Last Friday during the Bellator 160 event, it was announced that Rory MacDonald signed with the promotion, and during a post-show press conference, he revealed that his debut would be sometime next year. Considering that MacDonald was involved in the fight of the year in 2015, questions have surfaced about what the move means for his career, and the sport of MMA as a whole?
At 27, Rory was once called, “the next Georges St. Pierre,” an almost unfair set of expectations to put upon any fighter that tries to make a name for themselves in the sport. Is Rory a talented fighter? Absolutely, but GSP is a rare breed and one of the most complete competitors in the mixed martial arts genre so again, the comparison probably created unrealistic expectations. That being said, MacDonald is still in the prime of his career and this jump to Bellator could be an indication of the current climate in MMA.
The Canadian athlete is not the first former UFC fighter to opt to test the waters at free agency, as Ben Henderson, who won a lackluster bout against Patricio Pitbull via stoppage last weekend, also decided to sign with Bellator after his Zuffa deal concluded. Granted, Henderson is mostly overrated and hasn’t fought up to par since he lost the UFC Lightweight title, but the point is, some fighters have decided to go to Bellator to further their career, not just to get a job after Zuffa released them.
During the post-show media session, Rory mentioned that he was paid a shockingly low $59,000 as a base pay for his epic fight with Robbie Lawler at UFC 189. When you add his fight night bonus and Reebok sponsorship money, MacDonald still made considerably less than the wages that Chad Mendes was paid for a losing effort in the main event. Don’t get me wrong, if Mendes can get a deal for $500,000 to get knocked out in the first round, good for him because fighters are trying to make a living in the sport. But, the MacDonald/Lawler battle resembled Rocky vs. Apollo and the violent spectacle resulted in a severely broken nose for the challenger, which is one of the reasons he won’t debut in the Bellator cage until next year.
The Reebok deal continues to be a topic of controversy in the world of mixed martial arts since it essentially limits the amount of money fighters can make from the exclusive sponsorship, and it also limits outside sponsorship while the UFC gets paid the bulk of the Reebok money. Rory sacrificed his health in an attempt to obtain the UFC Welterweight championship and in the opinion of most, he wasn’t compensated fairly for it so you can’t blame him if he took a better deal from Bellator. The bottom line is, Dana White isn’t going to pay Rory’s mortgage, and even fight of the year contests aren’t going to pay for groceries if the pay check isn’t adequate. Is MacDonald passing up the spotlight of the UFC? Sure, but again, the point is, he fights for a living so if Rory can get paid more from Bellator and make more money from sponsors, you can’t blame him for trying to make as much money as possible. With wins against BJ Penn, Nate Diaz, and the current UFC 170 LBS champion Tyron Woodley, the newest Bellator acquisition certainly adds depth to their roster.
While this is definitely the right move for Rory MacDonald, what does the signing translate to for Bellator?
While the UFC is the undisputed top mixed martial arts company in the world, the Viacom-owned Bellator is far from an upstart promotion, as the media group owns several networks and it’s a billion dollar company. That said, the UFC is an established brand and to some extent, you can’t just “buy” brand identity, but the Rory signing allows them to expand. The Canadian market is one of the biggest locations for MMA in the world, and Bellator now has the star to promote there. The organization can put Rory MacDonald on the marquee and can assure themselves a solid draw at the box office. However, Rory or any other specific fighter won’t be the one piece of the puzzle for Bellator to get a bigger piece of the mixed martial arts pie. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, the group has to showcase their more talented fighters to solidify itself as more than just the sideshow promotion. Granted, the group uses the elaborate entrances to differentiate itself from the UFC, which is fine, but after the Bellator 149 debacle earlier this year, the promotion has to prove itself to be more about competition than novelty acts. Another key point for the group would be better advertising to hype the fights as important events because it’s rare that Bellator has a major fight type atmosphere, even if the competitors are talented fighters. Ironically, the Kimbo/Shamrock card that took place last year was an effective strategy, there was a relatively short gimmick fight as the main event that was the draw for viewers to tune in and a solid under card to showcase the more well rounded competitors on the roster.
So is this particular signing going to shift the MMA business? No, but it’s a win-win for everyone involved, Rory gets paid better and Bellator can realistically expand into Canada with a legitimate star. The UFC is and will remain the major leagues of mixed martial arts, but it will be interesting to see if there’s a trend of other fighters that consider free agency after their UFC contract.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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