Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney: The Best Fighters Are Not In The UFC
Company head talks Bellator’s Pay Per View , rumors about Scott Coker taking his job, fighter pay, promoting fighters as the stars of the organization and sharing Spike TV airtime with a kickboxing promotion.
By Joshua Molina
Just eight months after the Viacom-owned Bellator Fighting Championship debuted amid much fanfare and hype on Spike TV, the MMA company’s once-quiet, behind-the-scenes CEO Bjorn Rebney is taking on an increasingly high-profile roll as Bellator looks to fight the UFC head-on.
Rebney doesn’t run his mouth on video blogs, or insult MMA fighters in interviews like his UFC counterpart Dana White, but lately Rebney finds himself smack dab in the middle of the MMA conversation as Bellator, with the powerful backing of Viacom, embarks on some bold business voyages.
Rebney, a former boxing promoter, spends a lot of time defending Bellator’s business moves, which include a surprise move to Pay-Per-View, the launch of a reality TV show that some deem a bust, a partnership between Bellator and TNA pro wrestling, and even stirrings that former Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker could replace Rebney in Bellator next year, a rumor covered by MiddleEasy.com.
“I have never even seen that site,” Rebney said. “That’s not true,” Rebney said of losing his CEO job to Coker or anyone else.
Despite the scrutiny that comes with being the CEO of an MMA company, Rebney said he is excited about Bellator’s future and its ability to compete with the UFC.
“The UFC has been around for a long time so there is an entrenched belief that the best fighters are in UFC,” Rebney said. “They are not. Many of the best fighters are fighting in Bellator.
“I think Michael Chandler is the best lightweight on Earth and he beats every other lightweight in the world,” Rebney said. “If you had every 145-pounder in the world fight, Pat Curran and Jose Aldo would be the last two standing. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It will just take time, but we will get there.”
In less than eight months, Bellator debuted a weekly show on Spike, launched a reality TV show called “Fight Master,” signed former UFC superstars, Tito Ortiz and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and announced the company’s first Pay-Per-View show for November.
Although ratings have been up and down for its weekly shows, and disappointing for Fight Master, Rebney is excited about the company’s Pay-Per-View launch, where Ortiz will battle Jackson in the main event.
“These are two of the epic superstars of all time,” Rebney said. “My excitement level comes first and foremost from the fact that I have always been a fan. I have been watching this game for more than 20 years.”
The card also features Michael Chandler, whom Rebney calls “the best lightweight on the planet,” in a rematch with the returning Eddie Alvarez, and another rematch between Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Emanuel Newton.
“These are big fights which have a great deal of meaning,” Rebney said. “The news coverage on this Pay-Per-View has eclipsed any other news out there. My expectation is that this show will do well on Pay-Per-View. We have had great response in terms of excitement. I think it will do well, how well remains to be seen.”
Rebney isn’t committing to Pay-Per-Views beyond the Nov. 2 second show.
“The UFC is a Pay-Per-View business,” Rebney said. “That is what they do. They do a Pay-Per-View every three-to-four weeks. Our business model is a free TV model. Our Pay-Per-View model is going to be driven by common sense analysis. We will never do a Pay-Per-View just to do a Pay-Per-View. There’s no way you can force Pay-Per-View down people’s throat. We are going to give incredible content out there to our fans for free.”
With the backing of Viacom, Bellator certainly benefits financially. At a time when fighters have become increasingly outspoken about low UFC pay, Bellator is trying to position itself as the better employer of the two, with better perks and benefits.
“UFC is a private company,” Rebney said. “They are not a public company and the information we get in terms of what they don’t pay and what they do pay is a bit cloudy. The reality is that our dynamic is a much different one than the UFC. Our focus is to build the athlete’s brand. Our focus is to make the athlete the star.”
Rebney said the fighters come first in Bellator.
“The bigger I can make the King Mo, Rampage, and Michael Chandler brands the more people will want to watch them at Bellator shows and the more they will want to watch them on Pay-Per-View. The fighters are what make it all happen, so they should be compensated well. There’s an equilibrium and fairess that need to be out there.
Viacom, he said, has allowed Bellator to offer better compensation packages than the UFC can offer.
“The differences are almost all across the board, positive,” Rebney said. “Marketing. production, public relations. It is an enormous powerful machine with incredible reach. What we do through a social media perspective is through the roof. If you race NASCAR, the better machine you have, the faster you are going to go, and Viacom gives us that faster machine.”
Rebney said there weren’t any negatives stemming from the Viacom ownership and that the deal allows him to “focus on my core duties.”
With Viacom wanting to brand Spike TV as a combat sports network, the Viacom partnership does mean Bellator has to share the marketplace with other combat sports leagues, include Glory, a rising kickboxing promotion.
“Spike is going to do two or three things next year with Glory,” Rebney said. “We do 25 to 30 events a year. If there are other groups coming in doing two or three events a year that is great. It only benefits us.”
Coming tomorrow: Rebney talks about Bellator’s partnership with TNA and conflicts of interest in the business of MMA.
Follow reporter Joshua Molina on Twitter @JECMolina