It ain't easy being number two. Just ask Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney who's launching the latest season of his fight promotion right into the jaws of a packed Friday night schedule. Bellator will be airing on MTV2 directly up against the UFC's The Ultimate Fighter Live reality show on FX and WWE's Smackdown on Syfy.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer (subscription required) thinks that will be a painful experience for the promotion and the network:
The Friday night wars that officially kick off on 3/9 already give the indication of a few things. The first is that WWE Smackdown has little to worry about. The other is that MTV 2 and Viacom may have made a big mistake with Bellator.
Bellator will be going head-to-head with Smackdown every week for the next few months, airing 8-10 p.m. on MTV 2. Ultimate Fighter will start at 9 p.m. on 3/9, but 10 p.m. every other week, meaning there is only a UFC vs. WWE head-to-head next week, and not again until the TUF finals on 6/1. In theory this also means Bellator won't be airing against Ultimate Fighter. However, due to being live, Bellator frequently goes well over its two hour allotment, meaning its biggest fights, the main events many weeks, will go against the start of TUF.
An Observer poll for week one, where from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., all four shows will be going head-to-head, when asking which show you are watching live, had 45% saying Smackdown, 27% saying Ultimate Fighter, while 4% said they would be watching Spike's Best of Ultimate Fighter and only 3% said they would watch Bellator live.
The long odds facing Rebney on MTV2 on Fridays are a good reason he's looking ahead to next year when the promotion will finally debut on Spike TV. Rebney talked to Mike Chiappetta at MMA Fighting:
"The announcement of the transition to Spike, it felt a long time away, but now you look around the corner and it's like nine months until the premiere," he said during an interview with MMA Fighting. "It's an exciting time. There's a lot going on, but it's exciting."
Rebney has Spike's full support behind him because of the recent deal with the cable channel's parent company, Viacom, which bought a majority stake in the promotion last October. While he remains in charge of the company's day-to-day business, the new ownership group provided him with a deep and experienced support system that's fully invested in Bellator's success.
As a result, there are plans to launch Bellator into its new home right at the start of 2013 in a kind of grand re-opening that will trumpet its move. But it's not simply about the live fights. According to Rebney, in the works are a potential reality series, a "best of" show and other ancillary programming that will make Bellator a major presence on Spike. When that channel first launched UFC programming back in 2005, it was something of a happy accident that had to be built upon. This time around, the foundation has already been poured and the house will be ready when the new tenant moves in.
"It will probably premiere and kickoff on January 1," he said. "The specificity of when things hit hasn't been set up, but I know we'll get a great push from our partners at Spike coming out of the box. My assumption is that it will start super-quickly, and all the talk is about starting it super-quickly as well."