Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is making his way around the media circuit in these UFC-less times. Is he basking in the spotlight? No: He's conducting himself with meditative calm, quietly explaining his business model while the testosterone levels around him go bananas.
For whatever reason, there’s a lot of turbulence within the world of MMA. Maybe it’s because Dana White has been relatively out of touch; or because Lee Murray is no longer being permitted conjugal visits to his lonely Moroccan cell. Or it could be that the long-simmering Jon Jones/Rashad Evans feud has finally succeeded in infecting our outlooks.
But there is tension in the air. And there is tension on the air.
This week it centers on Muhammed Lawal.
So far, Lawal has had a very bad 2012, beginning with a positive steroid test in January and ending with a Twitter tirade that ultimately got him canned a few days ago. This has made for a public rift, and which side you fall to depends on which way your antennae are skewed. In the wake of Lawal’s hearing and suspension, either Pat Lundvall of the Nevada State Athletic Commission is a barely disguised racist, or a totally condescending busy body, or merely a fascinating literalist. The gamut is extreme. And same goes for Lawal. The other side says he’s a remorseless person and a loose cannon -- and a particularly jobless loose cannon, to boot.
(There are even new peanut gallery accusations that he’s a boring wrestler, which somehow plays a role in all of this).
In any case, Lundvall -- the first woman chair of the NSAC -- came off as a pill asking a college educated black man if he could read and speak English during the hearing. And in retrospect, Lawal might have been better served not to fire off a Tweet calling her a “racist b----” afterward. He told ESPN.com’s Franklin McNeil, if he could do things differently, “I wouldn’t have called her a b----. Maybe I should have waited until after the hearing, calmed down a little and approached her directly.”
Obviously this is not remorseless. Lawal’s just selective in what he chooses to feel bad about.
And the Lawal story is prime for a who’s right/who’s wrong debate on the airwaves, to the point that you wonder sometimes if these things blow up as a cure for boredom. People need to talk, and sometimes talking points only require that we give drama a good stir. Sometimes we may even stumble upon new and further afield things to argue about.
For instance, on Thursday night’s "MMA Uncensored" on Spike, host Craig Carton was left to explain King Mo’s absence from the show. Lawal was scheduled to be on to discuss the spiraling events that have shaped his 2012. If you’ve seen the program, you know Carton is outspoken, and the show’s running motto is to hold no punches (which can be refreshing). So Carton made sure you knew right away which side of the fence he was on, saying that there’s a difference between being racist and offensive, and that there was nothing racist about what happened. When reading Lawal’s fateful tweet, he referred to him as “this brainiac” in the only way that people can refer to someone as a “brainiac.”
But then you wondered what was offending Carton more -- the fact that Lawal was so far out of line that he deserved to be fired, or that he stood them up for what might be political reasons.
“Many of you were expecting King Mo to be sitting right here next to Mike Straka, because we said he was going to be,” Carton said. “We had an agreement with King Mo to come on the show tonight. His agents and lawyers got involved, and his agent’s name is Mike Kogan. And Mike Kogan informed us this afternoon, ‘there’ll be no King Mo on the live show.’ Now let’s play that out a minute -- why wouldn’t you put your client on the single most watched MMA show in America and allow him to tell his side of the story and even be contrite? Could it be that Mike Kogan is involved with a low-rated network that also tries to do MMA talk?”
Forget about how quickly the red carpet got rolled back up. How did we shoot past Lawal’s dilemma of being cut, to the drama of which platform he’ll use to discuss it? And did Lawal's flaking out on the show ratchet up Carton’s general ire toward Lawal’s situation? It was a confusing mix of live blossoming dramas, and one which underscores just how irrationally opinions can be shaped.
And yet, on the same show, there sat Rebney, coolly talking about the importance of a meritocracy in his model. He wants his fighters to make their way toward a crescendo, as in other sports, where you start with eight and then whittle to one. He was so soft-spoken and direct on the topic that you couldn’t help pick up on his conviction.
So soft-spoken, in fact, that you could barely hear him through all the noise being made over Lawal.