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5 reasons why the UFC is better than Bellator

UFC President Dana White still runs a better promotion than his rival Scott Coker
UFC President Dana White still runs a better promotion than his rival Scott Coker

Rewind back to the end of 2012 and it appeared that the UFC was the only game in town when it came to top-level MMA. They’d swallowed up rival promotions like PRIDE, Affliction, and Elite XC, and sister promotions WEC and StrikeForce were both folded and merged into an ever-growing roster of top-level fighters.

In a sport like MMA though, it was always going to be just a matter of time before another rival promotion sprung up. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a new venture, but rather the growth of an existing, smaller promotion.

Founded in 2008 by Bjorn Rebney, Bellator MMA had been floating along rather harmlessly from a UFC perspective, despite being bought out by media giants Viacom in 2011. But in 2013 the promotion began to air on the former home of the UFC – Spike TV – and when former StrikeForce promoter Scott Coker took over the helm in 2014, suddenly Bellator was on the UFC’s radar big time.

Since then, thanks to the signings of former UFC fighters like Rory MacDonald, Gegard Mousasi and Benson Henderson, Bellator has developed into the UFC’s biggest rival promotion bar none. There are some fans who would go as far as to suggest that Bellator is, in fact, better than the UFC.

Bellator has grown, of that there can be no doubt. But even so – those fans would be wrong. Here are 5 reasons why the UFC remains a far superior promotion to Bellator.

#1 The UFC has far more roster depth

The UFC's Lightweight division is perhaps the most stacked in MMA
The UFC's Lightweight division is perhaps the most stacked in MMA

The biggest difference between the UFC and Bellator has to be the UFC’s superior roster depth. Sure, the WME-IMG-owned promotion might’ve lost some big name free agents to their rivals over the past few years, but realistically, have the likes of Rory MacDonald, Gegard Mousasi or Ryan Bader really been missed? By hardcore fans maybe, but otherwise, they’re just a handful of names that no longer compete in the Octagon.

The UFC’s Lightweight, Welterweight and Bantamweight divisions are currently as stacked as they’ve ever been, and while Light-Heavyweight is a bit of a wasteland at the minute, it’s not like Bellator’s roster at 205lbs is any better. Essentially, the UFC has Bellator trumped in literally every division.

While that’s to be expected due to the UFC’s size in comparison to Bellator, there’s also something to be said for Scott Coker’s promotional tactics when it comes to signing free agents.

It often feels like he’ll make a move for any available semi-big name, and while that’s bolstered the roster somewhat, many fans – myself included – feel he’d be better off focusing on one or maybe two divisions at best in terms of new signings.

That would potentially allow him to build a division to rival the UFC’s in the same weight class, but for now, the UFC’s roster depth remains hugely superior to Bellator’s – and allows them to present a superior product.

#2 The UFC has all of the history

The UFC's rich history allows it to remain on top
The UFC's rich history allows it to remain on top

Even when PRIDE was arguably a bigger promotion than the UFC, there was always the feeling amongst MMA fans that the Octagon was the #1 place to be for the best fighters in the world. Part of that comes down to simple history – the UFC is and will always be recognised as the place where the sport we know and love today began.

Throughout the sport’s early years, young fighters would suggest they grew up watching legends like Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and Mark Coleman inside the UFC, and those fighters were the ones that they wished to emulate by forging their own path to success. And thanks to the rise of the UFC over the past decade or so, today’s young fighters probably feel the same way about the likes of Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones.

Ask an MMA fan to name you some iconic UFC fights and they might point at Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar, Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell or Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida. Ask the same about an iconic Bellator fight, and they’ll probably struggle.

Try as it might, Bellator simply can’t ever match the history that comes along with the UFC name. It’s essentially the MMA equivalent of products like Kleenex, Viagra and Speedo; it’s an old joke now but many wannabe fighters might still claim that they “train UFC”.

And as the UFC continues to succeed, that history will only become more embedded in the minds of fans and younger fighters alike. For Bellator, it’s a vicious circle that they will never be able to compete with.

#3 UFC makes better use of its ageing stars

The UFC uses ageing stars like BJ Penn to make new stars like Yair Rodriguez
The UFC uses ageing stars like BJ Penn to make new stars like Yair Rodriguez

The use of ageing fighters in MMA has been a question mark for some time now, dating back to the mid-2000’s when pioneers like Ken Shamrock and Don Frye began to reach the end of their careers. Is it better for a promotion to continue to build around the older fighters – often matching them against one another – or is it better for a promotion to treat them as they would be in pro-wrestling – basically name opponents to “put over” younger fighters?

The UFC clearly believes that the latter is the better approach, and quite often, it’s worked brilliantly for them. Legends like Matt Hughes, BJ Penn and Tito Ortiz all lost to younger fighters as they reached the end of their UFC careers – Penn continues to do so – while further down the card, ageing fighters like Thiago Alves and Carlos Condit are often matched with exciting newcomers to give the prospect a win over a big name.

Bellator, on the other hand, tends to go for the former approach. This year alone we’ve seen plenty of fights that would be considered part of MMA’s “senior circuit” – Frank Mir vs. Fedor Emelianenko, Chael Sonnen vs. Rampage Jackson, and Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva – and while they often drum up publicity for the promotion, do they really help the product?

Personally I don’t feel that they do. The fans might tune in for these big names, but Bellator’s somewhat arbitrary booking means that they don’t often pick up on the talented prospects that the promotion also houses. Basically, Bellator’s booking of its ageing fighters means that those legends are the only ones who really get any publicity.

The UFC’s use of its ageing stars is therefore far smarter – and allows them to continually build newer prospects to replace them as they retire. When Fedor, Sonnen and so on are gone, who will Bellator use to sell their shows?

#4 The UFC has more direction

Dominick Reyes has climbed the UFC's ladder in a logical fashion, showing their clear direction
Dominick Reyes has climbed the UFC's ladder in a logical fashion, showing their clear direction

The UFC has been criticised by fans recently – particularly since WME-IMG took over at the helm in 2016 – for not really having a genuine direction, particularly in terms of its title fights. After years of logical booking, that appears to have gone out of the window somewhat recently with questionable title fights such as Tyron Woodley vs. Darren Till and Daniel Cormier vs. Brock Lesnar being put together.

Despite all of this though, the UFC clearly still has more direction than Bellator when it comes to the paths their fighters take to the top. Take current Light-Heavyweight prospect Dominick Reyes, for instance – he debuted against a low-level opponent in Joachim Christensen and beat him handily, and then defeated another low-level foe in Jeremy Kimball easily too.

Those wins earned him a step up against Jared Cannonier, and when he beat him too, he was given another step up the ladder against Ovince St. Preux, a top-ten ranked contender. After beating OSP, it’s now expected that Reyes will next be given a fight that could move him into title contention in 2019.

It’s all logical booking to allow a fighter to move up the ladder in a logical way. Compare that to Bellator’s booking of Michael Page, then. ‘Venom’ is one of Bellator’s most exciting prospects, but in 9 fights in the promotion he’s barely moved up the ladder due to being booked against opponents on a similar level every time. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Throw in odd bookings like the ‘superfight’ between Middleweight champ Gegard Mousasi and Welterweight champ Rory MacDonald – prior to either man actually defending their titles – and Bellator is just one big confusing mess at times.

WME-IMG be damned, the UFC at least has far more direction than that, particularly when it comes to building fighters up from the bottom to the top.

#5 The UFC has the superior broadcast team

Using knowledgeable fighters like Dan Hardy on colour commentary allows the UFC to have a superior broadcast team to Bellator
Using knowledgeable fighters like Dan Hardy on colour commentary allows the UFC to have a superior broadcast team to Bellator

For years, one of the biggest criticisms of the UFC was its broadcast team of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. Longtime play-by-play announcer Goldberg often came under fire for focusing more on plugging the UFC’s sponsors than on the fights and repeating the same lines over and over (“it is all over!”) while Rogan was considered knowledgeable, but at times too focused on pushing his own narrative during the action.

Over the past couple of years, however, this has improved tenfold. Goldberg is now gone – replaced by a trio of superior play-by-play men in Jon Anik, John Gooden and Brendan Fitzgerald – and while Rogan remains and continues to split the opinion of the fanbase, they’re often joined by extremely knowledgeable fighters like Dominick Cruz, Daniel Cormier and Paul Felder.

But the biggest coup that the UFC has pulled recently in this area came in a signing from Bellator. Colour commentator Jimmy Smith – one of the most knowledgeable analysts in MMA – joined the UFC in early 2018 and he’s taken to his new surroundings like a duck to water.

All in all, that makes the UFC’s broadcast team absolutely fantastic in 2018, and essentially, you’re guaranteed top-level analysis on every show they put on.

Bellator on the other hand? Well, they signed Goldberg in 2017 to perform play-by-play duties – and while he provides a familiar voice to longtime fans of the UFC and isn’t terrible at his job, he can still be frustrating at times. Unfortunately, he’s often paired with the cliche-spewing Mauro Renallo – certainly a knowledgeable fan, but one perhaps more suited for pro-wrestling rather than MMA.

Legendary referee ‘Big’ John McCarthy and current fighter Chael Sonnen often provide colour commentary, but despite being decent they pale in comparison to the likes of Cormier, Cruz and Dan Hardy.

It might not sound like a big deal, but the UFC’s far superior broadcast team is just another reason why they remain miles ahead of their biggest competitor.

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Edited by Sripad
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