Posted 05/19/2014 by McKinley Noble in BELLATOR

Bellator 120, Tito Ortiz, and the ‘Fake’ Fight

Saturday really should have been a home run for Bellator.

In one of the more cursed events in recent MMA history, North America’s #2 mixed martial arts promotion saw their biggest fantasy fight go up in smoke, a marketable champion lose a terrible upset, and a promising middleweight titlist completely buried by a decrepit, aging legend.

Out of all this, the last of those few may be the worst, with 205-pound Tito Ortiz pulling off a curious “win” over Bellator champion Alexander Shlemenko—a smallish middleweight who barely fits his 185-pound shorts.

But the most damning thing of all was how fake it looked.

Moreover, just hours prior to Bellator 120, rumors started making the rounds amongst MMA media members that there was a “prominent” mystery fighter set-up to “take a dive” at some point during the night. Such a thing in MMA is typically unheard of this day and age, at least on the professional level of Bellator and the UFC. However, none of the most well-connected MMA writers and journalists following the event saw fit to report the rumor, opting instead for cryptic, teasing Twitter posts.

For the wiser MMA fans, the easy guesses were lightweight Will Brooks (replacing concussed champion Eddie Alvarez) and Shlemenko, two men facing fighters that were far more popular, with far more promotional upside.

But in MMA, it’s harder to spot fakes. This is mostly due to the variety of ways a fight can be lost—knockout, chokes, injury, submissions, decisions—but also due to the fact that even the more deliberate movements are pretty subtle

For example, it’s pretty easy for a fighter to give up a takedown, surrender his back, and expose his neck for a rear-naked choke. It happens all the time. In some gym circles, it’s also seen as the more “honorable” way to lose a fight, especially when you’re getting your ass kicked.

Now, it wasn’t crazy to expect Tito to win on Saturday. He’s actually a much, much larger fighter than Shlemenko, and actually possessed the right skill set to beat him. But when you look back at the fight, the outcome just seems a little bit curious.

"No, no, I said MY left!"

“No, no, I said MY left!”

That almost-too-easy looking effort gave Tito Ortiz—who is now 2-7 and one “No Contest” in his last nine fights—his second-most relevant win to date, scoring an upset where he was pegged as low as a 5-to-1 underdog (via BestFightOdds).

One thing that’s clear is the two fighters exchanged words while locked up on the mat.

In full hindsight, it’s most obvious at the 3:07 mark, where Shlemenko turns his head to look at Tito, something no one with working eyeballs could miss. If he was taking instructions from Ortiz, it’s not hard to think they could talk freely mid-clinch and during exchanges. That’s how professional wrestlers call their spots, some less obviously than other.

But the big question remains: Was that the fixed fight?

It’s hard to say for sure, but the real problem is that it’s not hard to doubt.

After all, Bellator’s proven that they will go as far as planning staged weigh-in scuffles (via Fansided) in order to wring out PPV buys.

Is it really so hard to fathom that at least one of their best, almost-popular fighters would willingly throw a match for some promise of a Viacom-funded payout or locker room bonus?

‘Not really.

This is the inherent problem with Spike TV, Bellator and (TNA) Impact Wrestling’s incredibly weird relationship.

Professional wrestling is as phony as a three-dollar bill. Using those tactics to sell a real fight can only go so far. And once you’re openly using fake theater to promote your MMA fighters, it only makes them look fake by association.

We’ll never really know for certain, but the seeds of doubt are there.

But fix or not, Shlemenko’s loss was a waste—a waste of a fight in a night of wasted time.


McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist. His work has appeared in NVisionBleacher Report, PC World, Macworld, GamePro, 1UP, MMA Mania and The L.A. Times. Follow him at @KenTheGreat1 on Twitter.

This column is an opinion piece and does not represent MMA Owl’s views.

McKinley Noble