Every time Michael “Venom” Page steps into a cage, it feels like he’s on the brink of something special. There are some athletes across all of sport that just have that something special and whatever that something is, Michael Page has it. To MMA fans, specifically UK based ones, he is that something special. He’s the guy you tune in for to see him put on a great performance inside and out of the cage as one of the most charismatic and exciting fighters on the scene right now. The biggest hurdle thrown at “MVP” by his fans and critics has always been his level of opponent though this all changes this Saturday at Bellator 216 when he takes on his biggest rival in Paul “Semtex” Daley. Daley is one of the most well-known fighters in UK MMA history and finally, we get to see him face off against Page after years of build-up. This left me asking if the level of opponent is there, why is this fight not bigger? Obviously to UK MMA fans, it is a huge fight but why isn’t it reaching bigger audiences? Why is this fight not finding it’s way into mainstream lives?
The first aspect to get out of the way when looking at why this fight isn’t reaching a more mainstream audience is the fight itself. The reason I say this is the first thing to clear out the way is that Page and Daley is an incredible fight, the fight itself is not to blame. You could show anyone a performance from Page and they would be sat there captivated. His style is so entertaining and this is his most anticipated fight ever. An all UK clash between the enigma that is MVP and the instantly recognisable Paul Daley. The fight itself is perfect, hence why I believe it should be hitting a bigger market than it is.
This leads me on to the root of the problem. Why this fight is not relating to the UK, in particular, like say an Anthony Joshua fight does. Exposure. There are two parts to it. The first is Bellator itself. They’ve just solidified a TV deal with Sky Sports which is huge for the sport and for Bellator but for a long time, you simply couldn’t watch Bellator live in the UK. This means it doesn’t have the fanbase over here, many people in the UK probably still think the name for the sport is UFC (excluding fight fans obviously). Simply put, the Bellator name does not travel well overseas when looking at the mainstream audience. They don’t know it and therefore are not bought into the product already. The UFC, on the other hand, have made a far bigger indent on the UK. If this fight was instead happening in the UFC it may have more of a buzz to it. Despite the struggle with a TV deal, Bellator has put on frequent shows in the UK for a while now with the promise to only expand on that. The issue is, this fight which is being called the biggest fight in UK MMA history is happening in Connecticut. Due to the fact it is part of the welterweight Grand Prix and there were issues with finding a venue, this huge battle of Britain will take place on the other side of the pond, alienating UK fight fans who would’ve otherwise bought a ticket to the event. Having it take place in the UK on Sky Sports would’ve undoubtedly built the event up as something special.
The other part of exposure is the exposure of the fighters themselves, Paul Daley has never really been a draw despite being a well-known name in MMA. Michael Page on the other hand ticks every box when looking at what makes a star in combat sports. He simply hasn’t been exposed enough to a wide UK audience and a big part of that comes down to the lack of a TV deal. Michael Page will captivate viewers, you just have to find a way to get the eyes on him. If you look at Darren Till in the UFC, he has a lot of similar traits when compared to Page. Till impressed the UFC and the MMA fans with a big win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. The UFC saw this and saw the potential Till had, giving him the main event in his hometown of Liverpool in what would end up being his way to a title shot. This big sell-out event gave Till the platform he needed to impress people. He went on to fight for the belt and was unsuccessful but is now back on UK shores headlining UFC London on March 16th. Now obviously, they’re very different cases that follow different paths but you can see the similarities. Page deserves that spotlight on him and I hope the Sky Sports deal Bellator have gives him that. Though I do think it will certainly help, the event will be held back by it not happening in the UK. Page will have the eyes of Sky Sports but with UK fans not being able to attend without significant costs and the event being aired at the early hours of Sunday morning due to the time difference, I can’t help but feel like curtains are being closed around Michael “Venom” Page.