Bellator at the Famous Chicago Theatre
On a pretty warm Thursday night in downtown Chicago Bellator 14 took place at the Chicago Theatre. Overall I enjoyed my time at the event and met plenty of people as well as the entire staff of Bellator. For a smaller developing company they did an excellent production and the set up was not displayed as put together at the last second. I'll break down each part of the show and hopefully it convinces some of the Chicago faithful to check out the show again in August.
For an event at the Chicago Theatre in terms of MMA I didn't think it was all that bad. However I was in the media section and don't know the how well the sight-lines were for the fans. I'm assuming you wanted an upper tier view just because the stage is much higher than the main floor. A couple of fans I talked to said the viewing was hard for the main floor when the fight went to the far corner. In terms of fans in the Theatre it was about 70 percent filled to capacity. Bjorn said in the press conference he wasn't happy with the total amount of people in the audience but glad fans showed up. He is always looking to improve the numbers and hopes they are better in August.
Like I said earlier it was about 70 percent filled and many fans appreciated the work of the fighters when an escape took place or a submission attempt was reversed. However there was (and mostly always is) a few non intelligent fans that would yell "Stand them up", "Kick his ass Seabass". You can't avoid that situation but it really makes the atmosphere uneasy and awkward. However, I really enjoyed the fan presence and they seem to enjoy the fights for a Thursday night and I don't think they disappointed.
Overall the fights were very intriguing to watch and I saw plenty of fighters that wanted to move on in the next round of their tournament. A little controversy in the fight between Ryan Thomas and Ben Askren had the crowd in a small uproar. Askren had a pretty tight anaconda choke on Thomas and the ref asked Thomas twice if he was able to continue. Thomas did not reply and the ref declared the finish a technical submission. Thomas was furious after the fight and said he would appeal the decision.
Pat Curran had an impressive fight against Mike Ricci. Pat started off slow and controlled the pace and finally delivered a strong right hand to Ricci. Ricci was knocked out cold and was unconscious for a good 3 to 4 minutes. I can see that KO being a huge hit on YouTube.
Toby Imada the Submission of the Year winner was in action again last night against James Krause. Krause had the first few minutes of each round in control and looked to be moving to a victory. However in the second round Toby rolled James over and delivered a great arm bar submission to end the fight. Toby is such an unorthodox style that it's really hard to concentrate on what he does. I can see Toby making it to the finals in the Lightweight
The final match that I really enjoyed was the woman's match between Felice Herrig and Jessica Rakoczy. These women really impressed me with their ability to take punches and really put on a great match for the audience. Many people don't care for the woman fights but this one really impressed me. There were plenty of punches and submission attempts. They both worked hard in the cage and should be applauded for their effort.
The television announcing duo of Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith did a great job. I can hear them throughout the broadcast and really seemed to be working well together. Jimmy hasn't fought in almost 4 years now but still has a great mind of giving his opinion on the fights and I think is a great color commentator. Sean Wheelock is also new to this year's Bellator broadcasts and seems to finding his own. He really gave a great play by play and threw some good filler comments that made the viewer at home concentrate even more.
Bjorn Rebney also did a great job watching every fight very closely and also had the production headset on. It seems he is a perfectionist and during a television broadcast that can't be a bad thing. He really was into the fights and when Pat Curran knocked out Mike Ricci he turned into a fan and had his jaw drop. I think that is what you want in terms of a CEO. Bjorn cares about his business but also puts his fans over anything else because he said he is one as well.
Another gentleman that doesn't get enough credit is Joe Doran. Joe is the head media person for Bellator and he does an excellent job. He organized the media section and helped everybody that needed help. He also helped with the post fight press conference organizing fighters and just doing things that get unnoticed. From my personal interaction with Joe is a true class act and if any fans not only in Chicago but all over the US get to meet Joe, give him some props for a great job he does.
Finally got a chance to meet Tracy Lee and Maggie Hendricks at the show last night and the two nicest people I have met so far in the MMA world. Maggie is a very smart blogger/journalist and isn't afraid to speak her mind or ask questions that somebody else would be afraid to ask. Also if you ever meet her or see her ask for a cookie, because they are that GOOD! Tracy Lee was also a great person to meet and she works hard during fights. She was taking shots and jumping straight to her computer to see how they turned out and or usable shots. She never took a break and now I know that photographing MMA fights isn't an easy thing at all.
Like I said Bellator was a great event for Chicago even though the showing was unsupportive. Hopefully, in August that all changes when they make their return to the Chicago Theatre.. Bellator has the right business plan in terms of doing a tournament and it does great things for their popularity and income. I hope to see everybody in August at Bellator.
Check back tomorrow for my photos from the event!