The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Bellator:
"It is with bittersweet emotions that I announce that I am leaving the company I founded." With this parting message, so ends Bjorn Rebney’s stint as Chairman of Viacom backed Bellator MMA. Under the leadership of Rebney, Bellator had risen from a debuting promotion to one, judging by the amount of f-bombs thrown in its direction by him, which was causing significant worry to Dana White. Bjorn’s time at Bellator has not, however, been plane sailing. From the fiasco surrounding their first attempt at a Pay-Per-View (PPV) card, to the unfortunate situation regarding Eddie Alvarez and his contract, Bellator have had a problematic twelve months. That the last year or so has not gone smoothly for Bellator means that the redundancy of Bjorn is not that surprising, with him stressing differences in opinion between him and Viacom regarding the strategic direction Bellator should take. His potential successor has yet to be confirmed at the time of writing, yet Twitter is awash with rumours pointing to the appointment of Scott Coker, the founder and CEO of the now defunct Strikeforce promotion. If Coker does indeed become the new CEO and Chairman of Bellator MMA, he will inherit a promotion with a unique capacity for growth, and this article will look to assert just where Bellator can go under his leadership.
. This tagline has come about due to the propensity of Bellator to sign fighters recently let go from their contracts with the UFC (Rampage Jackson, Joey Beltran, Cheick Kongo etc...). This model of business has undoubtedly caused significant damage to Bellator’s image in the MMA community, with their credibility being severely damaged by their apparent reliance on talent proven to be below UFC level. The failings of this attitude have never been more apparent though than with their first attempt at a PPV. That Bellator tried to push an event headlined by Rampage Jackson fighting Tito Ortiz at best drew laughter from the MMA community. Why Bjorn or Viacom believed pushing two fighters, both passed their sell-by-date, and both coming off numerous losses in the UFC was good for business is quite simply astounding. What is even more incredibly about this is that Bellator then planned to have the Eddie Alvarez vs Michael Chandler rematch as the support act. To those of you who are unfamiliar with the Bellator roster, Eddie and Michael are perhaps two of the best fighters in the world outside of the UFC, and their first fight was an instant classic. This aptly demonstrates Bellator’s desire to place “UFC-rejects” well ahead of their own, homegrown, talent, a model of operation that Coker, or whoever the next CEO will be, will have to stop immediately.
These negative aspects of Bellator should not, however, cloud the fact that they do, undoubtedly, have major positives in their favour. These positives largely revolve around their unique structure, with the MMA tournament being their modus operandi. While the Tournament does come under criticism from some areas, it remains one of the most sure fired ways of determining who deserves a title shot, and with the recent changes implemented by Bellator (Winning a tournament now promotes you into an elite category), this structure can continue to be successful. This tournament has also provided Bellator with the ability to discover talent of their own, from Eduardo Dantas to Vitaly Minakov, Bellator’s roster is filled with high quality fighters who can be considered ‘made’ by their promotion. That Bellator has so many quality fighters from outside of the UFC makes the aforementioned ‘push’ of “UFC-rejects” even harder to excuse. Bellator therefore has the structure, and talent levels, in place to continue to grow massively provided they continue to search for talent outside of the UFC cutting list.
It will therefore be in finding talent that the future success of Bellator lies, and if one looks at Coker’s record with Strikeforce the future indeed looks rosy. From the likes of Daniel Cormier to Luke Rockhold and Tarec Saffiedine, Strikeforce found and moulded some of the top fighters in the World today, all of whom came from organisations outside of the UFC. Whoever takes over the mantle at Bellator therefore must seek to expand Bellator’s roster with potential fighters from the smaller promotions, with one only having to look at the successes of Chandler, the Pitbull brothers, Held, Dantas and Minakov to see how this can bear fruit.
Bellator should not however restrict themselves to only local talent, with the financial backing of media giants Viacom allowing them to look at fighters from the UFC. Look at fighters from the UFC? But you just said Bellator should avoid UFC rejects I hear you say, but I counter with the point that Bellator should not aim to sign those that have been cut, but those who are out of contract. They showed this desire with their pursuit of Gilbert Melendez, with them even beating the UFC’s initial contract offer, and there are many fighters who, with the correct fiscal incentive, would be more than happy to leave the company of Dana White for that of Bellator. One only has to look at the situation regarding Nate Diaz to see how Bellator has the opportunity to ‘snipe’ fighters away from the UFC. The benefits of this are two fold, firstly it brings name-weight to their fight cards, thus increasing sales, and secondly it makes them more attractive to other prospective fighters. If you are offered the same wage by two different organisations, you go to the one which can offer you the best level of completion, therefore by signing bigger name fighters, Bellator will increase their appeal to up-and-comers, a must if they want to grow. So there you have it, the future of Bellator looks incredibly promising as of now. For if they can shift the tag of “UFC-rejects” and continue to expand with fighters from outside of Dana White’s cutting list, they, due to their financial backing, are in a unique position to challenge the UFC and Zuffa for MMA supremacy in the America’s. Whether they do it is by no means easy to predict, but it is clear that they have all the tools and options there to succeed in this task. Thank you for reading.