UFC tries to steal the spotlight, but Bellator owns the night
"Anything you can do, I can do better." Remember that catchy, combative tune from a half-century ago on Broadway?
Ah, Broadway. You know, the place Julie Andrews once called "a tough, tough arena" and Elia Kazan lauded not so much for its theatricality as for its competitiveness. And on Wednesday afternoon, just a few blocks from the historic footlights, the roughest, toughest stars of all were onstage. Four UFC champions, sitting side by side along with four upcoming title bout challengers, all taking in the hoots of a New York audience as the behemoth fight promotion's president, Dana White, essentially started the old Irving Berlin duet's chorus. This whole press conference at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was essentially Dana's way of calling out, "Yes I can!"
"No you can't!" was the response coming from out in New Mexico, the imaginary vocal stylings of Bjorn Rebney and the very real, very stacked Bellator MMA fight card reminding us that this would be the biggest night in second-fiddle promotion's history. Two championship fights. Two tournament finals. A surprise announcement. Everything but a cage chorus rendition of "Sooner or later, I'm greater than you."
So who carried the day?
Well, the UFC always steals the show because the UFC is the show. But how interesting that the big show would even bother to engage in a little tit-for-tat with No. 2? Then again, perhaps it was mere coincidence that the Dana White Fight Club's 11-city "World Tour" to promote an autumn full of title fights made its stop in Gotham City -- with heavyweight Cain Velasquez, light heavyweight Jon Jones, welterweight Georges St-Pierre and women's bantamweight belt holder Ronda Rousey onstage along with their challengers -- on the same day as Bellator's big night. And boy did these champs and their dance partners put on a show.
We saw a faceoff between Cain and "Jonny Bones" ... with Junior dos Santos sitting right down the dais. We heard Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate -- seated as far from each other as possible, for obvious reasons -- turn up the heat in their trash talk but then say a few nice things about each other. We even saw GSP and Rousey hug.
"Anything you can do ..."
But you know what? Bellator did better. Eventually.
The early part of Bellator 97 didn't exactly enthrall the crowd at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M. Vitaly Minakov earned a title shot by punching out Ryan Martinez in the heavyweight tournament final. Then one of the promotion's notable recent signees, "King Mo" Lawal, secured his shot at light heavy by grinding out Jacob Noe. And then an even more recent signee, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, entered the cage for an announcement of his first Bellator fight. After teasing us by alluding to a bizarre rumored matchup with boxing great Roy Jones Jr., who happened to be cageside, "Rampage" introduced his actual debut opponent, pro rasslin' style. And out walked Tito Ortiz.
It was fun theater. After Jackson made Ortiz jealous by getting in the first shot at their mutual former employer -- "Now I'm with a reputable company that knows how to treat their fighters," a jab that Dana White probably laughed off but Eddie "Sitting Here in Limbo" Alvarez probably didn't -- the pair of UFC retreads traded some unconscionable hyperbole.
Tito: "The best fight possible is going to happen here in Bellator."
Rampage: "I know it's going to be one of the best fights in history."
We'll see about that on Nov. 2 in Long Beach, Calif., not on Spike but on pay-per-view. Bellator is taking the plunge. It'll be interesting to see who buys a matchup between a loser of three straight and a guy with one win since 2006.
After the talking was done, we finally got to see a little fighting. Very little, actually. But what we did see in the main event and co-main was two of the promotion's stars putting on a show. Two very different shows, actually.
In the co-main event, welterweight bully Ben Askren took around 10 seconds to put Andrey Koreshkov on his back and then proceeded to punch and elbow the previously unbeaten Russian until the horn sounded. He did the same thing in the second round, again in the third and still again in the fourth ... until referee Jason Herzog found mercy in his heart and halted the carnage at 2:58.
How bad was it? Here's the CompuStrike punch total: 248-3. Askren landed all but one of those strikes from the ground, where he had 94 percent accuracy and pretzeled a demoralized Koreshkov (13-1) while taking 17 dominant positions.
"Yeah, well, Andrey said he's never been broken," said the smug Askren (12-0). "Well, snap, crackle and pop!"
Speaking of pop, lightweight champion Michael Chandler sure showed some of that in the main event. For as long as it lasted. Just over half a minute in, he dropped David Rickels (14-2) with a quick counter right and pounced with several shots that stiffened the challenger before Herzog could jump in. The end came at 44 seconds.
"I love my job," said Chandler (12-0), a teammate of Askren's at the University of Missouri who apparently took the Civility 101 elective that Ben skipped. "I love this opportunity to step into the Bellator cage. Thank you, everybody, for coming out."
And exiting early.