Bellator Summer Series Hitting Full Swing

Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock call the action for Bellator (Photo courtesy of Bellator).

By John Archibald, Resolution Sports

Commentator Sean Wheelock Talks About the Summer Season

This Friday night, the second show of the 2012 summer series of Bellator Fighting Championships gets underway at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa. The promotion launched its summer platform in 2011, showcasing itself on a monthly basis as opposed to weekly cards. I recently caught with Bellator commentator Sean Wheelock to discuss the summer season, and he also gave a closer look at the current status of the increasingly popular MMA organization.

“For season two and three in 2010, we just did two 12-week seasons of Bellator. Last year, we decided we wanted to do something during the interim,” Wheelock said of how the summer series was created. “It’s tough to do three seasons. We travel with something like 65 people per Bellator event, when you look at production, staff, fighter relations, marketing, PR, commentators and everybody. It’s a huge group, so the idea was ‘Okay, we have our two 12-week seasons. Rather than just go dark over the summer, let’s try to go once a month.’”

And with the first summer series in 2011, the promotion decided to hold one of its trademark tournaments and opted to go with featherweights.

“We had the featherweight tournament, which ended with Pat Curran finishing Marlon Sandro with a head kick to win the tournament,” Wheelock reflected. “That then led him to the title shot against Joe Warren in the spring. It was a really good success and led to some of our strongest TV ratings. The idea was to continue this but do it with a different weight class. Light heavyweights were chosen, and we were really happy with our first show (in June). We had nine fights total including the prelims, and we had seven finishes. It was a great start to the tournament, and the idea works to bridge the gap. We went March through May, and we’ll start back up in September to jam in another season.”

With the first summer series under its belt, in addition to the kickoff of its second edition, Bellator appears to have found just the right mix to keep itself on the forefront while still avoiding oversaturation.

“I think it’s a perfect thing,” Wheelock continued. “It’s one tournament full of some intriguing fights. Paul Daley is making his Bellator debut on our July show. We’re getting the end of season six tournaments that stretched over. We’re getting world title fights. It’s a really cool, fun concept, and it keeps us active without putting on the strain, schedule-wise, enabling us to squeeze in another season.”

In addition to Daley, Bellator has been signing some other premiere mixed martial artists, such as former Strikeforce titleholder King Mo Lawal and contender Brett Rogers. The signings came as somewhat of a surprise to some MMA fans, as Bellator has established itself as an organization better known for creating its own stars. Wheelock says the promotion will not stray from that strategy, but it will continue to sign some of the “bigger” names in the sport.

“It’s about finding the balance,” he remarked. “What Bellator is never going to be is the second chance stop or a place for finished, washed-up fighters. It’s never going to be that. Paul Daley is not a washed-up fighter, by no means is he. Brett Rogers was on a bad run before, but he got a win (at Bellator 71), and this is someone who could blast through the Heavyweight Tournament and eventually beat Cole Konrad. He’s still a very prudent fighter.”

Many failed MMA organizations have taken the approach of signing some big name fighters who were on the tail end of their careers to serve as their initial cornerstones, and that strategy has led to huge financial losses and many closures. Wheelock feels that Bellator has been able to find highly talented fighters and build them into stars, and he thinks that is why the promotion has many years of success ahead of it.

“We are unlike other organizations who really just said ‘Alright, let’s be the second chance. These are guys at the end of their careers. Let’s squeeze one or two more fights out of them under our banner,’” he stated. “I don’t think that, in fact I know that Bellator doesn’t have that at all. It’s guys who may or may not have fought in the UFC, maybe they fought in DREAM or somewhere else. These are guys who still have more good fights in front of them than behind them.

“I think Paul Daley is the perfect model for that. Mo Lawal – when he’s healthy and everything is right, I think he’s top five, if not top three, in the world at 205. The guy’s lost once, a former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion. But still, you see the core of Bellator is to keep finding these new fighters. Discovering the Michael Chandlers, Pat Currans, guys who were pretty much unknown, anonymous or just starting out their careers, and turning them into legitimate superstars. I don’t think Bellator will ever go away from that core model of developing these young guys and giving them the opportunities to emerge as legitimate top fives in the world, but it’s nice to see the supplement. Paul Daley and Mo Lawal – no one can argue to me that they’re not in the prime of their careers because I think they are, clearly.”

Make sure to catch Sean Wheelock and his partner, Jimmy Smith, this Friday when Bellator 72 kicks off on MTV2 and EPIX HD at 8:00 p.m. EST. Prelim bouts get underway at 7:00 p.m. and can be viewed at Bellator.com and SPIKE.com.



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