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MMA Roundtable: Rousey’s future, grading Bellator, fighting TRT and more

Another week, another crazy amount of changes, developments and possibilities to consider in the sport of mixed martial arts. In this week’s edition of the MMA Roundtable, my colleague Mike Chiappetta and I take up the cause of considering what happens if Ronda Rousey loses to Liz Carmouche on Saturday at UFC 157, how we grade Bellator’s progress since move to Spike thus far, the UFC’s new TRT testing regimen and more. 1. It’s not likely, but let’s say Liz Carmouche defeats Ronda Rousey this weekend. What happens then?Thomas: I’m sure everyone who has objected to the Ronda Rousey media blitz or Rousey herself will enjoy a moment or two of schadenfreude. I don’t know how big that community is, but there is a portion of the fanbase who don’t particularly care for Rousey or that she’s a media darling. She’s not credited with beating anyone of significance and is widely expected to get past Liz Carmouche, so a loss would be a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.Still, though, the show will go on. For starters, there is likely to be a rematch in the event Carmouche wins. The UFC has invested heavily in Rousey and up to this point, Carmouche. It wouldn’t make much sense to put Carmouche in a place to defend her title while Rousey works from the back of the pack. Second, certainly Rousey losing is not the preferable outcome, it’s not the doom people think it is. A losing streak by Rousey might be, sure. But one loss? Especially if she avenges it in the subsequent rematch? That’s ultimately not nearly as much of a concern as some might suggest. The Rousey detractors and denialists might feast at the table of her loss, but it’s not guaranteed to be a particularly long or satisfying meal. Chiappetta: Well, that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? It would quickly test Dana White’s mission statement of being in the Rousey business ahead of the women’s fighting business. I get what Luke’s saying about a Rousey loss not being the ultimate doom of the division, but I do think a defeat would take some of the luster off Rousey as a gate attraction and mainstream media star. Rousey has two drawing cards. One is that she’s a fantastic athlete who absolutely demolishes her competition; the other is that she’s attractive and charismatic. When you’re a pay-per-view fighter, a small minority is willing to plunk down $55 for the latter reasons. The rest are tuning in to watch you destroy someone else. And once you lose that aura as an assassin, it usually doesn’t return. Sure, you can still be a draw, but Rousey has her best box office and pay-per-view days ahead of her as long as she continues to win.As for the rest of the division, if Carmouche wins, it’s a situation the UFC can work with. She has an interesting personal history as a gay former Marine who served in Iraq. That isn’t exactly a difficult selling point given the media’s longtime interest in gay athletes in sports. As Luke points out, a rematch with Rousey would be a strong probability that would draw eyeballs. 2. Bellator is six weeks into their deal with Spike TV. How would you rate their performance thus far?Thomas: To date, I’d give it all a pretty solid review. I’m not sure how many stars or what letter grade, but generally speaking, I view what they’re doing as favorable.On the plus side, ratings have consistently been more than 700,000 each week, which is a decent floor to work up from. If you include replays, every Bellator show has been watched by more than a million viewers. It’s too early to tell whether stars are being built, but there’s reason to believe the push behind Michael Chandler and Mo Lawal (combined with their winning performances) is paying off for the Bellator brand. Also, they haven’t even launched their supplemental reality show programming, which could have a strong effect on ratings, generally.And hey, being positioned opposite UFC in a major New York Times story is nothing to scoff at.Still, there are some issues to iron out. They’re set to have shows for 25 weeks a year. To meet their tournament demands, they basically are forced into this schedule. Whatever else one thinks of the tournament, I would submit this is probably too many shows for the brand even though the ratings are holding in the timeslot. From an earned media perspective, it’s hard to generate any momentum for fighters they’re trying to build week over week. Sure, some guys are going to break through, but the question is are all the fighters who could be built more raising their profile? That remains to be seen, but I have some concern that Bellator won’t be able to optimize their roster with shows at this pace. And it’s not just ‘earned media’ as a goal in and of itself, but what earned media represents: anticipation and interest. Proper fight promotion takes grooming and time and investing on an event by event basis. Is Bellator really able to work in that kind of space given their hectic schedule? I guess we’ll find out. Chiappetta: It’s been a good start out of the bloc…

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