Bellator won't let potential Spike in popularity go to its head

Will Eddie Alvarez, who fulfilled his contract with a KO victory over Patricky Freire earlier this...

Will Eddie Alvarez, who fulfilled his contract with a KO victory over Patricky Freire earlier this month, bolt to the UFC? (Getty Images)

NEIL SPRINGER, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:39 PM ET

TORONTO - It goes without saying that 2013 is shaping up to be an interesting year for mixed martial arts.

The UFC will be entering the second year of its deal with FOX, while simultaneously continuing its global expansion. Meanwhile Bellator Fighting Championships is set to make its debut on Spike TV, the same network that was instrumental in the current MMA boom.

But even if Bellator experiences an explosion in popularity, growth can be a tricky wave to ride. Just because numbers start trending upward, doesn’t mean it’s time to bust out the cheque book and go on a talent-signing spree. Also, how do you attract more eyeballs in an already saturated market?

Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and his staff have been working with Spike to address these issues over the past seven months.

Though some tweaks are inevitable — and a planned reality show will debut some time next year — Rebney said fans shouldn’t expect any massive changes to the product. After all, the fight promotion has been built on the philosophy that, much like throwing a punch, over-extending your reach leaves you off-balance and wide open for a KO shot.

“It really just boils down to staying true to that model regardless of how strong the numbers get, regardless of how big the platform gets,” Rebney said over the phone. “It’s about making slight variations, but not making very drastic variations from the format model and plan that’s delivered you to the place that you’re at now.

“So I don’t think you’ll ever see us making very dramatic shifts, or very dramatic changes in terms of our acquisition of talent from other organizations, or in terms of huge spends on what could be superfluous endeavours.

“You’re not going to see a very dramatic change in direction with this company because the direction we’ve been heading in is the one that delivered us to where we are, which is a place I’m very pleased with right now. I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied, but we’re sure headed in the right direction.”

It’s hard to argue against Rebney’s dedication to his business model. The promotion still maintains that title fights are only awarded after tournament victories — even going so far as to ignore potential high-profile championship bouts — and has passed on the opportunity to both sign and retain top fighters due to its bottom line.

Earlier this year, Rebney opted not to match the UFC’s offer for then Bellator middleweight champ Hector Lombard. The same scenario could soon play out for former lightweight kingpin Eddie Alvarez, who fulfilled his contract with a KO victory over Patricky Freire earlier this month.

Even the recent signing of former Strikeforce light-heavyweight titleholder Muhammed (King Mo) Lawal was due in part to a talent-sharing agreement with Impact Wrestling. Lawal recently made his debut with the pro-wrestling outfit and is expected to compete in Bellator once his nine-month suspension, stemming from a failed drug test, ends Dec. 27.

Rebney said he intends to promote the hell out of the charismatic fighter, but at the end of the day, Lawal still has to enter the upcoming 205-pound tournament and work his way to the top like every other fighter on the roster.

“Our model is not one where we sign Mo, put him on Impact Wrestling and then give him an automatic shot against Christian M’Pumbu,” Rebney said. “King Mo Lawal takes the same steps and goes through the same process that anyone else would go through to try to earn that title shot. He goes into a tournament, he has to win three fights and then he has to challenge for a world title.

“I think he’ll be big. Obviously King Mo will be an important part of our light-heavyweight tournament. Going into Spike, he’ll be an important part, but the cool thing about our dynamic and our format is he’s got to win it ... There’s no layup. There are no easy fights or road to that title. There are seven other guys who want that shot and he’s got to beat them — and one of them is named Babalu (Renato Sobral).”

But before Rebney can get too amped up about the possibilities next year holds, he still has a season of fight cards to finish, including a stop in Rama, Ont. Nov. 2.

“I don’t think I’d classify it an itchy trigger finger because we’ve been so engaged in it for so long now,” Rebney said. “It’s exciting, but we’ve still got a good hyper-focus on the events we’re doing right now on MTV2 because these are the events that are going to grow the next Pat Curran, the next Michael Chandler, the next Eduardo Dantas, the next Ben Askren, the next Alexander Shlemenko. This is where the next stars come out of.

“We’re focused on this, but we have a team of really smart people focused on this Spike transition now for months. This is a big transition. Spike wrote the book on mixed-martial-arts TV. So to be partnered with them, we want to make sure everything is 120% ready for that transition.”

DANTAS OFF BELLATOR 79 CARD

Eduardo (Dudu) Dantas has been officially pulled from Bellator 79 at Casino Rama Nov. 2.

The Bellator bantamweight champion was expected to defend his title against teammate Marcos (Loro) Galvao but will not compete to due lingering effects from a knockout loss to Tyson Nam in Brazil two months ago.

Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said the promotion has opted to err on the side of caution, rather than allow Dantas to return too quickly.

“The health and safety of the fighters who fight at Bellator is a foremost concern for me,” Rebney wrote in an e-mail to QMI Agency. “There are injuries that can be pushed through, but injuries that involve the head and brain are not amongst them.

“Eduardo suffered a serious concussion in his most recent fight and requires more time to ensure that his health and safety are protected.”

Galvao earned the right to challenge Dantas after winning last season’s bantamweight tournament. A new date for the title fight has yet to be determined.

As for Bellator 79, Edmonton welterweight Ryan Ford will take on Christopher Curtis, Douglas Lima meets Jacob Ortiz, Richard Hale faces Thiago Santos in a heavyweight tournament semifinal, and Mike Richman battles Shabulat Shamhalaev in a featherweight semifinal.


Videos

Photos