Bellator boss Bjorn Rebney has been aggressively pushing for fights between his lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez. This last week Bellator middleweight champ Hector Lombard called out Strikeforce champ Ronaldo Souza, aka Jacare.
INTERVIEWER: "I'm not even going to say a question here, I'm just going to say a phrase. You can respond... Bellator vs. Strikeforce."
BJORN REBNEY: "I love it. I keep talking about it. I'm hopeful that it could occur. I'm hopeful that it could occur beyond just Eddie Alvarez vs. Gilbert (Melendez). I would love to set up a Welterweight fight, a big super fight at Welterweight. I would, you know, I would do anything to set up a Middleweight fight. I can only imagine that if there's hesitancy on their part in terms of taking a Lightweight fight that they're probably going to be very, very hesitant to take on a Middleweight fight as well. We would do it. We would do it without problem."
INTERVIEWER: "Co-promoting is not a problem?"
BJORN REBNEY: "No! Not only is it not a problem, but we wouldn't even have to do a typical orchestration of a co-promotional event where everybody argues and fights and scratches and claws. We would go to San Jose, I know some... I married a woman in my first marriage from San Jose, there's some spectacular restaurants and great hotels, we would make ourselves at home, we would come in and we would take three fights. It would be great. From a fan perspective, with the CEO hat off, I mean can you see Ben Askren fighting Nick Diaz? Can you see Eddie Alvarez and Gilbert Melendez? Jacare versus Hector Lombard?"
INTERVIEWER: "What are your thoughts about a Bellator PPV?"
BJORN REBNEY: "I mean, I don't mean to keep going back to it, but you know, in and around New Year's and the kind of fights we're talking about in terms of the potential for co-promotion with Strikeforce, I think that would make for a spectacular PPV. I always look at stuff, I separate myself and I say, would I buy that? Would I pay for that? And there are some shows that I look at and go, ‘ehhhhh, probably not. And then are some shows that I look at and go, whoa, I would stay at home for that, you know, and I would irritate the kids, etc. and I would buy it and I would watch every piece of it. That's the kind of show that I would buy. So, that might have the makings of a PPV but it's going to take, it's just like a marriage, you know, you can't get into without the acquiescence of both parties so they need to say yes."
For his part Strikeforce boss Scott Coker denies that Rebney has contacted him. From Sherdog:
"Let's face it: Gilbert's fought everybody," Coker responded Friday. "He beat the guy that Eddie lost to. For them to say, ‘Oh, Gilbert's ducking him' -- come on, let's be real. Gilbert has ducked nobody, and neither has Eddie. These are two great fighters. The thing is, if Bjorn's serious about doing this, then there has to be a business component that has to be worked out. Unfortunately that hasn't started yet. It's just been a bunch of stuff in the media. He's chosen the media to use it as a platform to try to push this thing along, but I think it's maybe a PR move."
Coker explained that he understands why Bellator wants the matchup, but he questions Rebney's motives for lobbying publicly.
"It's very obvious to me he's using the media as a platform to try to do his business, but that's not how we're going to do business," Coker said. "If he wants to do business, call me or fly out here, come sit down with me. If there's a deal to be made, we'll try to make it, but I'm not going to do it in the media. That's for sure."
In the full entry there's a video of Rebey claiming that he's attempting to contact Coker daily. Plus my analysis and a lot about the checkered past of Bjorn Rebney.
This is a classic fight promotion situation, the sort of pointless bull that boxing fans have become so intimately familiar. Rebney is clearly using this situation to get attention for his tiny promotion. He's done a great job of that.
Bellator does two things well -- sign talented fighters and generate online news stories about their product. That's not to say they have a top notch PR operation or that they're easy to work with. Regardless, they do have a knack for getting more attention than, strictly speaking, they truly merit.
Strikeforce has absolutely nothing to gain by co-promoting with Bellator. The hardcore fan audience that is aware of Bellator and their roster of champs already watches every Strikeforce event anyway. Getting us lathered up with thoughts of Gilbert Melendez vs Eddie Alvarez, etc doesn't do anything to sell Showtime subscriptions, get Strikeforce back on CBS and certainly won't sell a significant number of PPVs.
The combined brand awareness of Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard and Ben Askren among casual MMA fans is virtually nil. Rebney is bringing nothing to the table here and he knows it. And that's why I tend to believe Scott Coker when he says Rebney isn't actually attempting to contact him.
Scott Coker may be doing a piss poor job of competing with the UFC. He couldn't get his biggest star, Fedor Emelianenko, to participate on his second CBS card in April. He paid a lot of money for Dan Henderson and pushed him as a virtually guaranteed victor over Jake Shields only to have Henderson flop on CBS and lose the fight.
But Coker's failings are the failings of an honest man. He's too weak, not too ruthless.
Bjorn Rebney on the other hand...
Here's how Sugar Ray Leonard, his former partner in two failed boxing promotions, described Rebney to USA TODAY:
"That guy (Rebney) I worked with is suing me," Leonard says. "My company could have blossomed, but I had a cancer in my company."
This old piece from Total-MMA is the best one-stop shopping if you are interested in learning more about the very interesting history of Bjorn Rebney the boxing promoter. Here's how they sum up his ventures with Leonard:
Among them include a completely absurd business plan that pulled in 1/10th the expected revenue, a lawsuit with Joe Mesi, the signing Juan Carlos Gomez (who, as it turned out, was legally signed to Universum and also ended up resulting in a lawsuit), fraudulent weighins, confrontations with sportswriter Tim Graham, and more. You might think this is enough dirt to bury the company among MMA bloggers on its own, but believe it or not, there is actually more.
Read the whole thing, and be sure and check out the stories by boxing writer Charles Jay and Thomas Hauser. It's not pretty. Those stories touch on pretty much every unseemly aspect of fight promotion from nasty lawsuits with fighters to allegations of fight fixing, fraud, and violations of federal law.
Those who've been paying attention to the outside the cage news about Bellator this year have also learned to be skeptical of Rebney. There's the FBI investigation of their majority shareholder for fraud, the lawsuit by the UFC accusing Bellator of theft of trade secrets, and the contractual mess with talented heavyweight Dave Herman.
There's an old joke about the fight game. How can you tell when a fight promoter is lying? His lips are moving.
Rebney talks about his relentless pursuit of Coker.
Bjorn Rebney talks to the Fight Nerd: