Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. True in life, movies, and mixed martial arts.
PRIDE also comes before the fall, that is doubly true in mixed martial arts.
Bellator MMA was founded by Bjorn Rebney in 2008. The majority stake in the company was sold to Viacom in 2011 as part of a deal to get the promotion onto MTV2 and later Spike TV. Bellator crafted a niche in the mixed martial arts world by running tournaments. Initially tournaments to crown their champions, then tournaments to crown number one contenders to fight their champions. Title fights, attraction fights, and “super” fights are used to round out the cards.
Bellator’s unique format as well as PRIDE and Strikeforce going out of business allowed them to both survive and thrive by upstart, distant number two standards. Compared to the Goliath that is the UFC, Bellator is not a competitor, merely an alternative. In the rest of the mixed martial arts world however, Bellator has been the clear-cut number two company since the second the lights went out for Strikeforce last year.
Bellator has evolved incrementally to show they are growing. Going from ESPN Deportes to MTV2 to Spike TV to air their fights. Bellator had their version of UFC’s reality tv show darling “The Ultimate Fighter” called “Fight Master” that aired last year. It was unique to TUF and much like everything Bellator does, got decent ratings, enough to keep them afloat and viewed as legitimate.
Bellator recently made it’s PPV debut, a show that drew 100,000 buys. With all of this growth and progression, it was surprising to hear that Bjorn Rebney, the founder and CEO of Bellator MMA, and for all intents and purposes the Dana White of Bellator, was forced out of the company he founded by Viacom. Word is that Viacom wants to move away from the tournament format, while Rebney falls under the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it paradigm. Rebney has already been replaced by Scott Coker, who was the founder and Dana White of Strikeforce.
Coker is a good promoter and a good guy. Most people seem to like him. He doesn’t have a reputation for anything remotely shady. He helped build Strikeforce from a regional kickboxing promotion to the number two mixed martial arts promotion in the world. Even as a distant number two, Strikeforce put together some great super fights that rivaled anything the UFC was putting up against them at the time (Fedor vs Hendo anyone?). Viacom and Coker have already said they will scale back the tournament format of Bellator to a more traditional style of MMA booking, much like Strikeforce had.
Strikeforce and Bellator now have two things in common, Scott Coker, and a corporate owner directly involved in their business. Showtime’s incompetence led to Strikeforce going out of business. Dana White even voiced how sorry he felt for the organization over how things went down. Well, to me, this seems to be a case of history repeating itself. There is nothing wrong with tinkering with something to make it better, but this is an over haul of something that already is making money. Maybe not a lot of money, but there has been zero whiff of Bellator being at risk of going out of business. They have been consistently running shows for six years, why is this time to make whole sale changes?
Word has it Rebney was/is very difficult to work with, which is the opposite reputation Coker has. Coker was and is willing to work with anyone as long as it makes money. He has said the tournaments will have their place, which is a good thing. But if Bellator runs shows in the same way the UFC, WSOF, and OneFC all run shows, won’t they be exposing themselves as a cheap alternative to the dominant number one?
That’s what Strikeforce was after all. I loved Strikeforce but the only thing that made them different from the UFC was the hexagon cage and the colored gloves. Oh and one more thing, the UFC was consistently a far superior product because they had more money and better fighters.
The tournaments mask Bellator’s weaknesses. Those weaknesses being everything other than the fact they run tournaments. Bellator is not competition, they’re an alternative. If you’re going to be an alternative, then you have to be different than what is normal. Tournaments, and the round cage, do that. Running smaller venues does that. Having a different presentation style does that.
Scott Coker is a good promoter, it’s not actually his fault that Strikeforce went out of business, but Strikeforce went out of business, it’s a failed brand. If Strikeforce was still around and announced a merger with Bellator, that’s one thing. But when a man founds a company, makes it a success, then gets fired and replaced for a captain that is fresh off a sinking ship he was at the helm of, something about that seems off to me.
Coker has earned the benefit of the doubt that he can steer Bellator in the right direction based on his past history of success, but then again, so did Bjorn Rebney.