So some MMA snobs in the media and Twitterverse are hot and bothered that UFC icon Tito Ortiz is not only coming back to fight for Bellator, but has also decided to appear on TNA television.
They think that Ortiz disgraces MMA by appearing on pro wrestling shows. They are wrong. MMA is a great sport, full of athleticism, intrigue and drama, but it isn’t classier than pro wrestling. Not by a longshot.
In fact, if it wasn’t for professional wrestling, the UFC and MMA might not even be around. UFC was a minor blip on the television radar and was nearly out of a television deal in 1995. Its saving grace? The WWE. The Ultimate Fighter followed Monday Night Raw, which was, and still is the No. 1 rated regular show on cable television.
The UFC was able to retain more than 50 percent of the Raw audience. The Raw show was able to offer a perfect lead-in to The Ultimate Fighter finale, when Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar fought an epic war that probably saved the company.
Had it not been for the built-in WWE audience, however, the UFC would have been trying to start from scratch in building a fan base on television. So the idea that the UFC and MMA are somehow in a separate class than the WWE and TNA is preposterous. They actually work really well together.
WWE CEO Vince McMahon has proved this. He signed Ken Shamrock and marketed him as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” in the WWE, in a move that gave the WWE instant credibility.
Even UFC President Dana White knows this. When he had the chance to sign former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar, he swooped on it and turned Lesnar into the biggest draw in UFC history. McMahon then lured him back and Lesnar is a star again in the WWE.
So Bellator deciding to mix MMA with pro wrestling is unique in that Rampage Jackson, King Mo and Ortiz are attempting to wrestle and fight simultaneously. It is not the first time a smart promoter has attempted to rub the two genres together and spark a fire.
TNA and Bellator may fail miserably with Ortiz and Jackson, but that doesn’t mean they should be castigated for trying to do something out of the box. MMA fans who think Ortiz hurts MMA’s credibility by appearing on wrestling shows have a misguided understanding of both sports.
Most MMA fighters love pro wrestling and would jump at any opportunity to compete and make more money. Many pro wrestlers would also love to try MMA if they had the opportunity.
The two sports share many of the same fans and they both have certainly learned from each other business-wise. If Bellator is smart, it will attempt more promotional crossovers. Who knows, the UFC and WWE might not be far behind.