Bellator Fighting Championships have made recent headlines in the MMA world, but for all the wrong reasons. In the span of three weeks, stories have emerged regarding two fighters that were cut by Bellator, only to have been presented with the threat of legal action for trying to fight elsewhere.
Today, the UFC announced that Roger Hollett has been rebooked for UFC 152 against Matt Hamill after Vladimir Matyushenko suffered a torn achilles tendon. Eyebrows were immediately raised, because the assumption had been made that Hollett had been pulled from the event due to an injury. This proved to be false, as Ariel Helwani reported earlier today at MMA Fighting.
According to Hollett's manager Stan Durst, Bellator released Hollett earlier this year after he won one fight in their organization last November. However, after the UFC announced that Hollett had verbally agreed to make his UFC debut against Hamill on Sept. 22, Bellator claimed it had the right to match the UFC's contract offer and Hollett would be in breach of contract if he took the fight.
According to UFC officials, Hollett and his management team, who did not believe Bellator had the right to match other offers after the release, were given time to sort out the situation, but once it dragged, the promotion decided against officially signing Hollett and booked Matyushenko vs. Hamill. The day after Matyushenko vs. Hamill was announced for UFC 152, a Bellator lawyer informed Durst that they were not going to match the UFC's offer to Hollett and he was free to sign with them. Unfortunately for Hollett, it was too late, and it appeared as though his chance of fighting in the UFC, at least for now, had passed him by.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney had this to say:
In every one of our promotional agreements, we have what are called 'matching rights,' which means when we sign a fighter to a long-term agreement, when that agreement ends, we have the right to 'match' any offer that fighter might get from another promotion. This is no different from what the UFC and other promotions have in their promotional agreements. In Roger’s case we decided not to match and to allow him to fight elsewhere.
There is some key language that Rebney uses here that enables him to avoid the real issue at hand. He talks about the matching period, which is standard language in most MMA contracts. What he fails to address, however, is why the company is attempting to enforce that on fighters they voluntarily RELEASED. In order for fair business practices to exist, contracts need to be applicable in both directions. When Bellator decides that they no longer choose to meet their end of the agreement, for whatever reason, it is patently absurd that they can then use the same contract that they broke as leverage to keep fighters from advancing their careers.
Keep reading after the jump for more about Bellator's contract issues
At Shooto Brazil 33, Eduardo Dantas, the Bellator BW champion, was defeated in a stunning upset by relative unknown fighter Tyson Nam. This fight took place because Bellator had language in Dantas' contract enabling him to fight outside of Bellator, as long as it was outside of the United States. Bellator's executives had to have been kicking themselves at this point, because they had Nam under contract previously, but had released him after reneging twice on fights they had offered him.
At this point, the thing to do would be to try and rebuild the fallen champion's image, unless you are Bellator. Instead, they immediately threatened Nam with legal action, covered by Bloody Elbow's Chris Hall here, in an attempt to get him into their next bantamweight tournament. They once again wanted to invoke the "matching period" that exists post contract.
Keep in mind that Tyson Nam NEVER stepped into the Bellator cage. He tried to, mind you, but had the opportunity to fight on the bigger stage yanked out from under him. To further rub salt into the wound, after pulling Nam out of the season 7 bantamweight tournament, they released him from his contract. To sum up: He never fought for Bellator, and they twice offered him fights only to rescind the opportunities.
After his victory against their own BW champion, Bellator used the contract that they never, at any point honored, as leverage to try and force the now higher profile Nam to fight in their next tournament. Whether this will hold up in a court of law remains to be seen, but right now Tyson Nam is stuck in limbo. If he fights elsewhere he gets sued, or he can fight for a company that has disrespected him and treated him like a piece of property.
I am not a lawyer, and I have a very limited understanding at best in contract law. This piece is being written from the layman's position of one fan, and I am more using a common sense approach than a legal one in the following statement.
What Bellator is doing is wrong. I don't care if they think it is in their best business interests or not. Signing a guy to a contract, breaking the contract, and then attempting to use said contract in your favor is reprehensible, all legality aside. If there is a legal loophole there, then shame on Bellator for exploiting it. These are athletes trying to making a living in a still young sport, and disrespecting them in this fashion puts a black eye on the whole industry.
Let me make one point perfectly clear. I understand that businesses are going to act in their best interest. But when those actions extend to taking away opportunities from fighters that they have released, then a line has been crossed. If you still want them, don't cut them. It is really that simple. You don't get the benefit of hindsight after you fire someone to just change your mind. These are athletes trying to make a living, NOT YOUR PROPERTY.
Got an opinion on this? Let's hear it in the comments.