Bellator just changed the game. And King Mo is smiling all the way to the bank.
On May 10, 2012, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney convinced his broadcast partner, Spike TV/Viacom Entertainment, to invest in his business model enough to bring in a high profile free agent for more than a superfight. He convinced Viacom that King Mo was more than a fighter, that King Mo is not a slave to any one brand.
This does two things for Bellator as a fight promotion.
It allows Bellator to be price competitive with free agents in Mixed Martail Arts (MMA). Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, while not the highest paid MMA'ist in Strikeforce, was certainly better paid than 95% of the fighters under the Bellator umbrella. Taking home $95,000 from his last Strikeforce fight, Lawal could not possibly have been signed as a traditional entrant into the Bellator 205 pound tournament, where fighters are routinely paid $15,000 to show and $15,000 as a win bonus. Lawal is 3 times as expensive as the typical Bellator fighter. Mo would be crazy to take that kind of paycut.
Enter TNA Impact Wrestling (TNA). Between tournament fights, Lawal could easily cut promos and do minimal wrestling to ensure he is physically ready for his next fight. And if Lawal wins the Bellator 205 pound championship belt, Mo would be the undoubted favorite if he entered the next tournament, he would have plenty of time between championship defenses to do actual, albeit scripted, wrestling for the Sports Entertainment Promotion.
Secondly the deal gives Bellator additional "free marketing" to promote its fighters by way of cross promotion. Bellator is not trying to follow the UFC model that gives lesser fights to entice the casual viewer to purchase the pay per view (PPV) shows. Fans of TNA already watch Spike. All Spike is doing is asking fans to tune in at a different time. In actuality, this type of deal is safer than cross-promotion between MMA promotions. Since professional wrestling is scripted, it is easier, but not impossible, to ensure that Lawal gets no long-term injuries from his TNA time.
But the deal also blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. It will not sit well with most hardcore MMA fans, who traditionally have fought for profesional wrestling to stay as far away from MMA as possible. This type of cross promotion gives the critics of MMA plenty of reason to doubt the sincerity of the sport as it attempts to become more than a fringe sport.
From a business standpoint, Bellator had little choice but to sign a cross promotion deal with Lawal and TNA. In the last month, Bellator has seen its longstanding Middleweight champion sign with the UFC over re-upping with Bellator, and rumors abound that former Bellator Lightweight Champion, Eddie Alvarez, is as good as gone after being spotted with UFC President Dana White at UFC on Fox 3. Bellator simply did not have the deep pockets to compete for the services of these high profile, free agent fighters. Now Bellator does, provided the fighter is willing to do a little acting and doesn't mind being linked to Sports Entertainment.
Calling Josh Barnett, Quinton Jackson, and any other MMA figher that really likes to talk smack (Hint: Chael Sonnen after Anderson Silva makes you expendable like Rich Franklin). Bjorn Rebney and Bellator want you.
Now he can pay you too!