Last night on Spike TV’s Fight Master: Bellator MMA the show wrapped up the round of 16 and set the start of the quarterfinals for next week. MMAFrenzy takes a look at the show’s format and offers a no spoilers take on the fledgling program. Be sure to stay tuned to MMAFrenzy for continuing coverage of Fight Master: Bellator MMA, including a recap of last night’s episode.
After setting up a new feel in the preliminary round, Fight Master moved into a bit of more familiar territory as the fighters moved into the house. While it would be easy for the show to lose all of its steam from its innovative take on the preliminary fights, the show again separates itself with a few new twists to the MMA reality format.
Both Spike TV and Bellator MMA both stressed that the show was about choices for the fighters, which left me a little concerned about how fight selection would work. As it turns out, the show had a clever way of establishing who would get to pick their opponents by having the coaches rank the fighters with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney. While we were only treated to a short glimpse of what apparently was an hours long argument to get their fighters ranked higher, it established a 1-16 ranking of all the fighters in the house. The ranking gave the higher ranked fighters the ability to pick their opponents. While I was going to complain about the rankings not meaning much with the random draw, last night’s episode made it clear that the fights were shown out of order.
This added wrinkle allows us to see what the fighters are thinking with each pick. The coaches also factor in here as their analysis of the fighters is not sugar coated and spot on. The coaches’ styles are also interesting to watch, as all four coaches have clear strengths and weaknesses. While the coaches talk about each other in confessionals, the show is devoid of the contrived drama that TUF tries to spark between coaches in a physical manner. What we are left is a clash of philosophies and this is really fascinating to watch. If I had one complaint about the training, it would be that I would actually like to see more.
Another thing that works is the set up to the fights and the fights themselves. While I cannot stand the flashbacks, after the first few times I got used to them even though they are annoying. Despite that headache, the build up to the fights is actually solid. I like how there are two fights per episode, as one of my biggest complaints about TUF is contrived drama. Here we see a little, but not too much, about each fighter before they fight. This allows us to get to know the fighter, without getting tired of the segments. With a one fight per show format, we often are bogged down with extended trivial interactions that add very little action. With two fights per show, it is condensed down to where you get the same story but the action does not slow. This allows the fights to be remain the main focus of the show.
Speaking of fights, this is where I have actually found some of my favorite moments on the show. While the fights are very hit-or-miss, as with all MMA reality shows, having the coaches mic’d up for the fights (with teammates not cage side) allows for an inside look into how smart coaches influence judges. Working judges/referees is common in sports, having done it myself as a wrestling coach, but the show allows you to see how skilled the coaches are at being effective cornermen. Frank Shamrock really stands out positively in that regard, and unsurprisingly, Greg Jackson also has a very clever way of calling instructions while still influencing a fight. While many of these fighters are very clearly a long ways from competing for titles, there is plenty of potential there.
Another thing the fights do is they make it abundantly clear that at the end of the day, a good game plan means very little if not executed properly. Every fighter seems to receive detailed instruction after choosing their opponent and when they get in the cage to fight, it is clear the coaches know what they were talking about. While on TUF fan often blame the coaches for a fighters loss, it is hard to do that with Fight Master’s format, since the coaches are shown working with the fighter on what to do and when to do it. This helps keep the show’s theme of “Fighter Choice” alive as the fighters still have to choose to use their coach’s advice or not, often at their own peril.
After seeing the first two segments of Fight Master: Bellator MMA (you can see my preliminary round review here), Spike TV and Bellator MMA have a winning formula on their hands. It will be interesting to see how the show progresses to its conclusion prior to the show’s final at Bellator 98. I think people who have not tuned in yet should still be willing to give this show a chance, if only to see a different spin on the MMA reality program.