Recently, Bellator FC has been making waves in the world of MMA with their new season on Spike TV. From signing King Mo (with ‘mixed results’) to a string of impressive knockout and submission finishes that have garnered strong ratings for the Thursday night show, it appears there is a new player in town.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney had been in the news for his ongoing contract dispute with former champion Eddie Alvarez, but now finds himself there in a different light. He sat down with Mike Chiappetta of MMA Fighting to discuss the newfound exposure of the promotion:
“I think the most important thing is that the fights have been remarkably good. The fights and fighters are the fuel for the entire machine. If there’s one thing I’m most happy, there’s been amazing fights and performances. The tournament format has rung true, with competition being the driving force of Bellator, not how well you speak and talking your way into the things. It’s all about the competition, and the competition’s been amazing. That’s the driving force of what’s been great.”
Rebney is obviously proud of the competition level his fighters have put forth this season, and he should be. The fights in Bellator have shown truly hungry competitors looking to cement a place amongst MMA highest levels. While those fighters have not reached the pinnacle of success yet, it’s very clear that they are willing to work hard to get there. There is a ton of great talent in Bellator waiting to break through.
Their most high-profile fighter Muhammed Lawal got knocked out in spectacular fashion by Emanuel Newton earlier this season, definitely throwing a wrench into the gears of Bellator’s grand scheme. However, Rebney has a plan for this unfortunate circumstance:
“We rebuild him in a huge way. We put him back in, get him busy as quickly as humanly possible and we rebuild him. The magic of MMA is that anything can happen on any given day. I’m sitting in my hotel room late at night after Mo’s fight and I’m watching SportsCenter, and the No. 6 moment of the day was the highlight of Emanuel Newton, this guy many people had never heard of, executing a spinning backfist that hit Mo right on the button. “
"That moment is what we are all about. We’re not going to take King Mo or Chandler or Curran or anybody else and feed them cans to get them to the promised land. You have to win the toughest tourney in sports to get to earn your shot at a title. If you get through, you’ve absolutely earned it.”
So Rebney rolls with the punches, and emphasizes that his company is unwilling to give his big name stars an easy ride to the tournament finals. It is no doubt a tough format, testing the fighters’ endurance on their way to a coveted title shot. King Mo would attest to this. Rebney appears to know who his moneymakers are, but he also knows they’ll have to keep winning impressively to keep their momentum.
And of course, Rebney had to address the biggest issue facing him and Bellator, the drawn-out contract dispute between Eddie Alvarez and his company. He seemed optimistic about the subject, but everyone is still unsure of when we’ll see Alvarez in the cage next:
“We try to keep the door open to have communication and we have had some talks. My hope remains that we’ll be able to get it settled. We have had talks. It’s tough to tell. I’m hopeful it gets settled but we’re in the process of talking and I just don't know that it will. Our attorneys have been instructed to try to work through it and get a settlement worked out so we can get it behind us.”
“The tone of the talks have been more positive than they were in the past. My hope is that we can keep them going in a positive direction and maybe get this thing worked out. It’s hard to gauge because obviously, we have two different positions. But I think the tone has been positive. We’ll see. My fingers are crossed.”
Rebney also focused on not signing a ton of UFC castoffs, and noted he was not close to signing Jon Fitch or Rampage Jackson. Josh Barnett, however is supposedly on his radar. He spoke of all Dana White's trash talk about Bellator, noting that he lets comments like that roll off his shoulders. Overall, Rebney appears to be a focused leader with a clear plan in site. While it would be easy for them to sign any and all UFC castoffs, they took a more revolutionary approach in banking on their own talent, and it appears to be working.
While Bellator is still miles apart from the UFC in terms of events and exposure, it’s clear that another promotion is at least making some headway. And that’s a refreshing departure for many fans. I think having Bellator available as a viable, action-packed option is great for the sport. They have a good system in place. Now, only time will tell if they can consistently make fight cards worthy of a rise to the top levels of MMA.