Now ESPN will take a swing at mixed martial arts.
The rise and rapid fall of EliteXC on CBS apparently has not discouraged other companies and television networks from trying to take advantage of the popularity of MMA.
Starting in April of 2009, the Bellator Fighting Championships will begin weekly TV broadcasts aired exclusively on ESPN Deportes. The deal has been three years in the making.
This league will showcase MMA fighters, yet differs from the most successful MMA company, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
"We are implementing a tournament structure to determine champions and the No. 1 challengers so that world-class fighters can control their destiny based on their performance," said Bjorn Rebney, Bellator founder & CEO.
The strategy differs from the failed EliteXC, which folded last month. EliteXC tried to market Kimbo Slice as an MMA elite, rather than the rookie he was. In the end, Slice turned out to be more show than go, after he was knocked out in a national CBS broadcast in just 14 seconds by unknown replacement fighter, Seth Petruzelli.
Slice gained fame for his backyard brawls on YouTube. Slice's embarrassing loss was made worse for EliteXC after Petruzelli claimed the day after the fight that the company paid him more money to "stand-up" with Slice, rather than wrestle him, in an attempt to cater to Slice's supposed boxing strengths.
The allegation sparked an investigation, which was dropped after EliteXC announced it was folding.
Bellator Fighting is taking a different approach allowing the "fighters fight their way to the title," Rebney said. No more speculation about whom might make up a good fight. The performance of the fighters will ultimately make or break their chances of winning top prize, rather than having promoters push the most marketable star, regardless of skill.
Rather putting the spotlight on itself, Bellator puts the fighters there. In the broadcasts before each fighting match back-stories will be presented on each fighter. Brad Epstein, Bellator founder & COO states "MMA fighters have incredibly rich stories to tell, and we will bring these to MMA fans, allowing our audience to identify with who these warriors really are." It's about informing the fans on a more personal level with the fighters.
Another aspect of the Bellator Fighting Championships that differentiates itself from other companies is that it will not be connected to "reality television" shows and will only be showcasing the purest form of the highly competitive full contact sport. The UFC skyrocketed in popularity after the first season of its Real World-themed "The Ultimate Fighter" television show.
ESPN plans to air 12 two-hour tournament events broadcast in primetime on Saturday nights with the crowing of the champions and top challengers occurring at the season's end.
For a fighter to win the Bellator Championship they must win a total of three fights over the three-month season.
The fighter to come away with the Championship will be rewarded with $175,000, opening round winners receive $25,000, semi-final round winners get $50,000, and final winners take home $100,000.
According to Lino Garcia, general manager, ESPN Deportes, "Mixed Martial Arts is becoming increasingly popular among Hispanics and we are thrilled to work with Bellator Fighting Championships to showcase these world-class athletes." Further, he added, "the structure of this championship will give fans a unique opportunity to follow their athletes as the tournament progresses."
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