UFC president Dana White isn't known for being a magnanimous competitor. He talks more smack about rival promotions than most fighters talk about their opponents. He infamously keeps a tombstone in his office on which he puts the names of former competitors who've been forced out of the business. And when push comes to shove, he's an aggressive counter-programmer and talent poacher who revels in making it harder for competitors to do business.
But so far, apart from some legal wrangling, Bellator has escaped his ire. Dana will tell you it's because Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney hasn't talked smack about "coming after the UFC," but the reality is that Bellator isn't really in direct competition with the UFC.
Let us count the ways:
- Bellator isn't competing with the UFC for top-of-the-card fighters
While Bellator has some formidable talent on their roster and is a competitor for new talent, they're just not going after the fighters that really impact the UFC's bottom line. Unlike Affliction or Strikeforce, the UFC isn't losing sleep that fighters like Alistair Overeem, Nick Diaz, or Dan Henderson are going to jump ship to Bellator. The fight business is overwhelmingly about the fights on top of the card and so far, Bellator hasn't done anything to mess with Dana's headliners.
Fighters like Eddie Alvarez, Ben Askren, Cole Konrad and Hector Lombard may be tough enough to compete at the upper echelons of the UFC, but they're not well known enough to headline a pay-per-view and that's really all that matters.
- Bellator isn't competing with the UFC for television deals
While Bellator has a so-so deal with MTV2 and may even jump up to Spike TV someday, the UFC has moved on to bigger and better things. The UFC outgrew their Spike TV relationship and isn't looking in the rear-view mirror. The broadcast and cable package that the UFC's new partner Fox can put together leaves anything but the biggest media deals in the dust.
There's an outside possibility that Bellator could move to Spike TV in 2013 when Spike's rights to the UFC archives expire, but even that isn't much of a threat. Just look at how little impact TNA has had as a competitor to the WWE since replacing them on Spike TV. It's not 2005 and the odds of Bellator putting together a breakout programming package on Spike TV are slim to none.
- Bellator isn't competing with the UFC on pay-per-view
This is the big one. The promotions that have really drawn Dana's ire are the ones like Pride or Affliction who attempted to go head-to-head with the UFC on PPV. Pay-per-view still represents an overwhelming share of the UFC's revenue and anyone who threatens that will find themselves in a fight to the death.
Bellator has talked about ultimately doing pay-per-view, and no doubt that's their goal, but they're nowhere near making that move. It's been shown again and again that without a robust cable or broadcast TV platform from which to promote a PPV card, it's just not a viable business. The 100 to 300 thousand viewers a week that Bellator is drawing on MTV2 is so far from the critical mass of fans the promotion needs to be profitable on pay-per-view it's not even funny.
So there you have. Sure it's also handy for the UFC to have at least one rival MMA promotion on American cable television with the specter of an FTC investigation looming, but the reality is that as long as Bellator stays in its (slow) lane, Dana White won't be putting them in his cross-hairs anytime soon.