Bellator MMA’s Fight Master debuted on Spike TV and it was anything but a clone of “The Ultimate Fighter”. 32 welterweights begin, but only 16 will enter the house in New Orleans for a chance to become Fight Master. This part sounds like a lot like TUF, but that is where the similarities end. The winner gets $100,000 and a spot in an official Bellator welterweight tournament. The winner of the tournament gets the unenviable task of wrestling the belt away from Ben Askren.
After a fighter wins their preliminary bout, they get to choose one of four coaches to train with for the duration of the series. The coaches are Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Greg Jackson, and Joe Warren. When you have two legendary fighters and the best trainer in the game to choose from, why would you pick Joe Warren? Tim Welch kind of alluded to this after he finished Chip Pollard in the first round. He asked Warren if his camp would just focus on wrestling or would it be a true MMA camp, which was my concern with Warren. Welch ended up going with Greg Jackson who was excited about the opportunity to work with Welch.
Eric Scallan defeated Chris Curtis via split decision and none of the coaches were too thrilled about working with the Louisiana native due to his lack of experience. Of course, Couture, Shamrock and Jackson were nice about it while Warren flat out said he didn’t want him and wouldn’t you know it, Scallan picks Joe Warren to be his coach. Nick Barnes submits Brendan Tierney and picks Frank Shamrock who, based on the passionate speech he gave to fight for Barnes, must have watched episodes of NBC’s “The Voice”. AJ Matthews wins by unanimous decision and all four coaches really wanted him, but Shamrock put up the most effort. Matthews, however, admitted that he didn’t know what he could learn from Shamrock since he started fighting before he himself was even a fan of MMA. Matthews picked Randy Couture and with one fight left, all four coaches have a fighter in their camp.
The final bout of the evening featured Chirs Lazano taking on Josh Quayhagen. Despite some cardio issues from Lazano, he dominated Quayhagen in every aspect of the fight and earned a unanimous decision with Fedor-esque ground and pound. Lazano was the most impressive fighter of the episode and displayed a good all-around game. Greg Jackson was excited and assumed Lazano would pick him since they trained together in the past. Not to be outdone, Frank Shamrock used reverse psychology by claiming Jackson’s camp would be the better pick. Lazano ended up using Jackson’s own advice against him and decided to learn from a different mind in Shamrock. This kind of came off like a work because it didn’t make any logical sense.
The video packages on each fighter were well done and really gave you some insight into who the fighters are. This came across much better than TUF where they just rush 32 fighters into the cage with no commentary or little pre-fight hype. For example, AJ Matthews talked about how he got picked on because he is half brown and half white and learned how to fight in order to avoid being bullied. I’m half black and half white and I trained in martial arts and wrestling in order to avoid being bullied myself, so Matthews’ story is one I can relate to. “My father was incarcerated for killing someone” were the first words out of Chris Lazano’s mouth as he told his story of personal hardship. Those are words you don’t forget and will have a strong emotional impact regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, morally or otherwise.
I’m not entirely sure if I enjoyed the show because it was nothing like The Ultimate Fighter which hasn’t changed since its inception in 2005 or because of its own merits. The coaches came off very well and my perception of who could be the least valuable coach changed from Joe Warren to Frank Shamrock. Warren made a strong case for himself by talking about the mental aspect of the game and doing things “the Bellator way”. Warren has been with the organization longer than most and that knowledge could come in handy. Shamrock has never turned out a solid prospect in all of his years of being a trainer. Warren is a current fighter who has had a lot of success in the cage and brings a wealth of top level wrestling experience which is a crucial piece of the MMA puzzle. Fight Master is off to a great start and ultimately succeeds because their presentation definitively states that they are not the Ultimate Fighting Championship and this will help Bellator grow as a company going forward.