The real headliner at Bellator NYC is a fight that’s not on the marquee. It has been overlooked with the media attention given to Chael, to Wanderlei, to Fedor.
It’s not even on the Bellator NYC poster, depending on which poster you’re looking at. Yet despite its placement as the third fight on the five bout PPV card, Michael Chandler vs. Brent Primus for the Bellator MMA lightweight championship is your real headliner Saturday.
When all is said and done, whatever happens at Madison Square Garden this Saturday in NYC, you have to give Bellator MMA and CEO Scott Coker credit for putting together an intriguing card. No matter your thoughts on the relevance of Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva (really, there is none unless you consider the talk relevant), it’s a grudge match that many of us wanted to see at some point. Whatever you think of the return to action of Fedor Emelianenko, he’s still one of the all time greats.
Chinzo Machida vs. James Gallagher? The contrast in age and styles makes it a must watch. On the Bellator 180 show before the PPV? The promotion lucked out when champ Phil Davis stepped up to replace an injured King Mo against Ryan Bader. How many champs would do the same? We haven’t even mentioned the other title fight on the card yet, Douglas Lima vs. Lorenz Larkin.
There are a lot of storylines heading into Bellator’s biggest event to date. Yet the main event that should have been booked — but couldn’t be, because this is the fight game, not a sporting league no matter how much we like to pretend otherwise — is the lightweight title scrap. The one that features arguably Bellator’s most loyal soldier, champ Michael Chandler, taking on rising prospect Brent Primus.
Lets take a moment to point out that this has happened before. To Chandler at least. Back at Bellator 120, under a different CEO, a different regime if you will, Chandler was booked against Eddie Alvarez as the headliner. It was a trilogy fight, the biggest fight Bellator could make thanks to the fantastic first two fights between the two.
Shortly before the event, however, Alvarez suffered a concussion. He was pulled from the fight, and Will Brooks stepped in. Rather than bank on Chandler’s homegrown star power, then-CEO Bjorn Rebney went with Rampage Jackson, a veteran who had made his name elsewhere. Sound familiar?
While Rampage vs. King Mo was the headliner that night, it was anything but a fun fight to watch. Chandler, not surprisingly, was entertaining, despite losing to Brooks. In fact, he would suffer back-to-back losses against Brooks, but has been on the rebound ever since, taking out increasingly dangerous competition, including Patricky Friere and former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson.
Yet again, the fight with actual relevance to the promotion (outside of the financial realm) is buried under a headliner from yesteryear. That’s a shame. Brent Primus is ready to go in this one. He wants to shock people, and rightfully so. He’s young, he’s hungry, he’s the underdog.
Chandler? When is he not ready to go? Michael Chandler has been one of the most consistently entertaining fights on the Bellator roster for years, long before it became a trendy destination for free agents. He’s part of the reason the promotion became so attractive in the first place.
Maybe this sort of main event booking is still a necessary evil in an increasingly crowded MMA market. For those of you who feel Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva is more freakshow that legit from a sporting perspective, however, just remember, the real main event is the third fight in.