With Ben Askren’s announcement on Monday that he is retiring from the sport of mixed martial arts, this week has been chock-full of reflection on the Olympian’s MMA career; while Askren’s career was immensely successful, many hesitate to garnish it with the prestige a 19-2 record usually commands, as a good portion of it saw him facing suboptimal competition outside of the UFC.
The victories accrued against unchallenging competition leaves an unnecessary asterisk on the record of a fighter who easily could have cemented himself as an all-time great if he had been properly tested. It is too late for Askren, but not for Bellator’s stand out fighter Michael “Venom” Page, who we see being subjected to this same error in real-time.
As his original opponent Derek Anderson had to pull out of the bout due to injury, Michael “Venom” Page will now be fighting Giovanni Melillo this Saturday at Bellator: London. Melillo, who will be making his Bellator debut, has won just one of his last three fights and has not faced competition that is in any way comparable to MVP. Melillo deserves immense praise for having the fortitude to face the Page on a week’s notice, but there is little evidence that he will serve as anything but cannon-fodder for his more credential adversary.
Bellator’s decision to sign a new fighter to their roster to fight Page, rather than negotiate agreeable terms with an already employed one perfectly showcases how they are more interested in feeding MVP low-tier competition for him to generate another highlight-reel knockout than in building his prestige through the crucible of tough competition. While he should be facing lower-level competitors following his KO loss to Douglas Lima, reverting him back to fighting the unknown opponents he faced for far too long in his career is a grave disservice to all involved.
In his subsequent bout after losing to Lima, Page steamrolled Richard Kiely, who had just four professional fights at the time, with a first-round flying knee knockout. To go from fighting the esteemed Douglas Lima to such a green opponent shows the primary concern of Bellator management was protecting MVP’s marketing value as a flashy phenomenon, rather than challenge him with worthy competition, they actively elected to provide him an opponent he could finish near-effortlessly.
While fans are frustrated that they are being deprived of seeing MVP go toe-to-toe with the more-skilled fighters on Bellator’s roster, the true casualty of this is Page himself. Not only is he charismatic and entertaining, but Page is also a highly-skilled fighter who, if properly tested, has the potential to reach the upper rankings of the sport’s participants.
But if Bellator continues to provide him with trivial opponents solely for the purpose of generating highlight knockouts for their Twitter account, MVP’s career will suffer the same fate as Askren’s, as it bears the scarlet letter of being looked back on as a varsity-level athlete running circles around the practice team.