But it hasn't been all sunshine and roses.
Of course, there's the story of undefeated heavyweight Blagoi Ivanov getting critically wounded by a knife in a bar fight, but that's recent and obvious. Others have been more subtle, like Bellator partner Spike TV counterprogramming all the free UFC events on Fuel and FX as well as The Ultimate Fighter.
There's also the lingering contract situation of both current middleweight champion Hector Lombard and former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, who have been with the promotion since day one and are two of its biggest stars.
In part one of our conversation with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, we discussed the promotion's plans for the future, the upcoming season six debut and more. In the conclusion of our exclusive interview today, Rebney spoke with MMAmania.com about everything from Alvarez, Lombard, UFC pressure and much, much more.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I heard a rumor. I know you are planning a light heavyweight tournament for your summer series. I heard some whispers that there might even be two tournaments during your summer series. Is there any truth to that?
Bjorn Rebney: Yeah, the rumors are based on the fact that we keep talking about it. We're still considering it. As a company, we've been banging out the idea with out partners at Spike and at Viacom trying to figure out how to do it. It's incumbent on me to keep loading the barrel of the gun so that we can put ourselves into a position where every time one of our champions enters the cage, he or she has their belt on the line. The way you do that is you increase the number of tournaments.
You can see that already for season six, we've got five tournaments going on simultaneously. If we can figure out a way to do it, I'd love to have two going on in the summer and another five in the fall before we break into the regular six that we're gonna be doing as part of our Spike partnership. There's no definitive final answer that we've arrived at, but we're definitely giving it though.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I want to ask about Spike a little bit. They've got a deal going on right now where they're counterprogramming a lot of the UFC shows. It seems like they're trying to entice the UFC to buy back its fight library. Now if that happens and Spike gets its wish in the next couple months, would Bellator be able to get on Spike for say, season seven?
Bjorn Rebney: Yeah, that door would be open. It would obviously be something that our television partners at Spike would have to make a determination based on programming and the like. We work with them day in and day out. I know that Spike has been open to that idea that if there were a change in the direction of the UFC mindset and they were able to work out the pending library issues, that Bellator could conceptually jump over quicker. I think at the level now of the fighters that are stepping into our cage, the level of production, the way that the show flows and works now, the live experience and the number of sellouts that we're experiencing, the timing's right for that jump.
If it happens nine and a half months from now as it's currently scheduled, we're gonna blink and it's gonna be here. If circumstances were to change and it's gonna happen earlier, we're gonna be ready to rock and roll on literally a week's notice. We're excited with what's building out right now. Obviously, as a long time fan of the sport, Spike is nirvana. Spike is the crown jewel. If you think about television and mixed martial arts, I've been watching this stuff since the very first.
I can remember sitting at home in west Los Angeles and watching a WWE show come to an end and watching this new crazy show that the network was gonna launch called The Ultimate Fighter and I can remember sitting there watching. I can remember the fact that they never broke for commercial. I can remember the fact that it came out of the tail end of the wrestling show and it went right into this show about guys who were gonna fight in a cage in a house. I remember it like it was yesterday. They wrote the book.
They are the reason you and I are sitting on the phone today. There's a reason there's a general market crossover with MMA and there's a reason that mixed martial arts show are up on the cover pages of the sports section of USA Today. They built it. To be able to sit on the phone with you and say Bellator is moving to Spike is about as cool as it gets. It's like a six year old coming down Christmas morning and seeing a brand new red Schwinn bike underneath the Christmas tree.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You guys officially announced Eddie Alvarez versus Shinya Aoki this past week so I was wondering your thoughts on getting that fight, getting the deal done and getting it announced.
Bjorn Rebney: Yeah, it only took me three and a half years. (laughs) I felt pretty good about that. If you put in the time, I think if we billed that one out on an hourly basis, i was making like 5-6 dollars an hour for that one. I tried to live up to what I promised and Ed Alvarez asked me literally three and a half years ago, he said, "Can you give me a rematch?" and Ed's been so important to the growth of this company and he's been with us and a fantastic face of the organization along with the likes of other fighters that we've got under contract but man, Ed was the first big contract ever made and I promised I would get him the fight and based on Strikeforce coming out of the dynamic they were in and substantially changing their direction and no longer being engaged in Japan and no longer where they once were, Dream became more available to work with and that alliance didn't exist anymore.
I was able to talk to the people at Dream and put things together. Moreso than anything, I was happy to be able to honor the commitment to a guy who's as good of a guy as Ed Alvarez and get that fight done for him. I've got an amazing amount of respect for his courage and his confidence. He lost his title in dramatic fashion and boy, instead of looking for an easy fight back or a soft road to get back in the mix, Ed said, "I want to get the best you can get me," and I said, "Do you still want the Aoki fight? It's close," and he said, "Absolutely." There was never a moment's hesitation in that guy's voice so he's just a class act and a great fighter and a great dude. It should be an epic fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): And do you think getting him this fight that he's been wanting for so long, Eddie's got a new management team as his contract's gonna run out in about eight months or so, do you think getting him this fight and making him happy could help you guys resign him?
Bjorn Rebney: Well it could have one of two different impacts. It could help us resign him which would be great, or it could, coming off a win against one of the top lightweights in the world, it could very very dramatically increase his value in the marketplace and make it more difficult to sign him. But, to be honest, the guy's meant too much to our organization for me to look at it from a pure business perspective.
I look at it and say to myself, "You know what? If this overture on our part, getting him this big fight makes it easier to sign Ed and if it alternatively increases his value and makes it more difficult to sign Ed, that's great too". Ed's gonna do well. If he wins this fight, it's going to be a huge step for him, his career and his family. That actually makes me pleased.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Alexander Shlemenko came out with a video blog a couple days ago saying he was frustrated with the Hector Lombard situation and he doesn't think that the fight' seven gonna be made this spring. There was some talk that Lombard's contract ran out and you guys are in a negotiating period. I was wondering what your thoughts are on that whole situation and what's going on right now.
Bjorn Rebney: Well, Hector remains our champion right now. We are in the midst of a pretty substantial negotiation relative to his future with the organization. I've said many times I think he's the best middleweight in mixed martial arts so it's not an easy negotiation by any stretch of the imagination. Alexander Shlemenko, who has earned the right to face our champion, has been prepping for that fight for over a year, has been to a certain extent caught in the crossfire and he's not the beneficiary of these negotiations.
We're in a state now where we've got to negotiate with Hector and potentially resign him. People forget, Hector Lombard and Ed Alvarez have been with this organization now for four years so you lose track of it because our initial distribution platform was ESPN Deportes and Fox Sports Net and it's been a long build up but Ed and Hector have been with us from the very start. You know, all good things come to an end at some point and four years is a very long time on any kind of agreement.
We've got the right to match on any deal. We're either gonna sign him before he goes out the to marketplace or he's going to go out to the marketplace and we're gonna have a determination as to whether we're gonna match or not match and we're gonna see where it ends up. I love the guy and he's an awesome talent. He's been nothing but a pure pleasure for me to work with. He's been a great guy for me to work with and he's done everything we've asked him to do and every time I've put him in a cage, he's knocked people silly. You can't really ask for more than that from a guy.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of my last questions, you had a really nice appearance on MMA Uncensored Live the other night and the UFC's been putting a little bit of pressure on that show, telling their fighters they don't want them to be on the show and pressuring some media, like MMA Junkie was originally going to be a part of that show. Is that frustrating at all, that they don't want anyone to have anything to do with this Spike MMA news show?
Bjorn Rebney: It's a good question. I can tell you, I've been in the television business now for 25 years and it is a hyper-competitive business. I think the most competitive business is the business that goes on inside our cage when that door shuts, but the television and entertainment industry aren't very far behind. It doesn't surprise me that it is a competitive business and it doesn't surprise me that people approach it as a competitive business. None of that really kind of shocks me and it seems to be the way the industry works and it works that way in the sports arena and it also works that way in the drama arena.
Counterprogramming and positioning are just part of our industry. It's just part of what occurs in the entertainment domain. There's a lot of money on the line and there's advertisers at stake and it's competition so it doesn't really shock me. There's very little in the entertainment business that shocks me at this moment. Maybe I'm a little bit jaded because I've been around it a long time and I see a lot of things happen.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): My last thing is, do you have anything you'd like to get out there about this upcoming sixth season, anything you'd like the fans to know before you make your return on March 9th?
Bjorn Rebney: Just as a fan, my excitement level. To have the kinds of things locked and loaded that we do now, to be able to have a show kicking off on Friday night a 30 minute drive out of Chicago with Warren fighting Curran for hte world title and both of them are ranked in the top 10 at 145, Marlon Sandro stepping into the Bellator cage, one of the my favorite fighters that I've ever watched over the years in Japan.
You've got Daniel Straus making his comeback and the last time he was in the Bellator cage, he was ranked number seven in the world at 145. You've got Popo coming in riding this unbelievable wave of the most aggressive and powerful submissions I've seen in the last couple years at that weight and then to bounce out of that and have the heavyweight tournament championship rematch the next week and then see Pitbull get back into our cage the next week with a stacked 155 tournament and Askren versus Lima.
It's like event after event after event now has big fights on it. We wanted to kick off with a big, big bang. That's why we did Warren with Curran with our first event but it's just cool to see every event on that has fights that make you go, "Whooa! I don't want to miss that!" and that's the essence of building up a brand like this.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Bellator be able to resign its two biggest names, Lombard and Alvarez, to new deals? Or has their time come and gone in the promotion? What are your expectations for Bellator Fighting Championships in 2012?