MMA: Bjorn Rebney
“Rampage” Jackson’s knees have hurt since his college wrestling days in the 1990s. An injury he suffered in his teens was never operated on and when he became a professional fighter in 1999, he entered the sport, he says, “babying my knees.”
When he was training for Rashad Evans in 2010, Jackson heard a pop in his knee and anticipated a torn ligament -- an MRI confirmed a deep bone bruise instead. He believes linear leg strikes used by UFC champion Jon Jones during a September 2011 title fight aggravated his already unstable left knee. One month before fighting Ryan Bader at UFC 144 in February 2012, Jackson says he tore his meniscus.
“A lot of pain,” summarized Jackson to ESPN.com. “The type of pain you don’t want to put any weight on. It would heal up a little bit and I would baby it. It’s one of those things that just depresses you. You don’t really want to train.”
"The depressing state of his knees continued in 2013. Jackson underwent surgery on his right knee in 2012, with the intention to do the same on his left. He was so unhappy with the results and necessary rehab for the first knee that he opted out of surgery on the left.
It makes me plan on staying in this sport longer. I was kind of thinking about retiring soon. I was going to retire when I was 35, but things didn't go the way I planned. I want to retire on top. Thank God I've found a way to get my love [for the sport] back." -- Quinton Jackson
Enter Bryant’s 2012 NBA season. Bryant, then 33, reportedly flew to Germany to receive an experimental version of a treatment known as Regenokine during the offseason. The procedure entails drawing blood from the patient, which is then incubated, separated into unique parts and partially restored back into the body.
Jackson, until recently, knew nothing about it. He says a friend brought it up, based on his long history of knee problems. Jackson -- who underwent the procedure in September under the care of Dr. Chris Renna, according to Bellator officials -- didn’t know of a single other athlete, such as New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who had utilized Regenokine.
For the Bellator light heavyweight, one friend’s observation that Bryant “was dunking again,” coupled with years of frustrating knee pain, was all the reason he needed to look into it.
“When I heard about the procedure, I thought it was stem cell,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know what to expect. At the end of the day, it couldn’t hurt my knees.
“Long story short, [Bellator CEO] Bjorn Rebney got wind of it, he researched it and found the guy in Santa Monica, Calif., from the same company Kobe Bryant went to. They did the procedure on my knees and it changed my life, to be honest.”
One day after receiving injections of his own altered blood, Jackson felt a difference. His left knee just felt stronger. Physicians told him not go hard too early, to allow his body to take to it. Jackson refrained from running for three weeks, but when he got full-time into the gym, he wanted to truly test his knees immediately and that meant wrestling practice.
“It felt really good in wrestling,” Jackson said. “Normally, my knees would ache but not this camp. There are a lot of skeptics, but I’m a believer in this type of procedure.
“It makes me plan on staying in this sport longer. I was kind of thinking about retiring soon. I was going to retire when I was 35, but things didn't go the way I planned. I want to retire on top. Thank God I've found a way to get my love [for the sport] back.”
Jackson knows the timing of this news, the fact it comes (or came) just weeks before his scheduled Bellator debut, which was supposed to be Nov. 2 on pay-per-view against Tito Ortiz, could be construed as a marketing ploy. He doesn’t care.
For Jackson (32-11), Friday's fight against Joey Beltran at Bellator 108 in Atlantic City, N.J., is for himself and the fans he believes have stuck by him through a current three-fight losing streak that spans two full years.
A former UFC light heavyweight champion, Jackson feels he can always identify the reasons behind a loss. Any good fighter should be able to do so, he says.
When he lost to Jones via submission in 2011, the reason was simple: “Jon Jones is a better fighter than me,” Jackson said.
Subsequent losses to Bader and Glover Teixeira, however, were different. In Jackson’s mind, he was injured and should have most likely never fought them.
There is no guarantee Jackson’s knees will hold up. The medical community has not exactly embraced the Regenokine procedure as legitimate yet, and two months of healthy knees don’t erase Jackson’s memory of years in pain.
They feel good right now, though, and up for what Jackson has in store for them. At 35, he says the rest of his career won’t be defined necessarily by wins or losses, but the quality of his performance. He expects a good performance this week.
“I want to prove I still have what it takes to be in this sport,” Jackson said. “A win can define that, but America is all caught up in winning. They’re so quick to call people 'washed up' and 'has-been.' I think that’s very disrespectful to fighters.
“We’re human beings and we age just like everybody else. If we choose to entertain people past our prime, they should give us the respect to do it and don’t talk s---.”
Rebney, of course, is a promoter, which means he's in the business of upselling fighters, fights, events, and, when the occasion calls for it, anything else. But that doesn't mean he's insincere about Alvarez, Chandler or the epic battles they produced.
"I feel good about it because the fight was so incredible," he said. "When you get a fight at that level, you get that kind of performance out of two guys, you can't help but feel good about it."
In 2011, Chandler won to take the belt. In 2013, Alvarez won to take it back. After eight-plus drama-filled rounds, another two-year wait would feel like purgatory. Of course we want more. We expect more.
Now. And whether or not you agree with Rebney's assessment, I'm betting this is true: you're already pining to see the rubber match.
"Whether it's mixed martial arts or boxing, sometimes guys just gel stylistically," Rebney said. "You watch the fight and you can't believe these guys did that again. Ali-Frazier. Gatti-Ward. We've had a few of them in MMA. These two guys just fit like a glove when they fight each other."
"Ed Alvarez can beat anyone in the world at 155," Rebney said. "In any given moment, whether they're fighting here or fighting in the UFC.
With Michael Chandler it was a razor thin fight. I think no less of Michael Chandler. I think on the next night when those two guys are healthy, Mike could win again."
So will it go down for a third time?
Yes, promised Rebney, who claimed there no impediments that would get in the way of making it real.
"There's nothing in the way of doing No. 3, which would be unbelievable," he said.
The promoter didn't say, in part because both fighters need to heal and rest, and Rebney wasn't sure how long it'll take for that to happen. Contractual. Emotional. Professional. There are, to put it mildly, hurdles, and the legal wrangling between Alvarez, Bellator and the UFC is a story that hasn't reached its conclusion.
"I've always looked at Ed [as one of the best in the world]," Rebney said. "That's why we fought so hard to enforce the contract. I thought Ed was a wickedly talented lightweight and could beat anyone on earth.
I wanted to see him stay in this orgnization. That's what I negotiated for up top. I think Ed's an incredible talent."
Rebney said it would take an act of promotional malpractice to give Alvarez-Chandler III away for free on Spike. He didn't intend to on Saturday, but circumstances made it so. As it turned out, that may have been the best possible outcome if one championship war wasn't enough to get fans to fork over their hard-earned dollars,
"Ed Alvarez can beat anyone in the world at 155," he said. "In any given moment, whether they're fighting here or fighting in the UFC. With Michael Chandler, it was a razor thin fight. I think no less of Michael Chandler. I think on the next night when those two guys are healthy, Mike could win again.
"Could [the third match] be better than this? I don't know what else could happen, but maybe."
Within the week, Bellator MMA CEO and founder Bjorn Rebney contacted Ben Askren, the promotion's free agent welterweight champion, and proposed a scenario the undefeated Olympian couldn't refuse.
"He just called me and said straight up, 'I think you're the best welterweight in the world,'" Askren told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I thought, OK, where's he going with this?"
Rebney wondered aloud: "How about I let you go free if you fight GSP?"
The reason I got into MMA was to see if I could be the best in the world at it. That's just my personality. So, boom, this is my shot to prove I'm No. 1 in the world. I really think I am No. 1 in the world. I don't think there's anyone that can beat me.” -- Ben Askren
Askren obviously jumped at the suggestion, which came down to this: Rebney promised to waive Bellator’s right to match a Zuffa offer, so long as the first fight of the deal guaranteed a UFC title shot.
There are just a few hurdles to clear, not the least of which is Rebney can't promise that UFC will lift a finger to make anything happen. Eleven months prior to Askren’s free agency, UFC president Dana White wrote on Twitter, “When Ambien can’t sleep it takes Ben Askren.” Not so subtle. And it’s not like the 29-year-old curly-haired two-time Dan Hodge Trophy winner from Hartland, Wis., hasn’t stirred White’s famous ire. He has. Askren is adversarial. He doesn’t seem to care if people care when he mixes it up. Sometimes that can come with a cost.
"Dana says, 'Don't sing it, bring it.' Sounds good to me,” Askren said. “I'll step in the cage any day of the week. Just tell me when. That would be ideal."
This summer when White began fielding questions about UFC’s interest in Askren the sharp-tongued promoter no longer referenced sleeping pills. He did insinuate, however, that Askren assembled a 12-0 record against inferior opposition.
“It’s going to be tougher to do that here,” White said.
Askren is eager to find out if that’s true, and Rebney has been quick to advocate for his fighter and promotion.
“I think he wants to prove that Bellator has really good fighters,” Askren said of Rebney. “And they do have really good fighters. I literally think I'm the best welterweight. I think I could beat GSP. I think Bjorn really thinks that. Obviously he wouldn't be sending me over to get smashed and make his organization look stupid. Of course, I get a hundred tweets a day telling me how stupid I am for thinking I could compete with GSP. But that's something in my heart I really think I can do.
"The reason I got into MMA was to see if I could be the best in the world at it. That's just my personality. So, boom, this is my shot to prove I'm No. 1 in the world. I really think I am No. 1 in the world. I don't think there's anyone that can beat me. This is what I want. It's what I'm looking for.”
Two weeks after Askren bludgeoned Koreshkov, White said the UFC would "talk to Ben." Thus far, Zuffa hasn't moved beyond preliminary discussions with his management, Zinkin Entertainment.
"It didn't really get down to any nitty-gritty details and work on the contract," Askren said.
After an ugly legal squabble over matching rights exposed a lucrative financial offer to former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, the terms of which surprised some Octagon-tied fighters, Zuffa remains understandably apprehensive about delving into another situation with its would-be Viacom-owned competitor. It’s no surprise, then, that White hasn’t given Rebney or “Viacom MMA” the benefit of the doubt.
Said the UFC president prior to a recent event in Indianapolis:
"The guy says, 'Yeah, we're going to let him go. Let's just part ways.' You ain't f---ing parting ways with him. He's got a matching right and all that bulls---. This guy is a f---ing typical boxing piece of s---. Everybody knows the guy is a s---bag.
"We'll see what happens with Ben. First they say they're going to let him go. They're not going to let him go. They'll probably end up suing him too and make him sit out and lose a bunch of money and f--- him in a deal. Bad guys. They're bad guys."
White's words went a long way towards motivating Rebney to conjure up his "deal."
"Here's my message to the UFC,” Rebney said. “Stop saying that the best in the world fight in the UFC. And stop saying that our matching rights are stopping you from talking to one of the greatest welterweights in the game. And that's it. It's simple. It's straightforward. There's no back talk. No back track. No game to it. It's as simple as that.
“If you want to say the best fighters in the world fight in your organization and one becomes available and you have the unfettered right to talk to him, pick up the phone and call him. And if you claim our matching rights are so prohibitive -- the exact same matching rights that you have in your agreement -- then give him a title fight out of the box, which is not unreasonable given that he's ranked in the top six in the world, and I'll just walk away from our matching rights. So I'm making it as simple as I can possibly make it for them to live up to what they claim. Go for it. Or don't go for and I'll re-sign him. And if you want to fight the best you can come here to Bellator, train your wrestling like a wild dog, and try to beat Ben Askren."
Askren said he has no reason to distrust Rebney, his promoter since 2010. He then went on to call himself a "pawn."
"I'm not making these deals here," claimed the fighter. "That said, I like the deal that Bjorn is trying to give me.
“And I think on Dana's side, it will work out well. If GSP beats my ass, I think he says, 'See, UFC is much better than Bellator.' I think if I kick GSP's ass, I could be a very good UFC champion. One that sticks around for a while. One that is entertaining to the fans. Because GSP was entertaining, but honestly the last time he had a real finish I was wrestling in the U.S. Open [in 2008]. I hadn't even considered MMA at that point. And his whole shtick. He's quiet. Very little personality. I could put the UFC welterweight division back on the map because no one really, legitimately gave GSP a run for his money."
The notion that UFC needs Askren to put the welterweight division "back on the map" is comedy. The 170-pound division consistently ranks among Zuffa's most bankable weight classes, and sits a pretty penny with the 32-year-old Quebecer at the helm. Much more serious is the idea that Askren's grappling is so good and translates so well to MMA that given the chance he could oust St-Pierre or Johny Hendricks.
"Bjorn is saying if they give me a title shot, no matching rights. He's not saying if they give me a contract there's no matching rights. If the UFC says, hey, no title shot, then all this is for nothing. I'd have to go back to the drawing board and talk to Bellator. See what their offer will be. See what's going on. And at that point see what's best for me."
Askren hasn't thought through sitting out the year. He doesn't want to rush to judgment, and will “leave that one open because I'm not sure."
Bellator MMA settled with Eddie Alvarez and secured the former champion's rematch with Michael Chandler for its Nov. 2 pay-per-view in Southern California.
For several reasons, this is significant news.
The real main event
Mark my words: Even with the gravitational pull of fighters such as Quinton Jackson and Tito Ortiz, Chandler-Alvarez 2 will earn the bulk of media and fan attention. That's a good thing, as it should receive the spotlight, even if their names aren't front and center on the marquee.
"I think the true-blue MMA fans will see this one, even though it's the co-main event, and think it's definitely as interesting if not more than Tito-Rampage," said Chandler, who made sure to pay his respects to the light heavyweight pair.
Chandler-Alvarez 2 provides something for the pay-per-view that Rampage-Ortiz could not: legitimacy. All of a sudden the card elicits a new feeling, one far less frivolous than the fun time implied by Jackson-Ortiz.
This lightweight rematch is, as Chandler described, the best contest Bellator can make right now, in part because it's the most promotable, which if done right looks like a useful combination for selling pay-per-views.
"There's been a lot of tension and drama built up since that [first] fight," said Alvarez's manager, Glenn Robinson. "I think people will tune in to see."
Said Chandler, when asked how to effectively promote a matchup that fans saw for free the first time: "All you got to do is hop on YouTube, type in 'Michael Chandler versus Eddie Alvarez' and you will be entertained for 21 minutes."
In speaking with Alvarez and Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney on Monday, it's clear neither man is happy with the other at the moment. They're glad the litigation is over. They're glad a contract and fight is in place. But they're not on the best of terms with each other.
Alvarez said regardless of how they feel, they'll do business together. Rebney basically said the same thing.
Asked if he was happy that Alvarez, who has been with Bellator since it began in 2009, returned in time to participate in the promotion's first pay-per-view, Rebney was cool in his response.
"I like the fact that Ed Alvarez is a world-class lightweight," Rebney said. "I like the fact that I've been able to make the rematch between Chandler and Alvarez, which was a fight that a lot of MMA fans ask me about and talk about. I like both of those facets a great deal."
One interesting point about the closing of this deal is the involvement of Bellator president Tim Danaher, who's thought of as a level-headed counterweight to Rebney's sometimes manic people skills.
"He's an incredibly talented executive and was able to step in and bring this entire matter, after a very long and involved negotiation, to a conclusion," Rebney said. "He did an amazing job. It was about time. It was about reaching a resolution."
Robinson called Danaher a "really, really great guy." And Alvarez said "we owe it to him for being able to nail this down and put this behind us."
Rebney suggested his feelings about Alvarez (and vice versa) don't matter. Focusing on them takes away from the point of the whole negotiation: getting both fighters into the Bellator cage again.
Free-agency lessons learned
Alvarez's experience as a free agent isn't typical. But it was valuable.
"Everybody wants to know their true value and what they're worth as a fighter," Alvarez said. "It's a rare occasion where you get to go out and do that."
Alvarez said when the UFC offer became public, he learned of five or six fighters who immediately received raises as a result.
"That made me feel regardless of what happened, a little bit of power was put back in the fighters' hands and guys got raises," he said. "We deserve it. We work hard."
Alvarez was willing to go to the UFC, which he called a "great" organization, but based on his history, it's fitting that, for now, the move won't happen.
Since his pro debut, Alvarez has bounced around the globe, landing some of the biggest non-UFC fights he could find in his division. Participating on the first Bellator MMA pay-per-view makes sense considering Alvarez was one of the company's first stars.
Alvarez said the most important lesson was not becoming emotional, which was easier said than done.
"I'm guilty," he said. "I got emotional about it because I was in it."
Did Bellator one-up the UFC?
UFC made a play for Alvarez.
Bellator countered and prevailed.
This is only one example, but it's an important boost for people inside the Viacom-tied promotion. The fact that Zuffa couldn't nab Alvarez means very little for UFC business. Joe Silva is swamped with terrific lightweights, and the Octagon will continue to host important fights at 155 for as long as it wants. But this news marks a rare loss for Zuffa outside the Octagon on the contractual/legal front.
Bellator has shown itself willing and able to make the most out of courtroom maneuvers. Against a litigious behemoth like Zuffa, this is incredibly important when it comes to competitive viability.
As for Rebney: Despite having to back off to nail down the deal with Alvarez, he comes out looking like a guy who can make good things happen.
Three men with separate yet intertwined aspirations have been tabbed to carry the water for Bellator MMA's first pay-per-view on Nov. 2 in Long Beach, Calif. The trio took questions Monday at Bellator's office in Newport Beach, Calif., shedding light on how it came to be that a pair of the best-known fighters to compete in the UFC, both clear about their distaste for UFC president Dana White and Zuffa, will anchor Rebney's initial attempt to court a paying TV audience.
The promoter conjured the idea on one of his many sleepless nights. Rebney's reputation as a supreme micromanager is well earned. It's no secret that he has driven his staff crazy trying to maneuver a proper direction for the company. Over the past four years, though, even Rebney's most vocal critics would concede he did well by advancing Bellator up the food chain to the point that Viacom, a major media conglomerate, took notice and purchased a controlling stake.
One year after Ortiz's last fight in the Octagon, a decision loss to Forrest Griffin, Rebney called the former UFC champion with an offer.
"I looked at it and said, 'Here's a fight we can make,'" the promoter said. "We can put on a pay-per-view, and if I had nothing to do with it, I'd buy it."
Both sides spoke several times before the veil was lifted last month. The moment Ortiz was free from Zuffa's contractual handcuffs, Rebney showed just how serious he was. Ortiz viewed the lucrative contract offer as solid footing for him and his family. This wasn't something he could simply walk away from, so retirement, as short as it was, came to an abrupt end. Beyond the money, Ortiz expressed a "hunger to be great again," although many people will understandably hear lip service. After all, Ortiz hasn't been near the top of his game for several years, and just 12 weeks ago he underwent an ACL replacement in his right knee.
Some fans will agree with the promoter's assessment, but many more are likely to opt against paying their local cable or satellite distributor $35-45 to witness 38-year-old Ortiz (1-7-1 from the end of 2006 through July 7 of last year) fight 35-year-old Jackson (who lost three straight before exiting the UFC last year).
No MMA promotion except the UFC has marshaled a successful pay-per-view campaign, and history says a weak response for Ortiz and Jackson, despite their strong brands and long-held UFC ties, is the most likely outcome.
Rebney surely will have his promotional chops tested like never before during the run-up to an event situated on one of the busiest, most compelling stretches in UFC history. He claimed to feel "really good" about its potential even though the card is sandwiched between Cain Velasquez's third fight with Junior dos Santos and the 20th anniversary of the UFC headlined by megastar Georges St-Pierre and respected challenger Johny Hendricks.
As opposed to Affliction Entertainment, which hemorrhaged money like a partying rock star while it tried to get established on pay-per-view at the end of last decade, Rebney said Bellator is primed for success any time it chooses to go there, which won't be more than a couple of times a year at the beginning.
For all of Rebney's handwringing over the number of events Zuffa promotes that require fans to fork over money to view them, each card through the end of 2013 looks spectacular. Truth is, Bellator can't compete that way with Zuffa right now. But that hasn't deterred Rebney, who said fans should expect five bouts during the Nov. 2 pay-per-view, including an appearance from Bellator lightweight star Michael Chandler.
Rebney was unsure whom Chandler would fight, leaving open the possibility of Eddie Alvarez, the former Bellator champion currently embroiled in litigation with the company. Pay-per-view considerations outlined in the lawsuit with Alvarez carried no weight in the company's decision to step into the pay-per-view game, Rebney said. But as far as the promoter is concerned, "nothing is off the table."
It was just a couple of weeks ago that Rebney touted Chandler's new eight-fight contract as among the richest in MMA's lightweight division. That deal, Jackson's contract and the just-announced relationship with Ortiz are emblematic of a newfound willingness inside Bellator to spend money -- "but only when it makes sense and the company is able to monetize it," Rebney said. "Michael was one of those decisions. Tito was one of those decisions. Rampage was one of those decisions. There are guys that make sense and we think will put us in a better place at the end of the year."
A solid start, suggested Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, though not tremendous.
From Rebney's perspective the fights delivered what he hoped they would. Production took a "substantial step forward." More than half of their events were sold-out, a "huge change of direction from what we did in the past." He conceded "it's going well."
Spike TV president Kevin Kay agreed. Bellator delivered 36 percent more male viewers aged 25-34 from 10-12 on Thursday nights than the previous year. And for Bellator, viewership increased as a whole over the previous two seasons on MTV2 by roughly 400 percent.
"That first week we did over 900,000 viewers. The last week we came back and finished strong over 900,000. So I feel like it's a pretty good place for a first season to be," Kay said. "It's not like we're sitting around patting each other on the back, cause we have a lot of work to do, but I just feel like that's a nice number and certainly room for growth."
An expanded audience could come from a couple places, Kay suggested, including the upcoming summer reality show featuring Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Greg Jackson and Joe Warren. Spike TV's president is hopeful "Fight Master: Bellator MMA" will be a key ratings driver. Fan familiarity with Bellator's current crop of titleholders could pay off in a ratings bumps, too, he said, as evident by strong numbers for Pat Curran's second appearance of the just concluded season.
Based on Spike's experience working with UFC, the network stepped into its Bellator relationship carrying a strong sense of where they could excel. Fans needed to be made aware that MMA had returned to Spike TV, and that it was unique because of the tournament format. On both accounts Kay felt the job got done.
A Bellator app via Apple was downloaded over 105,000 times, Kay said. It'll debut for Android platforms this summer, giving more fans a voice during the televised broadcast.
"Ratings just tell you numbers, they don't tell you anything about how fans are emotionally connecting to your brand or your stars," Kay said. "We're looking at it all the time. On Bellator it's even more important because we're running shows every week for 11 weeks. We want to know how fans are feeling and connecting because it could help ultimately influence what you're putting on TV the next week."
There were moments the promoter and network couldn't control, such as Emanuel Newton knocking out promotional poster boy Mo Lawal, but even that turned out not so bad. The following week ratings increased by200,000 viewers. Kay owed that to interest created after Lawal's stunning loss.
Dependent upon several factors, Bellator could make good on a promise to promote pay-per-view this year, perhaps as soon as this summer. The most important element, Rebney said, is the type of fights it can sell. Atop that list would be a rematch between the promotion's lightweight champion Michael Chandler and former titleholder Eddie Alvarez.
"The reality is Eddie and I had an hourlong meeting," Rebney said. "We didn't get too terribly deep into things, but it was a good meeting and it was just he and I sitting and talking. If we can get something settled it could change the whole dynamic, but I don't know if that will happen. And if it doesn't happen of course we have Dave Jansen lined up and David Rickels lined up, both of whom are anxious to get their shot at the title."
Alvarez's manager, Glenn Robinson, declined to comment on the conversation, citing requests from the fighter's lawyers not to speak with media.
Pay-per-view would be a gigantic leap in the progression of Bellator MMA as a legitimate No. 2 to the UFC -- presuming its success. Rebney confirmed that Bellator has looked at venues in the midwest, but nothing is far enough along to make news. When the promotion goes ahead and offers a pay-per-view card -- and that seems bound to happen -- Kay said Spike TV will act as the promotion's partner, feature barker programming, and do anything it could to deliver a strong buy rate.
No matter what you think of Jon Fitch as a fighter, Dana White's justifications for letting the welterweight go from the UFC don't work.
Let's start with White's assertion that Fitch is "super f---ing expensive."
Zuffa paid the eight-year UFC veteran, a guy with 14-3-1 record in the Octagon, a perennial top-10 ranked welterweight, $66,000 to show against Demian Maia. A win would have netted Fitch $66,000 more. This is in the range of where Fitch has been paid over the past few years. For his win in 2010 over Thiago Alves, Fitch pocketed $108,000. At UFC 100, Fitch made $90,000 by beating Paulo Thiago. Good money. But unreasonably pricey? Once in a while he received a locker room bonus. Fitch never saw a cut of the pay-per-view, even when he went the distance with Georges St-Pierre in 2008.
You'd think super expensive would better apply to a guy like Alistair Overeem. The same night Fitch fell to Maia, Overeem was paid $285,714 to leave his hands down and get starched by Antonio Silva. Never mind that the loss came after the massive heavyweight's embarrassing steroid-related suspension, something Fitch has never been associated with.
It's still not worse than White pinpointing Fitch's sliding ranking over the past two years as why it’s time for him to leave the Octagon.
This should be said: The UFC president has no credibility when it comes to rankings. In 2010 he was screaming that Overeem wasn't a top-10 heavyweight. That the MMA media was this and that for ranking The Reem so high, because the Dutch fighter hadn't beaten anyone.
Well, wins over Todd Duffee and Fabricio Werdum (an ugly performance from Overeem, by the way) were enough for Zuffa to invest an enormous money contract, signing bonus and everything else, in a fighter White considered highly overrated.
But now White is treating Fitch's drop to the bottom tier of the top 10 after years living near GSP as some kind of indictment?
"This isn't a case where Jon Fitch was ranked No. 9, No. 7, No. 6, No. 4, No. 2 and then we cut him," White said. "He was ranked No. 1 -- fought for the title, then he was ranked No. 2, 3, 6, 7 and now he's 9. That's called the downside of your career."
This during a week White reiterated he wouldn't let the newfangled UFC media rankings dictate matchmaking. For cutting one of the most successful welterweights in UFC history, though, they're just fine.
Forget Overeem, what about a guy such as Dan Hardy? He's nowhere near being ranked at 170. He was 0-4 between 2010 and 2011. And if he wins he doesn’t cost much less than Fitch. Actually, forget Hardy -- what about a guy such as Chris Leben, whose PED and legal issues have troubled him throughout his career? Leben, by the way, is 1-3 since 2011. And he made $51,000 in a loss to Derek Brunson at UFC 155. Forget Leben, what about Josh Koscheck, who was literally knocked out of the top 10 by Robbie Lawler on Saturday, and made more than Fitch did against Maia?
"What you should do is go out and try to be the best in the world, and you should try to whoop everybody's asses impressively," White said.
Isn't that what Fitch did? He certainly tried to be the best in the world. Regardless of his reputation for laying on guys, the 34-year-old Purdue University wrestler beat up plenty of fighters along the way.
"It depends on how much money you want to make,” White said. “Do you want to go around and lay on guys? How many people are beating down the door to see any of those guys fight again?"
St-Pierre, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz earned box-office star status as grinders and ground fighters. So that idea doesn't really float either.
If Fitch wasn't "super f---ing expensive" and there are worse fighters on the downside of their career making similar money that get to hang around, what's the deal?
I figure there are a few reasons. Fitch is a threat to derail young stud prospects. Like Erick Silva. Hardly a blanket-fest from Fitch in Brazil last October, as the three-rounder took fight of the night honors.
There are also fiscal realities at play. The UFC is facing a sequester of its own, and it's actually going through with it. Their front office slimmed down over the past year. And the talent roster will be cleaved by a quarter. This was a long time coming.
Fitch is among 16 fighters who were released, including talent such as Diego Nunes. White said another 100 or so will follow. The UFC has too many fighters under contract and not enough fights, and they don't want to be in breach of deals. Winning is the only way not to get cut.
All this roster upheaval apparently will relocate good fighters onto the open market. Fitch seems like a perfect fit for Bellator MMA, or as White lovingly refers to the tournament-branded promotion, Viacom MMA. Bellator’s welterweight champion, Ben Askren, can’t fight anyone better than Fitch. Askren, or his upcoming undefeated Russian challenger Andrey Koreshkov, deserve that kind of test so long as Fitch is willing to earn it through the tournament.
Bellator frontman Bjorn Rebney reacted to the release by saying he wasn’t interested.
“We have a stacked welterweight division right now,” he told themmareport.com. “We have a lot of guys that we are developing that we anticipate are going to be world-class fighters and break the top 10. We want to keep guys busy. We want to keep guys inside the cage and we have a plan in terms of the next year and who is going to be a part of the tournaments and it’s just not the time.”
That’s too bad, because Bellator could really use the guy. My guess is UFC hopes Fitch gets signed, destroys his way through the tournament, handles Askren, and Bellator looks weak by comparison.
“He'll smash every single guy over there and he'll be a champ,” said White, still sounding like Fitch’s promoter. “A guy goes outside, wins some fights, has some impressive runs and then comes back."
Even if that’s what happens, Bellator doesn’t have so much to lose by going into business with Fitch. For one thing, there’s no guarantee he’ll make it through the tournament (exhibit: Mo Lawal). But if he does, and if Fitch becomes Bellator champion, the promotion will have one of the most respected fighters in the division holding their title. Also, Bellator is actually churning out quality at 170. Fitch isn’t a UFC castoff like Rebney favorite Ben Saunders. (Could Saunders beat Fitch now?) Fitch actually accomplished something in the Octagon, so there’s none of the stigma. Beating him still means something.
Plus, you know, Fitch could be better than Askren.
Isn't the idea of the tournament to give guys a chance to rise on their own merits? Most people would agree that Fitch is better than the vast majority of Bellator’s welterweight roster. Why doesn’t that make him worth a contract? Because of his style? Mark that down as the first time I heard Rebney express such a sentiment, especially because many people consider Askren the most boring fighter on the planet. I don’t see Askren that way.
Isn't Askren-Fitch a terrific fight? Maybe even worthy of pay-per-view? If Askren beats Fitch, wouldn’t that only further validate him at 170?
I don't get Rebney's hesitation, which probably will result in Fitch heading to the World Series of Fighting. Bellator's format, as described 10 billion times already, is supposed to allow for the best rise to the top, to make their own way. That would appear less true if an effort isn’t made to sign Fitch. The Toughest Tournament in Sports? That slogan might be worth about as much as the reasons White gave for Fitch's release in the first place.
If Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is to be believed, and thus far there's no reason to doubt him, the promotion featured its top two talents Thursday night at Bellator 85. Michael Chandler dominated Rick Hawn by second-round submission, and Pat Curran slugged his way to a split decision over Patricio Freire.
Following the post-event news conference, the champions sat alongside one another, posing for photos behind their respective belts. Given the chance, I wondered aloud who was Bellator's top dog.
Chandler, 26, uncharacteristically demurred, smiled, pointed to Curran, 25, and turned his attention elsewhere.
"It's hard to say. You can't ask that question," Curran said.
But when Rebney says stuff like "I think we'd be hard-pressed to get anybody who would rank higher than Pat Curran and Michael Chandler right now in this organization" and "I think you're looking at two of the best mixed martial artists in their respective weights here tonight," it's reasonable to wonder, no?
Part of this, of course, is Rebney doing what a promoter is supposed to do, but more to the point there will be questions about the quality of the fights and fighters as Bellator MMA moves week to week across North America.
How good are these guys, really? How much of our time are they worth?
Should they be included among denizens of Zuffa fighters who have for so long populated MMA rankings?
ESPN.com ranks Chandler No. 8 at 155 pounds. Curran, rather remarkably, is third at 145. The promotion's welterweight titleholder, Ben Askren, resides in ESPN's "others receiving votes" trough.
Curran's opponent, "Pitbull" Freire, came in tied for ninth in ESPN.com's last featherweight poll. Eduardo Dantas, the promotion's champion at 135, remains ranked at No. 9 at bantamweight despite a shocking upset in August against Tyson Nam.
Eric Del Fierro helped groom UFC champion Dominick Cruz and contenders like Phil Davis and Alexander Gustafsson, along with a crew of respected Octagon-bound fighters across multiple weight divisions. He worked Chandler's corner in Irvine. Asked point-blank if the former University of Missouri wrestler could compete with UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, Del Fierro, usually honest even in the face of an obvious bias, quickly answered "yes."
"[Chandler's] intense," Del Fierro said. "All the similarities are there between him, Dominick Cruz, Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones. They're intense people. He's intense in training. He's a great kid. I love his enthusiasm for fighting and training.
Superlatives make for easy copy. Credit Chandler, though, for expressing a deep desire to prove his supporters right. This is not someone who wants to be handed his spot in life.
"I don't know where my style is going to continue to go and grow," Chandler said. "All I know is I want to be the best lightweight in the world, and however I get there that's how it's going to be."
Chandler is always talking about improving, and it was the first thing that came out of his mouth after beating Hawn. He must be "more conscious and cognizant" of what's going on in the cage, Chandler said, and that should happen as he spends more time in there.
"I want to keep that pressure, style, hard-nosed mentality and literally break people," he said.
Such was Hawn's fate. An Olympic judoka for the U.S. and a quality source when it comes to talking about guys who just beat him up, Hawn complimented Chandler's strength and ground-and-pound ability.
"We all knew he was a great collegiate wrestler," Hawn said. "When I was at the Olympic training center we had a lot of wrestlers in there, and they're tough bastards. I know what I was going to face and I got outwrestled."
Curran is less a wrestler than a well-rounded fighter, with a penchant for clean defense and counter-striking.
"I'm only 25 now and don't plan on peaking until my late 20s, into my 30s, so I got a few more years to really jump levels," Curran said.
Is that possible -- perceptually and in reality -- via Bellator's tournament format? Only time will tell.
A sport that paid him well and, to his chagrin, provided a whisper of fame, MMA has changed in so many ways since Sobral represented Rio de Janeiro in his pro debut against Sao Paulo in 1997 by winning an eight-man tournament via leg kicks, punches and stomps, and will-breaking, respectively. Yet through all the rubble, one component has remained a familiar element for Babalu and MMA: tournaments.
Few fighters are more steeped in the concept. Sobral won three of the five tournaments he entered, and came in second to Dan Henderson during a mammoth event in Japan in 2000.
On Thursday, the 37-year-old light heavyweight meets Russian Mikhail Zayats to begin his first multi-fight quest since 2003 (a classic one-nighter promoted by Paul Smith in Denver that featured, among others, Forrest Griffin and Chael Sonnen. Sobral went the distance with Trevor Prangley before guillotining Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and decisioning Jeremy Horn in the finals. The prize was $50,000 -- before taxes. Sobral hadn't considered that Uncle Sam might want his cut, and anyone walking the bowels of the Pepsi Center heard his frustration).
The prize for beating Zayats (19-6) and two others on Spike TV pays $100,000, plus a Bellator title shot. It won't need to be done on a single evening, yet the Brazilian sized up the challenge as the most difficult tournament format he's faced.
"On one night you can throw all yourself into it. After the fight it's a bucket of ice on the face, a bucket of ice on the hands and then you fight again," Sobral said. "But now, if you go home next day you're going to swell. And you have to be healthy for next time and get back into the gym to train. It's not possible to get beat up and rest. You have to train."
Into its eighth season, Bellator has almost been blessed when it comes to winners staying healthy enough to move to the next round a month later.
Asked about this, Bellator founder Bjorn Rebney knocked on wood.
"We've done, on average, four to five tournaments per season," Rebney said. "I think we've lost four or five guys total who have been declared the winner and been unable to proceed. So the numbers have been really, really good."
Bellator's good luck is rather remarkable considering the injuries that piled up around the Octagon in 2012.
While he was building out Bellator in his mind in 2006 and 2007, Rebney said he spoke with doctors and ringside physicians across the country, trainers and other players in the sport, to get "inside everyone's head" about how to avoid pushing fighters past their limit. Taking into account the typical arc of a television show, Rebney asked, "How many? How long? What could be done?"
"The consensus opinion was you could go one fight a month for three months," Rebney recalled. "You couldn't go longer. There were a lot of parameters. But it worked. The new tag line 'The Toughest Tournament in Sports' is well-founded. Hopefully those odds keep working for us."
Again, he knocked on wood.
Rebney created a scenario in which fighters, if they're good enough to make it to the final round, must maintain grueling training camps for a third of a year, if not longer.
"When you sign that Bellator contract you know that's what you're signing up for," said Michael Chandler, the promotion's lightweight champion. "There can't be any excuses. Three fights in one night sounds bad because you're taking more damage in one night. But when you're talking about training two months just for the first fight, then you have another fight and another fight, you're in camp for four or five months -- and that's a long time to be in training camp -- in the gym two times a day, six days a week, getting punched in the face and going through that many workouts and dieting that much and going through the ups and downs of emotions. It is a grueling thing, and it was something I knew I would excel at.
"It's definitely not asking too much, but it's adding a cool little spice to the mix."
During tournaments there's no such thing as a favorite, Sobral said, because "luck" has as much to do with advancing as hours spent toiling in the gym. He believes he's done well in these things because, as Renzo Gracie once told him, "when you choke somebody out, you don't get an injury in the hands."
Chandler and featherweight Pat Curran simply outclassed the competition en route to tournament crowns and Bellator belts. The mid-20-something fighters "exemplify what we're all about," Rebney said. "Using that tournament structure to go from unknown to top of the world."
Curran's upset victory over high-priced Roger Huerta, whom everyone earmarked for a fight with Eddie Alvarez, prompted Rebney to "put all my trust into the fact this tournament would give rise to the best fighters. They're the ones that are going to get through."
Hawn ready for his close-up
For the next 48 hours, Rick Hawn might best be known as Ronda Rousey’s Olympic judo teammate. But if the 36-year-old Massachusetts fighter upends Chandler in the first headliner of the Bellator on Spike TV era, the power-punching lightweight won't feel that he's been overlooked any longer.
Since shedding 15 pounds after dropping a split decision in 2011 to welterweight Jay Hieron, Hawn (14-1) has looked like the real deal.
"My technique and size weren't ready yet, but now I'm coming together as a striker -- as a well-rounded fighter," Hawn said. "With technique comes speed; with speed comes power."
While earning the shot against Chandler, Hawn took two of his three tournament bouts by knockout, capped by a highlight-reel straight right on Lloyd Woodard.
"Hawn has looked unbelievable in his last few fights for us," Rebney said. "So few guys are able to go '85 to '70, or '70 to '55, or even '55 to '45 and bring the power with them because they lose so much when they make the cut. But this guy, as an Olympian and world-class athlete, did it. He brought all that power with him."
After years of competing at the highest level in judo, the ability to drop bombs came easily.
"I've heard people say that not everyone has power or can create it," Hawn said. "Some people are just gifted with it and apparently ... I don't know. I don't know if I really buy that or it's something you learn in the gym.
"Judo is all about explosive power in the hips and being able to toss someone who doesn't want to get thrown. All that power generates in the hips, so maybe it's because of my lifetime in the other thing."
All his work has led him to Chandler.
"He can take a punch," Hawn decreed. "It's a tough fight. He's a grinder. I believe I am as well. You just have to get that perfect shot. That's all you need, right? It could be the end of the fight for him. Everyone he's fought he's destroyed or made a great fight out of it. Tall task at hand, but I'm ready to go."
News and notes
• In the wake of Strikeforce's demise, several fighters will hit the open market. Heavyweight Josh Barnett is a free agent with a following, but Rebney said Bellator doesn't plan to make any offers at the moment. "There aren't guys off that roster that I go, 'Oh, we've got to get him and make the move.'” He left the door open to scouring through whatever the UFC passed on, but demurred on the inclination of the tournament format as a divining rod for talent. "In this format, there's no big Kimbo Slice-esque superfight," Rebney quipped. "If you're not good enough to compete you're going to get blown out in the first or second round." Barnett is a classy enough heavyweight to have won any of the previous Bellator tournaments, that's for sure. Still: "Josh is a great character and he's had some great fights," Rebney said, "but he's not really on our radar."
• A couple of hours before Bellator held open workouts at Tito Ortiz's gym in Huntington Beach, the UFC held a conference call to promote next weekend's Fox card featuring Demetrious Johnson defending the flyweight belt against John Dodson. Also on the card is one Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who continues to scream bloody murder about the mistreatment he apparently feels he's been subjugated to under a tyrannical Zuffa regime. Basically, he's making it sound like he wants to leave, and, as an example of why, pointed to an inability to flaunt his sponsorship with Reebok. Zuffa, he said, would not allow him to wear it into the cage. Zuffa collects a sponsor tax, which they are well within their rights to do and have done for years. Bellator has not yet. Rebney said fighters are free to wear what they want and the promotion will not impose its own tax. He also said that when Jackson is free, he'd be a fighter that might be worth making a play for.
• Jeff Curran, pioneering lighter-weight fighter that he is, is intently focused on his cousin Pat's title defense against Patricio "Pitbull" Freire. But he hasn't lost the urge to fight and promises to return this year at 125 pounds. "Big Frog" set as his goal a contract to fight in the UFC as a flyweight.
• Thursday's card at the Bren Center on the campus of UC Irvine is scaled for around 4,000 seats. Bellator expects it to be full. "I think that's where we'll be," Rebney said.
Waiting to speak with Bjorn Rebney -- the promotion's promoter -- Wheelock and Smith happened to be screaming over Michael Chandler's epic finish last year of Eddie Alvarez, which was perfect, considering what I was calling about Tuesday morning.
Rebney published an open letter on Bellator.com on Monday stating the company's revised position on championship rematches. Essentially: Under the right circumstances, they would promote them.
The obvious place to begin would have been a second tilt between Chandler and Alvarez. Rebney said it's the fight he gets asked about most in airports and arenas during weekly jaunts from show to show.
There’s very little doubt in Rebney’s mind that “had Chandler-Alvarez happened today, regardless of Ed’s situation, I would be on the phone probably four minutes after the fight with Kevin Kay at Spike network saying ‘When are we going to do this again?’ Because it would have had such a dramatic impact on viewership and fan response.”
In reality, he’s talking up the rematch that got away. Alvarez is a free agent currently negotiating with the UFC and Rebney sounds accepting of the former champion’s likely departure. Still, the outcry to see Alvarez get a chance at avenging his title loss to Chandler, said Rebney, "got the wheels in motion" for change.
"I'm never going to be one that completely plants the flag in the ground and say there's no room for growth, there's no room for deviation," he said. "There's always room to make things better.
"There's always room to make the product better for fans, better for fighters. I think we did that."
Rebney is now promising that if fans call for a rematch, and if there's consensus from Bellator president Tim Danaher and matchmakers Sam Caplan and Zach Light, and if Kevin Kay at Spike is interested, then so it shall be. There’s also a move down the road to pay-per-view to consider.
“Those are going to be driving concerns,” he said.
Less worrying, Rebney noted, was the idea that Alvarez (or any fighter in the same position) could fight for a belt while not being locked up to a deal. If it’s worth promoting, he said, they’ll do it. And Bellator contracts, considered among MMA’s most rigid, would not have to be revised in any way.
"There's just a lot of fights coming up where you just want the option to be able to say, 'That was awesome, you're the champ and you earned your spot. Here, let's do it again,'" Rebney said.
This would appear to be a departure from the concept Rebney put forth in 2009, in which Bellator title shots are earned when a fighter advances through an eight-man qualifying tournament. Rebney said he'd considered the issue for a while and is "at peace with it" because the "decision stays true to who we are and what we're about" and the show maintains a substantial point of difference from other organizations in the sport.
“I think what you’re looking at right now is the industry kind of fitting into where the industry will fit for the next five years,” Rebney said. “And I think we’re heading in a good direction. Any time you’ve got a huge, powerful, innovative company like Viacom, not just distributing content, but vested, owning a huge piece of the company, and tremendously devoted to its success and brand development, and you’ve got another major giant out there [Fox] who has made a very large financial commitment to the UFC, who obviously has a vested interest in trying to see that that content does well, I think it’s a positive."
During a teleconference Tuesday for UFC’s return to Fox on Dec. 8 in Seattle, Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports Media Group, came off as bullish over the network’s partnership with Zuffa heading into 2013.
By no means was this Rebney’s most difficult call, but it does indicate that a month before Bellator begins its partnership with Spike that clearing the deck for fan- and television-friendly fights is a big part of the thinking these days.
"No one is talking their way into a world title fight [in Bellator]. Nobody is being groomed a la a boxing format where you get 24 wins against nobodies and get there,” he said. “You've got to beat three spectacularly world-class fighters and once you've done it, if you give fans an unbelievable showing, if it's an epic fight, if it's an Alvarez-Chandler type of fight, then it just made sense to me, and I believe we're staying true to who we are. We're not by any stretch of the imagination eliminating the objectivity. We're not eliminating the tournament structure. We're not eliminating the need to earn your shot. But I think it betters who we are."
In the parlance of Bjorn Rebney, "spectacularly world-class fighters" Lyman Good and Andrey Koreshkov will fight for the welterweight tournament crown Friday at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant, Mich. Bellator has roughly 170 fighters under contract as it enters the next phase of its existence, in which Viacom’s financial backing and Spike’s television platform portend a boost for the promotion.
Good or Koreshkov would fight either titleholder Ben Askren or Frenchman Karl Amoussou, whomever wins their meeting sometime in January. No date has been announced, though Rebney expects this and other news to be made over the next few weeks.
Rebney said he hopes for three title fights per year at each weight.
"God willing there will be a lot of rematches, because if we're doing a lot of rematches it means we've had a series of epic world title fights,” he said. “That's awesome. That's what you want. You want the biggest fights to be the best fights."
It's the reason bantamweight titleholder Eduardo Dantas felt compelled to step outside the Bellator cage for an Aug. 25 fight with Tyson Nam at Shooto Brazil 33 in Rio de Janeiro.
A right hand flattened Dantas in the first round.
Fighting outside of Bellator, especially while wearing the promotion's title belt, is something Dantas hopes he never has to do again.
"I was very anxious before the fight," Dantas told ESPN.com. "But I had a lot of confidence in myself. I trapped myself; I got a little anxious and got caught with the right hand. I had a lot riding on this show with friends and family there, and being the Bellator champion. I wanted to do my best in my home country. This made me very anxious before the fight.
"I will certainly think twice about fighting outside of the (Bellator) cage. But I was ready for the fight."
Despite the setback, Dantas remains confident he is a superior fighter to Nam. One way he'd like to prove it is with a rematch.
But if a rematch is to happen, it likely will have to take place inside Bellator. And Dantas has a more pressing matter to address -- defending his title against Marcos Galvao.
The two are tentatively scheduled to meet Nov. 2 at Bellator 79 in Rama, Ontario.
"I absolutely want that rematch in the future," said Dantas, who slipped to 14-3. "Tyson is the only name on my mind when I wake up in the morning. I'm going to focus on my Bellator title defense that is coming up. But before I'm done fighting I want to face Tyson again."
Before his recent loss, Dantas was ranked fifth among bantamweights by ESPN.com. He has since dropped to No. 9.
The loss by one of its champions to a fighter not under its banner can't help bolster Bellator's image among fight fans. But CEO Bjorn Rebney isn't losing any sleep over what took place in Brazil. For the time being, he will continue allowing his fighters -- especially champions -- to seek bouts with other promotions.
"In the fight, (Dantas) was dominating and he just got caught," Rebney told ESPN.com. "The fight is kind of self-explanatory: He was in control and got caught. This situation, unto itself, doesn't change my perception of wanting guys to be able to fight very frequently and willingness on our part to have fighters competing in other organizations.
"But it just so happens that with our Spike TV launch in January we're going to have many more tournaments, much more frequency of those tournaments and a greater number of tournaments going on. So our need to accommodate a guy like Dantas will to a large extent be eliminated."
“As for Dantas wanting a Nam rematch, Rebney likes the idea and will do whatever he can to put the fighters in position to make it happen. He's considering making an overture to Nam (12-4) about fighting in Bellator, but there are some things even Rebney can't guarantee.
Tyson is the only name on my mind when I wake up in the morning. I'm going to focus on my Bellator title defense that is coming up. But before I'm done fighting I want to face Tyson again.” -- Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas, on his recent knockout loss to Tyson Nam
"We'll have to see what happens with Dantas in terms of his world title fight," Rebney said. "If Dantas is able to retain the world title against Marcos Galvao, then the only way Tyson Nam is going to get a shot at Eduardo Dantas is by winning a tournament. Given the depth of our 135-pound division, that is not an easy calling for anybody. But if Eduardo loses to Marcos, given our structure, it gives us more flexibility of making that rematch.
"When a guy like Tyson performs the way he performed [against Dantas] you have to take a good look at him. Our 135-pound division is deep, but getting a win over our world champion sure is a pretty good calling card for getting in one of those tournaments."
Nam has expressed interest recently in joining UFC. Attempts by ESPN.com to speak with UFC president Dana White have been unsuccessful.
Dantas isn’t the first highly touted fighter to suffer a devastating setback, and he surely won’t be the last. But anything short of exacting revenge against Nam, and Dantas will find it difficult to recapture his previous standing among bantamweights.
Rebney doesn’t share this point of view. In his eyes, Dantas will have his shot at redemption against Galvao.
"He happened to get caught, which can happen to the best," Rebney said. "It’s happened to Chuck [Liddell], it’s happened to Randy [Couture], everybody gets caught at one point or another during their career. My realization is that he just got caught. It wouldn’t have mattered on that night if it was Eduardo Dantas or Pat Curran or Michael Chandler or Ben Askren or anybody else. He just got caught.
"Perception-wise, Dantas fighting in Bellator on Spike network against Marcos Galvao should be an amazing fight. He’s going to answer a lot of those questions and kind of re-establish himself in terms of where he should be.”
The discussion comes on the heels of Dantas’ first-round knockout loss on Aug. 25 to Tyson Nam at Shooto Brazil 33 in Rio de Janeiro.
Bellator will begin airing its fights on Spike TV in January. Rebney did not specify the exact date of the promotion’s network debut.
“We might end up bumping that fight back a little bit and doing it on Spike TV when we premiere in January,” Rebney said. “The alternative is to keep it where it is right now, which would literally be in 2½ months.
“But there’s probably an eye toward delaying it. I’m not officially saying it’s switching but we will have to look at the circumstances and give some very serious consideration to delaying it.”
Dantas (14-3) was knocked out by a counter right hook from Nam. It was his first loss since July 19, 2009, when Masakatsu Ueda beat him by unanimous decision in a Shooto bout.
“Whenever a knockout like that occurs, most fighters -- they’re athletes, they’re champions -- want to get right back in the cage as quickly as possible,” Rebney said.
“As you’ve seen with the steps we’ve taken with Joe Warren and others, when you get a serious knockout you need to take some time to reflect to take the proper precautions in terms of timing. So [Dantas] isn’t doing any sparring anytime soon. He’s going to take a breather.”
Dantas lifted the 135-pound belt from Zach Makovsky with a second-round submission on April 13.
Galvao (13-5) earned the title shot on Aug. 24 when he knocked out Luis Alberto Nogueira in the second round to win the Bellator Season 6 Bantamweight Tournament.
In case the mega-fight slipped your mind already, which isn't altogether implausible thanks to mixed martial arts' wacky news cycle, that happened Saturday.
For instance: On Tuesday, three major pieces of information were revealed.
Anderson Silva would not defend his UFC middleweight belt in his home country of Brazil against Chael Sonnen. Instead, it was announced, the pound-for-pound king will return to sweltering Las Vegas for a mid-summer bout against the self-proclaimed king.
Heavyweight Alistair Overeem was denied licensure to fight in the state of Nevada, meaning he's yet another casualty on MMA's growing PED hit list.
And Bellator champion Hector Lombard is relinquishing that title for a chance to compete in the UFC and shut up his doubters.
Here are some quick thoughts on what went down.
Silva-Sonnen 2 heads to Las Vegas
Rather than promoting one of the most intriguing stadium shows in combat sports history, UFC president Dana White confirmed in Rio on Tuesday morning that it was going to be impossible to promote the bout as promised.
A suitable venue couldn't be locked down, even if the promoter openingly salivated not long about the possibility of his middleweights fighting in front of 80,000 fans. Hotel space was a real issue as well, with the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, a massive undertaking, was taking place at the same time.
Good news: we still get to see the fight.
Some winners and losers in all of this:
That's right. Even though they failed to deliver on the promise of a mega UFC championship fight in Brazil, the promotion comes out ahead since it won't have to cope with the logistic nightmare of competing with the Rio+20 conference. More important, a stateside Silva-Sonnen 2 fight will garner heavier media attention and potentially boost pay-per-view numbers for a card that's already stacked.
Las Vegas needed major fights, and they just landed a marlin. UFC 148 was already stacking up as a solid offering and the addition of Silva and Sonnen to an event that featured Dominick Cruz defending his title against Urijah Faber and Tito Ortiz in a retirement bout against Forrest Griffin guarantees fans will flock to the sun-scorched city.
How could he not be? The challenger goes from needing to negotiate treacherous waters to remaining in the U.S., away from hostile Brazilian fans. The only stumbling block could be Sonnen's attempt to gain a therapeutic use exemption for his testosterone replacement therapy, but Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer is already on record saying he doesn't believe there will be any hiccups to the licensing process.
This was setting up to be a mega-event for Silva's countrymen, many of whom are now understandably upset. How could they not be? They lost the chance to watch arguably the best mixed martial artist of all time fight in a packed soccer stadium against the closest thing he has to an arch rival. By extension: Any MMA fan wanted to witness this spectacle.
It won't impact his performance in the fight, but, presuming he wins, moving the bout from Rio to Vegas certainly does dampen Silva's burgeoning stardom in Brazil. This was an unprecedented opportunity to shine in front of a nation that will soon host the Olympics and World Cup.
Nevada denies Overeem
The layers run thick but it boils down to this:
Alistair Overeem visited a doctor he claimed to know nothing about, allowed himself to be injected with something he claimed ignorance of, and subsequently tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone.
There is no one to blame but himself. Go ahead and point fingers at Dallas-based Dr. Hector Oscar Molina if you want. He is not above reproach here, obviously, but he also didn't force himself on Overeem.
For losing out on a UFC title fight against Junior dos Santos next month. For seeking treatment from Dallas-based Dr. Molina, who admitted to mixing a water-based testosterone cocktail for the Greek statue of a heavyweight he claimed was designed to treat a rib injury. For taking one injection. And then another. For such willful ignorance, especially when he owed Nevada two tests at a time and place of their choosing.
In a way, don't you hope Overeem attempted to cheat the system? I mean, at this stage of the game, it's basically expected and would at least provide an explanation for this mess. Otherwise, the alternative is to believe Overeem is oblivious and stupid.
Lombard leaves, Bellator show's hand
Put up or shut up time for Hector Lombard.
After Bjorn Rebney and his partners decided against matching an offer sheet from the UFC for the Cuban's services, the now-former Bellator middleweight champion will get every chance he deserves to prove he's the world's best middleweight.
I have my doubts he'll make much of a dent against the type of competition he's soon to face. Is Lombard (31-2-1) better than Rousimar Palhares or Alan Belcher, who fight May 5 on FOX? I don't think so. But this is the great part: We don't have to "think" about it anymore; let the speculation end.
Bellator's choice is worth dissecting because it says something about the way they're conducting business, and could foretell Eddie Alvarez's chances of remaining with the promotion four months from now.
Bellator essentially would have been forced into the pay-per-view business had they matched the UFC's offer for Lombard. That's a huge advantage Zuffa owns over its potential competitors, because no one other than the Las Vegas-based juggernaut can seemingly compel consumers to buy a fight. Bellator hasn't even tried, though they may at some point.
If not, Zuffa will just poach away fighters they want, like Alvarez, and there's not much Rebney will be able to do about it.
The 28-year-old Philadelphian, a nine-year mixed martial arts veteran, is ranked outside the top 10 of the lightweight division for the first time in three years. He's coming off a title-ceding, physically taxing loss, just his third in 25 fights. And tonight's bout against Shinya Aoki, the man responsible for Alvarez's second defeat in 2008, is one of two remaining on his contract with Bellator.
"Obviously this fight has got enormous impact for his career," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said of Alvarez, who was among the promoter's first signings and represented an early lynchpin of the company. "He can jettison himself right back into the top echelon of lightweights in the world, in terms of the overall industry's perception, or not. It's a big fight. There's no denying this is a big fight for Eddie Alvarez."
There's big. And then there's career-defining big. Alvarez is dealing in the latter. Yet he hasn't shown any signs that the stress has gotten to him.
"I'm sort of emotionless. I left all of my emotions in the gym. I've been away from my family training in South Florida and all my preparation is done," he said. "I feel better than I ever have going into a fight and that's not just a cliche statement. I really do. I feel like it's just another day. I don't feel any emotions toward anything.
"There's no questioning. There's no doubt. There's no fear of the future. What might happen? What may happen? I go into fights with a lot of that baggage and I don't know why, but I was able to let that go coming into this fight and it feels really good."
Working with a new camp, the Rashad Evans-led Blackzilians, and its associated management group, Authentic Sports Management, Alvarez underwent a "natural progression in my career," he said.
Regression, however, is a distinct possibility if he doesn't do to Aoki (30-5, 1 NC) what he could not when the Japanese lightweight finished a heel hook submission in 92 seconds.
"I really didn't respect leg locks in 2008," Alvarez said. "I didn't see them used much in MMA. I didn't see many people finished with them in MMA. So I didn't respect them enough to train properly for them. I went about my normal training and neglected that strength of his and I paid for it. It's different this time around. I respect his strengths and I made sure I had the ability to avoid them and defend them, and use what I'm good at."
Aoki comes into Friday's bout at the I-X Center in Cleveland, Ohio, ranked sixth by ESPN.com at 155 pounds. He called the 2008 result "lucky."
"This fight will test both of our skills," said the 28-year-old submission specialist. "That's how the fight will be."
Alvarez was tested to his limits last November against Michael Chandler. The fourth-round stoppage, widely acclaimed as one of the best bouts of 2011, cost Alvarez his standing as Bellator's only lightweight champion and forced him to the sidelines for six weeks with torn rib cartilage. Alvarez said he spent time away from mixed martial arts with his wife and children, all of whom have been fixtures at his fights over the years.
Where MMA takes Alvarez and his family is unclear. Redemption over Aoki, whom Bellator holds options on for multiple U.S.-based fights, would likely return Alvarez to the top 10 ahead of the final fight on his contract with Rebney.
"He was with me driving around in a crappy rental car, flying Southwest Airlines when we were trying to get this thing on ESPN Deportes," Rebney said. "He was a big piece of it. So I want Eddie to do as well as he can possibly do."
Alvarez believes Aoki is improved from the version that beat him three years ago. The Japanese fighter now has better striking, especially kicking, Alvarez said; yet he offers essentially the same threats as he did in 2008.
"He's a little bit different in the cage, but at the end of the day a fight's a fight no matter where it's at," Alvarez said. "The person with the biggest spirit, who comes focused that night, is going to win.
"It will be a display of just how much I've grown in the last three years. I was young, wasn't too confident in my abilities, and made mistakes, just like people who are young and immature do. ... My goal is the same as it was when I first started this sport, and that's to beat the guy on the other side of the cage. It will never change."
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.