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Bellator 120 to Determine Value of MMA Promotion

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By now, every major MMA media outlet has run the story about Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez pulling out of his upcoming trilogy fight with Michael Chandler after suffering a concussion during training. It's a sad tale, not only because of the severity with which contemporary sports culture treats head trauma, but also because it indefinitely postpones one of the premiere 155-pound matchups in all of mixed martial arts.

Beyond the Alvarez injury and the loss of a main event that was to feature two top ten lightweights, the narrative of Bellator's second attempt to promote a Pay Per View fight card is mired in bad luck and terrible timing, much like its predecessor. However, unlike the Viacom-owned MMA organization's previous attempt at the pay model in November 2013, which was ultimately re-positioned onto Spike TV's cable airwaves, Bellator 120 (Pay Per View, 10 P.M. EST) will move forward as intended on May 17, with season nine tournament winner Will Brooks stepping up to face Chandler in Alvarez's stead.

This last minute shuffling to salvage what was to be Bellator's big coming out party indeed looks more like a promotional nightmare. But perhaps, buried somewhere deep in this mess, is a silver lining, a hidden truth offering a valuable lesson.

No, the consolation in this case is not Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Muhammed Lawal's promotion to the Bellator 120 main event. But maybe, just maybe, with Alvarez out of action, Bellator and Viacom can truly appraise the value of their five-year-old promotion and challenge the relevance of the Pay Per View model altogether. They'll also have the opportunity to truly evaluate the worth of Alvarez, which is something the MMA community has attempted to pinpoint since a contractual dispute with Bellator in 2012 kept the Philadelphia native out of action for more than a year.

To grasp to entirety of this situation, we must first understand that Bellator does not need Pay Per View; Bellator covets the pay wall because it represents growth of its product and a maiden foray into a new frontier. But make no mistake; Bellator is a slick, cable television-based promotion, which generates its profits from advertising revenue and ticket sales. Pay Per View is merely a sweeter icing than the one on their existing cake. So regardless of Saturday's buyrate, the promotion is guaranteed to expand its borders.

Obviously, any discussion centered on mixed martial arts and Pay Per View will drum up comparisons to the UFC, an organization that built its brand around a paid model from inception. But Bellator's hallmark has always been its tournament format, a format that has resonated with fans. And with Brooks' original bout with Nate Jolly scratched from the main card, the promotion now has the chance to raise the status of its next heavyweight title challenger, as former titlist Alexander Volkov squares off against Blagoi Ivanov, a fighter who returned to action after a near three-month coma, in the season 10 final.

This is of course not to say that Volkov-Ivanov is a fair replacement for the third Alvarez-Chandler installment - it's not, and by all accounts Ivanov should make quick disposal of Volkov. But the Bellator 120 main card now looks more indicative of the promotion's two dozen annual events, which offers insight into how valuable their standard product is to the MMA consumer.

Within the Bellator ranks, no fighter has established their market value better than Alvarez. While Chandler has become the organization's poster boy, appearing in marketing campaigns and advertising spots, it is Alvarez who rose through the promotional minefield to win the title, only to lose it to Chandler in 2011, and ultimately earn a lucrative contract with the UFC.

The deal never transpired however, as Bellator, and CEO Bjorn Rebney exercised a matching-rights clause to keep Alvarez on the roster. But there would be one major stipulation in order to keep the lightweight: Alvarez would have to fight on Pay Per View. And thus, his absence from Saturday's card ensures that Bellator 120 will not be the promotion's final go at the paid television space.

When the time does finally come for Eddie Alvarez to make his Pay Per View debut, Bellator will already have a finite and detailed set of metrics and data from which to draw comparisons. And while it will certainly be difficult to properly assign new value to such a limited sample set, when Alvarez attempts to negotiate a new contract with the promotion (which should happen immediately following his next outing), Bellator will know exactly how much he's worth in the paid arena.

All this opining about Bellator and fight cards and Eddie Alvarez and Pay Per View does nothing to change the underlying narrative. A champion sustained a serious injury a week before a major fight, devastating Bellator and its fans that were eager to watch what was expected to be an epic battle.

But remember, much like the lessons fighters learn in defeat, promoters are also occasionally afforded equally unique circumstances from which to grow. The question now remains if Bellator will find the hidden meaning in this very bizarre scenario and realize their true worth.

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