A common thread weaving through this most recent season of Bellator Fighting Championship: Bellator champions calling out the champions of Strikeforce. The initial occurrence came when Bellator lightweight kingpin Eddie Alvarez (21-2) called out Strikeforce champ “El Nino” Gilbert Melendez (18-2) following his Bellator 33 victory. Then, at Bellator34, Middleweight Champion “Shango” Hector Lombard (27-2) called out Strikeforce middleweight champion “Jacare” Ronaldo Souza(13-2) to a super fight after his first title defense against “Storm” Alexander Shlemenko (30-4). However, these are not the only match-ups the fans, fighters, and promotional brass are wanting to see – women’s division and welterweight match-ups are also on their minds.
Much like the competition between UFC and the former PRIDE FC, the question is always, “Who has the better fighters?” The UFC fighters have dominated the former PRIDE superstars that have come over to the UFC with the exception of “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (19-4) and “The Spider” Anderson Silva (27-4). Now it seems that the same question is being asked about Strikeforce and Bellator, the second and third largest promotions in the USA. The Bellator fighters want to take on the top fighters in the world in order to solidify spots in the top 10 rankings for themselves, but the real force behind the aggressive baiting of Strikeforce talent into super fights is Bellator CEO Bjon Rebney.
Rebney began toying with the idea after many fans showed interest in Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez and Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez fighting each other to determine who is the best lightweight in the world under UFC Lightweight Champion “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (13-1). After many fans began pushing for the two promotions to make the fight happen, Rebney began green-lighting his other champions to call out Strikeforce title holders during their post-fight interviews. During the post-fight interview following Lombard’s victory over Shlemenko last Thursday, Rebney stated, “With Hector’s win tonight, I’ve said many times the opportunity for Hector to fight ‘Jacare‘ would be spectacular. I’d love to see it.” He is not the only one. Lombard craves for a bigger challenge to prove he is the best in the world and the fans in the Seminole Hard Rock Casino showed interest in the fight as well. Knowing that Lombard and “Jacare” are both true warriors at heart and are not afraid to get hit to put on a show, many believe it would be an easy Fight of the Year candidate. If the match does materialize it will be Lombard’s first true top 10 opponent since he entered the top 10 rankings himself.
“The difficulty in doing a championship unification under the banner of two different promotions who don’t work together on every event is then you’ve got one fighter who wins, one fighter who loses and then what happens to that champion?” Rebney said. “For example, if Eddie were to fight Gilbert and we were to do a unification and Eddie were to walk away with the Strikeforce belt and the Bellator belt, then what does Strikeforce do at that point? ” The statement from Rebney is nothing but the truth.
The only possible way to have the fight happen is to have a three round or even special non-title five round fight to show what both fighters are truly made of without risking the title. Lombard, Jacare, Melendez, Askren, and Diaz have all gone the entire 25 minutes before, but Alvarez has gone only to the 15-minute mark. The other thing the fighters along with the organizations have to work out is where the fight will take place – in the Strikeforce cage or Bellator’s? The numbers would point to Strikeforce due to their deal with Showtime Sports, CBS, and their bigger name and deeper weight divisions. Strikeforce would have an advantage selling tickets as well if the fights take place in the state of California, where the promotion is headquartered and has a very strong fan base.
The next serious issue that stands between the signing of these super fights lies with the Strikeforce promotion itself. As the larger and more well known of the two promotions, it gains very little by participating in a co-promotion with Bellator and shoulders the lion’s share of the risk. Bellator would benefit from the additional exposure garnered by Strikeforce and, should the Bellator champions emerge victorious, Bellator would essentially “defeat” Strikeforce to become the number two MMA promotion in the nation, at least in the eyes of the fans. Strikeforce, by contrast, would sell just as many tickets and get just as many views by stacking a card with champions from their own roster. A winning night for their champions wouldn’t do much for the promotion in terms of how they are perceived by the MMA community where a loss would be a promotional tragedy. This is why the UFC doesn’t co-promote. They are seen as the best, their champions are the top fighters in the world. All that would come of a UFC co-promotion is the risk of the UFC devaluing its own product. This is the same boat in which Strikeforce finds itself in a co-promotional effort with Bellator. Bellator’s crafty CEO has managed to all but force the issue by using his champions to get the fans involved. He knows the only way Strikeforce will agree to take the risk is if an overwhelming percentage of the fan base demands it. The only thing that stands in the way now is Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker’s tendency to make severe promotional mistakes. (see: Women’s Tournament on a Challenger’s Series card and the Fedor/Overeem/Werdum fiasco)
Fantasy Fight Predictions:
Eddie Alvarez vs. Gilbert Melendez: Alvarez has the stand-up game on his side while Melendez has the ground game on his since he trains with the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields with Cesar Gracie. Since Melendez lacks the wrestling needed to ground a fighter of Alvarez’s caliber, the Bellator champ would most certainly control the fight en route to a painfully brutal third round knock out. Eddie Alvarez by TKO, Round 3
Ben Askren vs. Nick Diaz: Diaz is one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA; he has the stand-up, the ground game, and the cardio to take on the best in the world for five solid rounds. Askren is an unorthodox and olympic level wrestler, but is very inexperienced and one-dimensional. He is riding a high from his title win over Lyman Good (10-1) but against Diaz, he will be easy prey. Diaz wins this hands down by an early TKO if he’s bored or by submission if he feels the need to humiliate the young green horn. Nick Diaz by TKO, Round 1
Hector Lombard vs. “Jacare” Souza: This is possibly the only fight that has a question mark by the winner. Lombard is very well-rounded, and his aggressive boxing, strength, and Judo abilities make him dangerous on the feet and on the ground. Jacare is one of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players in the world and his boxing is improving at an alarming pace. Souza won’t try to stand and trade with Lombard; he knows Lombard only needs ONE shot to end the fight. Souza’s gameplan would be to take the fight to the mat and try to submit Lombard as quickly as possible. Lombard’s takedown defense and Judo will make it difficult for ‘Jacare” to control Lombard even if he manages to get him down in the first place, leaving Hector with ample opportunity to land that one big shot. Hector Lombard by Unanimous Decision