It's been more than four months since the Bellator Fighting Championships ran its last show, one that saw middleweight champion Hector Lombard beat Season 2 middleweight winner Alexander Shlemenko by unanimous decision in the main event of Bellator 34.
Now, with a new television deal with MTV2 and four new tournaments ready to go, Bellator rolls out its fourth season starting Saturday with Bellator 35 from Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, Calif.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, speaking Thursday on Bloody Elbow Radio, said he is really excited for the start of Bellator's fourth season after the long layoff.
"We've been working at it a long time (and) we finally got things where we want them in terms of the company," Rebney said. "We've got the right TV alliance and some spectacular fighters premiering Saturday night. I'm really excited. Four great tournaments going on and everything's coming together nicely. It's nice to be where we are right now. It can always get better, but it's good to be where we are right now."
The fourth season kicks off with the four welterweight tournament quarterfinal bouts Saturday but Rebney said, despite the move to MTV2, everything you've come to know from Bellator from a production standpoint will remain largely unchanged. A big part of the equation, the commentary team of Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith, recently was locked into place for this season. The biggest improvement from Bellator's previous television deal with FSN, Rebney said, is the lack of preemptions due to local sporting events.
"There won't be any preemptions, there won't be any delays," Rebney said.
"The show itself ... is going to be very similar. The show's going to be getting better. We've taken substantive steps to improve every aspect but that's going to happen every single show from now for the next 10 years."
Rebney said Bellator will have 25 broadcasts on MTV2 before Thanksgiving and, unlike other promotions, the UFC won't be able to counter program them, as both MTV2 and Spike TV fall under the MTV Networks umbrella. In fact, Bellator got added promotion when featherweight champion Joe Warren appeared on TNA Wrestling's "Impact" broadcast Thursday night on Spike TV, providing guest commentary for a match between Hernandez and Matt Morgan while promoting the upcoming season with announcers Mike Tenay and Taz.
"If there's a Spike event that's featuring the UFC, our show will be pushed forward a bit so you're able to watch Bellator for a couple hours on MTV2 and then tune into Spike to watch a couple hours of the UFC on Spike," Rebney said. "It gave us access to the biggest audience, access to our core demo and the ability to move the programming when necessary, which I think happens three times in season four to accommodate making it an MMA night as opposed to two great MMA events going on at the same time on different channels."
This season, Bellator is going to be making its debut in new cities in California, Oklahoma and Louisiana in addition to making the promotion's debut in Mississippi. Rebney said they'll also be making their way to Bellator staples such as the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla.
"We've made a really strong, conscious effort to just criss-cross the country and be able to introduce as many people as possible to Bellator," Rebney said. "(We want to show) what we're about, what our shows look like, how they feel, how entertaining they are, etc. We're everywhere. You name it, we'll be there."
You can hear the entire interview with Rebney, along with an interview with Jorge Masvidal and a preview of Bellator 35, on Thursday's edition of Bloody Elbow Radio.