Season Eight of Bellator MMA is just about over with only three weekly episodes left before the close of the season. It was their first season on their new home SpikeTV, and simply by taking a look at their ratings, this season cannot be considered anything less than a success. Their highest rated episode was their season opener, which raked in an average of 928,000 viewers and peaked at 1.2 million viewers. They nearly replicated this feat with Bellator 91 late last month with an average of 901,000 viewers, peaking at 1.05 million viewers, even with little to no star power in that event.
Bellator MMA on Spike TV ratings for season Eight per MMAWeekly:
- Bellator 85: 938,000 viewers
- Bellator 86: 812,000 viewers
- Bellator 87: 705,000 viewers
- Bellator 88: 807,000 viewers
- Bellator 89: 719,000 viewers
- Bellator 90: 737,000 viewers
- Bellator 91: 901,000 viewers
- Bellator 92: 741,000 viewers
During Season Eight we also found out that Miller Lite has become the official beer of Bellator. When thinking of major sports, be it baseball, basketball and MMA (as in the UFC), having a beer sponsor is always present, not to mention a strong sign that the mainstream sponsors are ready and willing to accept them. Judging by the ratings mentioned above and the resources parent company Viacom can bring to the table, Bellator is indeed here to stay.
An odd observation that I feel the need to voice is their lighting. Perhaps it was my eyes playing tricks on me or the brilliant picture HD provides, but for some reason it appears as if the lighting of the Bellator cage and crowd is on another level, a greatly improved level. It reminds me of when wrestling promotion WCW moved from their dimly lit shows in stagnant southern arenas to the Disney/MGM studios in Orlando, F.L. for filming of their flagship shows. I tuned in for Bellator’s SpikeTV debut and I immediately noticed a drastic improvement in production, everything from the graphics to the sound. Bellator comes across almost as a new promotion, with a new logo and a tweak of their name, going from Bellator Fighting Championship (BFC) to Bellator MMA – possibly in an attempt separate themselves from the UFC or any other MMA promotion that ends with “Fighting Championship”.
Season Eight has been full of exciting fights, as well as jaw-dropping upsets. For starters, reaching a ratings peak of 1 million viewers is certainly a high point for Bellator in addition to being a first, averaging 800,000 viewers for the season thus far. This season, all reigning title holders defended their belts and a few vacant titles were filled. In fact, one champion, Pat Curran, is scheduled to defend his title for the second time in the same season. He successfully defended his featherweight title in the season opener in January against Season Four tournament champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and he is now scheduled to face Season Seven tournament champion Shahbulat Shamhalaev on April 4 in Atlantic City. This is an unprecedented move on their part that may turn out to be common in the seasons to come.
One of the most common gripes about Bellator from MMA fans was non-title super fights. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney preached for months that with the help of Viacom and their optimistic increase of viewers that there will be more frequent tournaments to have a title challenger on deck – a technique to eliminate non-title super fights altogether. Rebney himself isn’t’ a fan of those types of bouts in the first place, but with time, ambition and strategic expansion and growth, Rebney insisted they will end. Prior to moving to Spike TV, Bellator aired on MTV2, which was a channel not available in high definition (HD), another fan complaint. Season Eight effectively addressed both matters and seems to be moving along like a well-oiled machine. There are times when there isn’t a decisive title challenger available, but on the other side of that coin, there are occasions when there are two title challengers on deck at any given time, which was ever present when featherweight title challenger Daniel Straus was forced to withdraw for his title fight due to injury. Waiting in the wings was none other than the aforementioned Shamhalaev.
Speaking of upsets, the biggest upset in the history of Bellator since Toby Imada’s inverted-triangle choke win over Jorge Masvidal in Season One took place a mere three weeks ago. Light-heavyweight tournament favorite Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal was unceremoniously eliminated from the tournament in the semifinals when former MFC light-heavyweight champion Emanuel “Hardcore Kid” Newton knocked him out cold at 2:35 of the very first round with a highlight-reel spinning backfist. After an overhand right by Newton missed it’s mark, the momentum spun Newton around, positioning him perfectly for the left spinning backfist that landed squarely on King Mo’s chin, sending the former Strikeforce champ toppling over like a timbering tree.
As I mentioned before, there are three more weekly episodes left. The last event of the season will feature a title fight – ironically enough, the same title that was defended in the main event of their season opener. Bellator started Season Eight with a bang and we expect them to do the same in the season closer. It definitely met, if not surpassed, expectations of their first season on Spike TV. If this season is a sign of things to come in future seasons, I eagerly yet patiently await the start of next season .