A month ago, the Bellator Fighting Championships was pretty much flying under the radar, a third-class destination on the landscape of American mixed martial arts. But with the parent company of the sport's foremost organization, the UFC, purchasing No. 2 Strikeforce, you might say those two outfits are now Nos. 1 and 1A, and you can take away the "A" if Dana White's much-emphasized "business as usual" post-sale approach gradually gives way to a consolidation of all Zuffa-owned talent. So that means Bellator has essentially moved up to the No. 2 position, right?
Of course, with Zuffa having around 95 of the sport's top 100 fighters under contract, Bellator is a distant second -- not Pepsi to Zuffa's Coke, but more like RC Cola or even the supermarket brand.
Still, you start to make at least a little blip on the radar screen when you're basically the only other show in town. The spotlight is mostly dimmed and diminutive, but it intensifies a little now and again. Like last Saturday night, when Bellator's top fighter took the stage.
Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, just about the only guy in the organization who consistently shows up in top-10 rankings, faced Pat Curran in the main event of Bellator 39 in Uncasville, Conn. Although this was the fifth straight Saturday of Bellator lightweight and welterweight tournament bouts on MTV2, with six more weeks to come, it was a rare weekend with no competition from the UFC or Strikeforce.
So how did Bellator do? Well, four names tell the story:
• Eddie Alvarez: Against Curran, who won last season's lightweight tournament to earn the title shot, Alvarez left no doubt. He not only won every round but was also in control for every one of the fight's 25 minutes. But Alvarez didn't finish, which will be a nagging remembrance of the evening. The champ is held to a high standard, which he did not meet. Now, I've seen Georges St-Pierre also dominate but fail to finish, but his competition is at a more elite level, no matter what Alvarez tells us. A win is a win, but are you so excited for Eddie's next fight that you can't wait?
• Rick Hawn: A decade ago, when Hawn was at an age where he could have been considered an up-and-coming prospect, he was otherwise occupied. He was competing internationally in judo, including in the 2004 Olympics. Now he's 34 and 11-0 as an MMA welterweight, including Saturday's split-decision win over former champ Lyman Good that showed he's learning but still raw. Hawn has had some highlight-reel throws, but he's a long way from being a polished fighter who can be a Bellator-boosting asset. Does he have enough prime-time career left to be all he can be?
• Patricky Freire: Fighting Toby Imada, the runner-up in Bellator's lightweight tournaments in both 2009 and 2010, Freire had the most memorable finish of the night. The dynamic Brazilian connected with a flying knee to stagger Imada, then completed the job with a furious flurry of punches at 2:35 of the round. Freire, who just three weeks earlier had knocked out former WEC champ Rob McCullough in his Bellator debut, could be the man to challenge Alvarez. And eventually, perhaps, some UFC and Strikeforce 155ers, too.
• Ben Saunders: The former UFC fighter turned Matt Lee into a bloody mess before the cageside doctor decided he'd seen enough carnage at 1:24 of Round 3. Will a dominant performance by former member of the Dana White Athletic Club against an overmatched opponent be a boost to Bellator? Probably not. But having a recognizable fighter like Saunders -- an alum of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show who less than a year ago was fighting Jon Fitch on a UFC main card -- can't hurt the promotional cause.
"Music. To some it is just a word. Throw it in a sentence with any other words and it wouldn't stand out above the others. To some of us, though, it gets put in the same category as oxygen, water and food."
Those are written words not of rock critic Greil Marcus, not of jazz writer Nat Hentoff, not of classical connoisseur Alex Ross. They are the written words of UFC fighter Dan Hardy.
"The first thing I do in the morning is turn the record player on, before I even put the kettle on!" the red-mohawked Brit also wrote in his blog at Metal-Army.com. "The last thing at night, guess what: I turn the record player off."
In between, during training for fights, Hardy likes to listen to the Swedish metal band Meshuggah's Chaosphere when he's warming up; reggae stalwarts Toots & the Maytals' Pressure Drop when he's winding down; and when he's done for the day and it's bedtime, the Beatles' Abbey Road, which he calls "the most important piece of art that any human has ever created."
So it should have come as no surprise that in the days following his decisive defeat to Anthony "Rumble" Johnson at UFC Fight Night 42 a week and a half ago, a downhearted Hardy retreated to his music, album after album. Spread over a couple of days, Hardy's Twitter feed provided a running playlist:
1. Santana: Abraxas2. Mungo Jerry: Memoirs of a Stockbroker3. Lou Reed: Rock N Roll Animal4. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River5. Cream: The Best of Cream6. Ry Cooder: Borderline7. Jefferson Airplane: Surrealistic Pillow8. The Doors: The Doors9. The Beatles: Abbey Road10. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours11. UB40: Labour of Love
And after he came up for air, Hardy tweeted: "Wandering around Long Beach, looking for records."
• "Feeling very frustrated today. No excuses, sometimes you just don't win. I hate having boring fights, though. ... I want to fight again. I feel like I've been robbed of the reward at the end of training camp. ... An old-school shootout with a guy that wants to throw down. ... Win in a blaze of glory or go out on my shield. Someone like Mr. Lytle ..."--Dan Hardy, on Twitter (apparently between record albums), calling out fellow stand-up guy Chris Lytle and expressing frustration at being wrestled for three rounds by Anthony Johnson.
• "[Expletive] Dan Hardy if that's what he's going say. It ain't my fault he can't wrestle. [Expletive], I just used his weakness against him. ... Who wouldn't do that, you know what I mean? If I can't stop somebody's right hand, why the hell would they stop throwing that right hand at me? That's part of the game. It's called mixed martial arts. I'm just trying to be more of a well-rounded fighter."--Anthony Johnson, speaking to Ruben Vera of MiddleEasy.com.
This makes it two lessons Johnson has taught Hardy: first in the Octagon, and now in the media. "The Outlaw" should listen and learn. It's noble -- and no doubt wins points with Dana White -- to want to fight exciting stand-up battles. But if wrestling is your Achilles' heel, you'd better fix it ... or prepare to spend a lot of time on your back. It's not like Hardy has nothing to work with. He fended off St-Pierre's attempts to finish him on the ground for five rounds. Now he has to work on not going there in the first place.
• "He does have the option of taking [the fight] to the ground and using his jiu-jitsu. My game is to take his options away from him. Although he's a great striker and he's a great boxer, I want him to have no choice but to stand with me. ... Whether that be by movement, whether that be by how we work in the clinch, whether that be by takedown defense, I'm trying to take his options away from him, so he has to use his slick boxing and put that up against my striking."--Paul Daley, speaking during a media conference call last week about his fight plan for welterweight champion Nick Diaz in the main event of Saturday night's Strikeforce event in San Diego.
Maybe Daley has something to teach training partner Hardy, too, if he can pull this off. I hope he can. I'm not one to root for one fighter to beat another in a bout I'm writing about, but I have to admit that I'd like to see Daley be successful in keeping the fight standing, at least for a while. That would make for an interesting battle between contrasting striking styles: the cumulative effect of Diaz' dizzying pitter-patter of punches vs. the foggy horizontalization that is the consequence of being blasted by one Daley shot. Of course, this is assuming Diaz will try to take down Daley. That would be the smart thing to do considering his huge advantage on the mat, but Diaz is a guy who isn't scared of a challenge, homie, so maybe he'll take a stand.