At the end of 2011, Bellator Fighting Championships took some relatively big steps toward cementing themselves as a big player in the world of mixed martial arts.
Recently, they not only sold a majority of the company to Viacom, a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate, they also signed a deal to air their fight prelims on Spike.com and in 2013, will move their programming from MTV2 to Spike TV.
Fox News Latino had the chance to speak with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney about what’s in store for season 6, which begins March 9th with an event just outside of Chicago in Hammond, Indiana.
As usual, Bellator’s tournaments and events will feature a large amount of fighters from Latin America, with both Latinos and Brazilians looking to showcase their talents to an American audience.
In this interview, Rebney talks about why MMA fans love Latino fighters, the much talked about Eddie Alvarez - Shinya Aoki rematch, this upcoming seasons championship match ups and Bellator’s new owner Viacom.
Fox News Latino: So first off, you got your big season coming up. You announced that in the first title fight Pat Curran will be getting another shot at another title. He won a second tournament this last season. He’s going to be fighting Joe Warren. Any other news, any other fights you guys have set up at this point?
Rebney: We are looking forward to some spectacular world title fights coming up in season 6. Of course we are going to have Zach Makovsky, 135 pound champion, defending his title against Eduardo Dantes, who looks literally like one of the best in the world at 135 pounds. We got Cole Konrad, who is waiting for the winner of the [Eric] Prindle/ [Thiago] Santos fight, to defend his high heavy weight title. We also got Ben Askren who is going to be fighting against Douglas Lima in what should be a spectacular contrasting style fight for the welter weight title.
FNL: And that Lima, I mean he’s a mean looking guy, I’ll tell you that.
Rebney: Oh, yeah. He is about as bad as they come. We got fiercely lucky. We signed Lima last year as the kind of undisputed top welter weight prospect in the world and demanded he do away with that prospect title and establish himself as a very legitimate world class guy. So Ben is going to have his hands full.
FNL: [The] Eddie Alvarez/Chandler fight [I want] to ask you about that. It’s been reported that Chandler is of course waiting for his opponent but it’s also been reported that Alvarez will not be in the next tournament. Instead you are looking to get the Aoki fight going, is that true?
Rebney: Yeah, you know, Ed and I have been buddies for years and I may be the guy who signs his checks but I’m also a friend of his and he asked me for the Aoki rematch literally about 4 months into our relationship. I mean I signed Ed. One of the things that Ed and his manager asked me for was the ability to go over to fight Aoki, the fight that Ed really wanted. He lost early in the fight via submission. A lot of people had seen the fight and he asked me from that moment forward, ‘man if you could ever do me a solid it would be to get me a rematch with Aoki’, so we had it negotiated. I think the negotiating was, to some extent, weighted on Ed winning his world title or defending his world title and I told anyone who would listen I didn’t think that was a foregone conclusion because Chandler is just a monster…. And he lost it and I went back to Ed and I said ‘look it’s really up to you what happens next brother. If you want the fight we will keep perusing it, if you don’t want the fight we won’t” and Ed, being Ed Alvarez said ‘yeah I want the fight’ you know. Ed has got about a big of a heart as anyone you’d ever want to talk to in the mixed martial arts game so he wants it, the dream guys are still completely on board. Aoki is ready to rock and roll and come over here to the states and fight on MTV2 so you’ll see it this season.
FNL: Oh wow. So you are confirming, not a date yet, but it is going to happen this year?
Rebney: Yeah. It’ll happen this year. We are signed and everything ready to rock and roll. We’ve got bout agreements, we’ve got the overall agreement done, the bout agreements are in everybody’s hands right now and we’re just waiting for everybody to put pen to paper so we can announce a date.
FNL: Right. Now I want to ask you a couple questions here about the industry in general. You’ve got a lot of Hispanic fighters out there. In fact, in the tournaments, I’ll go out on a limb here, I would say, it seems like 60% of the fighters you’ve got sometimes are Latino. Why do you that these Latino fighters are succeeding in your format and your company?
Rebney: You know, I mean, I think there is a few reasons. I think one of them is just the format, I mean I think the format lends itself to guys that, regardless of what language you speak, regardless of where you’re from, regardless of what you look like, or if you ever dated a supermodel, our format with its tournament structure, win and move on lose and go home, plays itself out in a real fair way. So I think that some of the things that propel different fighters to the top of different organizations don’t apply with us. We’ve been real fortunate. You know, we started out, as you and I have discussed previously, we started out as an organization that was heavily focused on recruiting Hispanic/Latino talent to be on our shows because we launched on ESPN Deportes and subsequently moved to Fox Sports network but kept the really integrated, strong tie to the Hispanic market visa vie Telemundo and Mun2 and then of course when we did the large scale, multiyear deal with MTV Networks, we put MTV Tres into the mix. So, it’s always been a part of who we are so there’s always been a hard core focus from our talent development department to go into the Hispanic market, but not just the Hispanic market here in the US, but also to traverse what’s going on in Cuba, Mexico, Central America, South America, etc. and find whether it’s a great fighter from Argentina or a spectacularly talented fighter from Mexico, or a fighter from Cuba, or a fighter from Costa Rica, it doesn’t make any difference. We just been, we developed the contacts early on and those contacts have lived in a real strong way for the organization such that we keep hearing from great talent development people, smaller promoters, great managers who have got a direct line in to spectacular talent who happen to be, you know, of Hispanic descent.
FNL: You had Jessica Aguilar who I spoke to yesterday, she got voted on by the fans to be on one of your final cards last year. Her fan base is amazing, they put her on there. This is a time when a lot of people are being critical of women’s MMA and what it is and here this fighter who, you know, her fans just rallied behind her, got her on TV, and she had an amazing fight. Do you think the fans respect the Latino fighters a lot more? And they respect the way they fight?
Rebney: You know, I don’t think you’re speaking out of turn when you look to the very long and very storied history of great Hispanic fighters and stylistically the have a unique and a very centric way of looking at the fight game. It, you don’t find a lot of great, great Hispanic fighters who have a different mentality then the plant their feet and go for the win. And it doesn’t matter whether it Jessica Aguilar, whether it’s Toby Imada, whether its Hector Lombard, Alexis Villa the list goes on and on. But the mentality of the typically Hispanic fighter is I’ll take two shots to give one and I can out battle anybody in the center of the ring or the cage.
FNL: And that’s another organization, you know, the Diaz brothers [UFC fighters] really kind of captivated MMA recently.
Rebney: Sure, they propelled themselves to the very top of the game and, I mean, Nate looked he was coming off the tracks a little bit and man has he reestablished himself in a huge way. And of course Nick has fulfilled every conceivable piece of potential that he had and it looks like he could conceivably beat anybody on earth at 70. So, I mean there is a mentality that, you know, I think is a great mentality if you’re a fighter and that is bring the fight and finish the fight. I think that one of the reasons fans have connected so tremendously to Jessica Aguilar, you bring up a great example, we left it in the fans hands to determine who the 4th TV fight would be on the Eddie Alvarez versus Mike Chandler show. And fans disproportionally voted for Jessica Aguilar and Lisa Ward-Ellis. And had it not been for Mike Chandler/Ed Alvarez, the best fight I’ve ever seen, Jessica would have put on the best performance of the night! I mean she got lost in the fray of what was just an epic night for us and for MMA fans but, but for Ed versus Mike, her fight, it was fight of the night.
FNL: You had two, two prominent Latino fighters for you and you had a really great card that night but those two fights stood out.
Rebney: Oh, they were great! You know they were just epic. I watched, people don’t, I’m glad you bring it up, cause people don’t talk about Jessica’s performance that night and she looked spectacular. And she was in against one of the, I think Lisa went in as the 5th ranked woman in the world, and she was just dominate and tough as nails. So, yeah, I mean, you know, we’ve had some great luck and guys like Hector Lombard, and Alexis Villa and Jessica, and many many many other fighters with Hispanic heritage have brought it in fights for us and given us amazing highlights and, you know, its just been an amazing positive for the organization.
FNL: And now I want to ask you about another thing cause a lot has also changed since you and I spoke last. You’re not the owner anymore really. You’re the CEO of Bellator, which is now primarily owned by Viacom.
Rebney: Yeah. How great is that?
FNL: I mean that’s a big deal for MMA fans. That’s a big deal, at this time, for MMA. A lot of people, of course, are on UFC as being kind of a monopoly; they’re taking the criticism lately. And then here you guys come. You guys have been slowly moving up there and then you have a big company to back you up now. You have a new network in 2013, is that correct?
Rebney: Yeah. Absolutely. We’re moving to Spike Network in 2013. Already starting to sell in and present to advertisers in what are called our up fronts so we’re actively engaged in planning everything for that move as we speak.
FNL: And Spike is not just committed to Bellator. They are committed to the sport of MMA. They’ve got new shows coming out. Look, MMA and Bellator is going to be there center piece, is going to be a big part of Spike TV. You’re already also on their .com. Which you air the prelims on the dot com. How has that changed everything for you since that announcement?
Rebney: Just an amazing strategic and extremely well developed support system to help move the company to its next incarnation and its next growth curve. I mean when you talk about Viacom, it’s one of the leading, most innovative and creative entertainment companies in the face of their earth. Their content reaches 600 million people around the globe. They’ve got brands underneath that larger Viacom umbrella that includes MTV, and MTV2, and Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, the list goes on and on. I think they’ve got over 160 television networks around the world and they’ve been, you know, Spike lives under the Viacom umbrella and but for Spike you and I aren’t having this conversation about MMA.