This Thursday, October 21, Bellator Fighting Championships will conclude its third season, live from the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, Pa. The event is sure to produce some fireworks as Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez will face UFC-veteran Roger Huerta in a lightweight super fight. Co-headlining will be the Bellator welterweight championship bout between current champion, Lyman Good, and season three tournament winner Ben Askren. MMA Spot's Jesse Denis recently caught up with the man that has become the face of the promotion, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney. Denis spoke to Rebney about the promotion, got his opinion on the controversy concerning Bellator's Fox Sports Net television deal, Eddie Alvarez versus Gilbert Melendez, and much more.
Denis: You previously mentioned the signings of Joe Warren, Dan Hornbuckle, and Ben Askren. Bellator is specifically known for signing prospects and up-and-coming fighters, effectively setting yourselves apart from most organizations. While most promotions jump at the "UFC-veteran" tag, Bellator looks for new talent. Can you talk about this mindset a bit?
Rebney: Absolutely, that is something I hope sets us apart for years to come. We've been very aggressive in going out and finding guys like Mike Campbell, Ben Askren, Joe Warren, Dan Hornbuckle, Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard, Joe Soto, and a lot of different fighters who are world class guys. They deserve to be in the top 10, but are brand new in the U.S. market. Although they don't have that history behind them, with UFC and Strikeforce, but they've done spectacularly well.
Denis: Let's talk about the Alvarez-Melendez situation. Both men have gone on record saying that they want to fight one another. Scott Coker recently said the two of you have spoken about it, and had nothing but positive things to say. He did, however, say that an injury to Melendez's hand is keeping the fight from happening. Is this fight possible, or is it another MMA pipe dream?
Rebney: It's completely and utterly possible. It's one of those things I've said many times. I like Scott, he's a heck of a good promoter. He puts on great shows, puts a lot of butts in seats. But promoters are unfortunately guilty, on a regular basis, of talking sideways about issues. You always hear statements to the effects of, "there's complications, issues that need to be resolved." I've said many times, there are no issues with this fight. Eddie wants it. Gilbert wants it. I would make the fight. It can take place on any network Scott would want it to take place on, and any venue he would like it to happen in. If he wants to do it on Showtime, and wants it to happen in the HP Pavilion, those are both fine with me. I'm more than comfortable going on the record saying they're fine with me. Eddie has got a very tough fight on his hands coming up in the next few days against Roger Huerta, who is virtually fighting for his MMA life. Once that fight is over, if Eddie is victorious, I'm more than open to doing that fight. Anytime. Anywhere. The only thing holding that fight up is Scott's willingness to make it. I had heard from Scott, that Gilbert has a hand problem and was getting married. Hopefully his hand is healing. I'm a big Gilbert Melendez fan. A) I hope his hand healed because he's a good guy, I love watching him fight. B) If that's the only thing holding it up on Scott's part, I would love to make the fight. I would love to get in contact with Scott again. Hopefully if Eddie is victorious we can make that happen.
Denis: On the topic of signing prospects, we had mentioned that Bellator doesn't actively pursue the "UFC/Strikeforce-veteran" tag. You have, however, signed a few of them. Are we to expect to see more of this? Or did you just feel guys like Roger Huerta and Ryan Thomas, that you have signed, fit the mold of what Bellator is trying to do?
Rebney: There's no real strategy to it. As you mentioned, we go out of our way to sign tremendous world class athletes. We have not gone out of our way to try and sign superstars from other organizations. If there is a great fighter who just came to the end of his agreement with the UFC or Strikeforce, like Roger, we'll sign him. I felt Ryan Thomas was cut too soon from the UFC. He's a tremendously talented kid, a true consummate professional, great to work with. I thought to myself, "wow, there's a guy with a lot of upside, who I don't know that I would have released." Like I said, no real strategy. We're just looking for the best that we can possibly sign.
Denis: Let's talk about the Fox Sports Net (FSN) deal for a bit. There have been a lot of problems and complaints from the viewership side. Of course, I'm speaking to Bellator being run on tape delay, sometimes not even run at all, in favor of football, baseball, or other sports. Can you clear up the contract a bit for us? Will this be resolved, or is it even looked at as a problem?
Rebney: It is absolutely an issue. Definitely a problem and issue that myself, the president of my company (Tim Danaher), and the people who worked out our TV deal have been working diligently to resolve. We do recognize it to be a problem. We're working very, very long hours to address it and fix it. We hope that when we're in position to make announcements for seasons four, five, and beyond, people will see that we have addressed that issue.
Other parts of the interview touch on the organization's YouTube success, thoughts on Paulo Filho, Megumi Fujii, other prospects, and Bjorn's predictions for tonight's fights.