Chairman Bjorn Rebney discusses MMA’s future.Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As Bellator Fighting Championships — the second biggest Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) organization in America — prepares for Bellator 51, its Sept. 24 show in Canton, Ohio, the organization finds itself at a crossroad.
With Zuffa, LLC — the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) — purchasing fellow MMA group Strikeforce in March, Bellator remains as the lone major MMA group outside of the UFC umbrella.
The announcement that UFC will soon move its programming from SPIKE TV to the Fox family of networks has led to rampant speculation that Bellator, currently broadcasting its shows on MTV2, would soon move to SPIKE TV in response. The speculation was bolstered when it was announced that the network would begin showing Bellator preliminary bouts live on its website, SPIKE.com.
In an interview with Toledo Free Press Star, Bellator chairman/CEO Bjorn Rebney remained optimistic but noncommittal about his company’s broadcast future.
“We were blessed,” Rebney said. “Our relationship kicked off with MTV Networks, and MTV Networks is a larger corporate umbrella that controls everything that goes on — SPIKE and MTV and MTV2 and MTV3 and Comedy Central. And so since Day One, we’ve been able to leverage all the expertise of all the guys at SPIKE who, to a large extent, have been responsible for the general market crossover of MMA.”
Indeed, SPIKE TV is fairly synonymous with the sport, having been the home of UFC since its boom in popularity began in the mid 2000’s. For Bellator, founded in 2008, to find a home on SPIKE would be a major coup for a relatively young organization.
“All of the steps we’ve taken, everything that’s happened, we are in a very solid place,” Rebney said of the company’s current home on MTV2. “What the future will hold, six months, nine months, a year from now, remains to be seen.”
Rebney is also being careful with what would be another big step for the company — pay-per-view. The vast majority of UFC’s revenue comes from these premium buys, Rebney noted, but said Bellator is in no hurry to follow suit.
“What I’ve always said about pay-per-view is, it will come for Bellator when it’s right and if it’s right,” Rebney said. “In other words, our goal was always to build up the tournament format, build up the format, tell the stories behind our fighters. And if we can get to a stage where we are positioned to do pay-per-view, it will be — I hate to say it, but it will be obvious.”
The structure of Bellator’s presentation makes it unique in the MMA world. Every season (this is the fifth) is built around tournaments in a wide variety of weight classes that determine championship contenders.This structure was inspired by Rebney’s frustration with how title fights were traditionally organized.
“This is sport. You’re supposed to be able to earn your victories and earn your shot at the world title,” Rebney argued. “I think there’s justification for match-making early in a fighter’s career when a guy is making his pro debut. Or when a guy is three fights, four fights in — you don’t wanna put him against King Kong, that’s not fair. But when a guy is at a world-class level, when a guy is looking to win a world title — you should earn that.
“There should never be a moment where a fighter fights in a fight, and gives it everything he’s got, and he wins the fight. And before thanking God or mother or country or trainers or sponsors, that he looks for the promoter frenetically in the auditorium and begs for a title shot. That just — it always hit me as so untrue to sport.”
Four of the bouts in Canton will be part of the opening round of this season’s bantamweight tournament. Rebney practically glowed with excitement discussing the show, organized by Bellator and the Ohio-based North American Allied Fight Series (NAAFS).
“We formed that alliance with NAAFS and said, ‘Let’s put together a great show, let’s put together something that really sings. Let’s get big, big ticket draws and big names in the state of Ohio on the show.’ And we’ve been working with them really seamlessly to put this whole thing together and to really make it something special.”
Rebney promised a memorable event, for fans in the arena and those tuning in on MTV2.
“We offer something very special,” he said. “It’s about a four-plus-hour roller coaster of big-time excitement, big-time highlights, music videos and spectacular fights.”