Just In Bellator’s questionable matchmaking does Michael Page no favors | Opinion MMA Life

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It’s another Michael Page fight week, and with it comes some familiar questions about what exactly Bellator is doing with MVP.

Saturday’s Bellator Europe 6 headliner against newcomer Giovanni Melillo marks Page’s 13th fight with the promotion. And Bellator, to put it generously, has been content to handle Page (15-1 MMA, 11-1 BMMA) with kid gloves for much of his nearly six-year run.

Page is seemingly happy to go along for the ride, too, which has generated frustration and resentment from fans. It was acceptable for Page to fight low-level and unknown talent at the beginning of his career, because that’s what everyone does. But any enjoyment from watching him dance around the cage and clown utterly hapless foes fizzled long ago.

To his credit, Page has done some good things. His skull-cracking flying knee knockout of “Cyborg” Santos will loop on highlights for eternity, and his humiliation of David Rickels was impressive, as well.

Both of those performances were on the come-up, though, and we’ve since seen what happens when Page takes a real step up.

Fans got what they were asking for when Page joined the Bellator welterweight grand prix, which was an eight-man field that consisted only of proven talent. He barely edged Paul Daley by decision in a complete stinker in his first true “test,” then in the next fight would experience his first loss in the form of a horrific knockout against eventual tournament winner Douglas Lima.

The loss to Lima fueled every ounce of negativity fans had toward Page. His flashy style didn’t translate effectively against a high-level, experienced competitor, but maybe Lima is just that good? Lima went on to beat Rory MacDonald in the grand prix final, after all, so perhaps we’re taking too much away from Page.

The issue, though, is that Bellator isn’t letting anyone find out. Joining the tournament should’ve been the point of no return from a matchmaking perspective, but on the heels of Page’s first defeat, Bellator went back to the drawing board.

Page’s first post-loss booking came in September against Richard Kiely, who entered the bout with an abysmal MMA record of 3-1 and even said himself that Page is a “toilet brush of a human being” for fighting someone with his record. Bellator touted Kiely’s kickboxing background as the selling point for a compelling fight, despite the massive disparity in MMA experience. Of course, that proved to be hogwash, with Page clowning Kiely before stopping him by flying-knee knockout in less than three minutes.

It’s not hard to see what Bellator was doing with that one. England’s Page rebounded from his first defeat with a spectacular, viral knockout moment at an event in the U.K. Fight fans aren’t clueless, however, and it did nothing to win them over.

Page essentially is in the same situation going into Saturday’s Bellator Europe 6 headliner with Melillo (13-4 MMA, 0-0 BMMA).

In fairness, Page originally was booked against Derek Anderson, who is not a “can” by any means. It’s not Page’s fault that Anderson pulled out of the fight with a groin injury, but the replacement of Melillo – who has been knocked out in the first round in two of his past three fights – is nowhere close to an even trade.

Perhaps Melillo was the only option Bellator could gather on such short notice, but that’s hard to believe. More realistically, Page likely was presented with a handful of replacement possibilities and he and/or his team went with Melillo for whatever reasons.

And why not? If those are the fights Bellator is going to offer, then it’s partly understandable why Page would take them. He gets paid a handsome fee by Bellator as one of the few names on the roster capable of creating buzz, and he gets to almost exclusively fight competition who present minimal danger. That’s a pretty sweet gig, but one no one outside of Page can buy into, especially when he openly discusses how he wants to rematch Lima “as soon as possible.”

It would seem, though, that this game can only go on so long. If Page keeps winning, he must eventually get back to a proper fight. And what happens when he gets there? Fights like Page vs. Melillo do absolutely nothing to reveal more about his skillset or change opinions about what happened when he shared the cage with a truly elite opponent.

Page and his team definitely deserve criticism for their part in all this, but the greater scrutiny should fall on Scott Coker, Rich Chou and the Bellator brass. They put Page in the deep end, and he failed, which happens – and it’s OK. What it shouldn’t mean, though, is Page going back to play in the kiddie pool while simultaneously pretending he’s shown he can swim in the deep end.

Assuming Page wins at Bellator Europe 6, it’s inexcusable for his next fight to come against anyone other than one of the promotion’s top welterweights.

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