only will the NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs be in full swing — not to mention MLB and other sports — but there are two huge MMA cards that take place on May 12. The first takes place at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with UFC 224, and the second takes place at the SAP Center in San Jose, California with Bellator 199. That’s right. Once again the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 MMA promotions will be going head-to-head, and once again the question of why this is happening has to be asked.
I have never been a fan of the UFC and Bellator going head-to-head because I believe the fans are the ones who suffer as they are forced to choose between watching one or the other. We are so far past the days of the UFC throwing together a card at the last second to go head-to-head with Affliction. That was like 10 years ago. In 2018, with so many different arenas in the world ready to host fights and so many weekends of the year when there are no UFC or Bellator events, the decision to go head-to-head is a real head scratcher.
Why compete with each other for ratings, when, for example, this past weekend featured no UFC or Bellator event? Why force the fans to pick and choose what card they watch? To me it’s just a really bad decision by both the UFC and Bellator, who already chose to go the head-to-head route earlier this year with UFC 220 and Bellator 192 both going down the same night on January 20. And just like on that night when fans were made to choose between watching one and taping the other, MMA fans will be asked to make that same decision again this weekend between UFC 224 and Bellator 199.
And let’s be real here. Even though Bellator will say their event is live and free on Paramount Network, I still believe most fans would choose the UFC’s offering over Bellator’s. Yes, Bellator’s headliner between Ryan Bader and King Mo Lawal in the heavyweight tournament grand prix semifinals is a great fight, but is it a fight that moves the needle? I’m not sure. The same goes for the co-main event between welterweights Paul Daley and Jon Fitch. That’s a solid fight, but is it a fight that will convince UFC viewers to watch Bellator instead? I’m not convinced.
Perhaps Bellator will be looking to confuse viewers into thinking they are watching a UFC card since three of these four men used to be in the UFC, but overall I believe fans would rather tune into UFC 224’s preliminary card on television and then find a way to watch the PPV after. Considering how poor Bellator’s ratings have done as of late, the Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir fight not withstanding, it looks like this is going to be yet another weekend where Bellator’s ratings won’t be as good as they want to, because as much as we’d like to think Bellator is on par with the UFC, we all know the UFC is still the No. 1 choice for MMA fans, and that won’t change this weekend.
I don’t know which promotion booked UFC 224 or Bellator 199 first, but both companies should be concerned about going head-to-head yet again. It’s hard enough in this day and age to draw viewers to watch MMA, so going overboard and giving MMA fans two fight cards on the same night seems like too much of a good thing. Only the absolute hardcore fans are going to watch both, while casual fans are likely to pick one or the other, and in that case, they are going to choose the UFC. In 2018, there’s no reason the UFC and Bellator should be holding major cards on the same night. It’s just a bad business decision to do so.
There was no major MMA card this past weekend, but on Saturday night there are two. That doesn’t make that much sense. I’m not sure what is going to convince the UFC and Bellator to stop going head-to-head, but the ratings will speak for themselves when they come out. Hopefully this is the last time this happens, but I’m not holding my breath.