Everyone knows that thanks to his contract running out and an offer from the UFC that was "unviable" for Bellator to match, Hector Lombard is now a member of the UFC Middleweight division. Lombard went 8-0 under the Bellator banner, becoming their champion in June of 09, defending the title once, winning 2 non title fights and 2 catchweight fights north of 185 pounds. Ratings on MTV 2 typically spiked when Lombard fought, and now he's gone.
How exactly did that work? He was their champion...how was he simply plucked away? Well, as Bjorn Rebney explained at the end of last month on the MMA Hour...Bellator doesn't work like the UFC, they don't have a championship clause. Their contract structure is different. When their champions win, they don't automatically stay for another fight...or any sort of rule like that. After their contract runs it's course, they have the option to test the market and see what their value is, how much they are worth to the various promotions.
Rebney was clear in saying that such is the 'nature of our beast' and that the point where their fighters can go out and test the market is going to happen with everyone from Pat Curran, to the Pitbull brothers, to Askren. So, more or less, the UFC is going to have an opportunity to grab all of their best fighters...in particular, any of their champions that climb high into the rankings or a state of relevancy...the UFC will eventually get their chance to snatch them up.
You have to think that Lombard layed the ideal blueprint for any fighter coming into Bellator. His first fight was in April of 09, he won the MW title at the culmination of that tournament in June of 09. He signed an extension on his contract in late 2010 and roughly 3 years after his first fight, he was free to get an offer from the UFC.
So there it is, if you are good enough to win the title and go unbeaten in the promotion for roughly 3 years...which is no small feat, then you'll have the ideal opportunity to jump ship and try and get a juicy deal from the UFC. Of course, Bellator has the power to match any offer you get...but for the time being the UFC has the power to offer a contract that is simply not within Bellator's capabalities or interests to match, IF the UFC is truly interested in getting you as a fighter.
This presents Bellator with a bit of a Catch-22. If you get a dominant champion who goes on a great tear in your promotion, becomes a big name, and climbs high in the rankings...as soon as his contract is up, the UFC will probably deem it worth it to offer them a contract. A contract that you very well might not be able to match, and you lose your star. But if you have a revolving door of champions, nobody going on any kind of tear...you keep all of your guys, will likely be able to match any offers from competitors...but you run the risk of nobody standing out as relevant and not exactly building any stars.
It's an interesting predicament that Bellator has kind of resigned themselves to. Almost a feeder league at the higher level, it may become a matter of fans waiting for Bellator's exciting champions to fulfill their contract and move to the UFC. I can't imagine Konrad, Askren, Chandler, Curran, or Dantas reaching the end of their contracts as champions and being interested in anything other than moving to the bigger contracts and opportunities of the UFC. At that point, I'm also quite sure the UFC would be willing to oblige them.