Confession: I've been an MMA fan for ten years. Nowadays that's a pretty safe confession, but back then many people would look at you with a cock-eyed glance upon the revelation that you watched and paid for events that cast a spotlight on human beings beating the crap out of each other. I loved it so much that I started training, intent on taking a small part in this great sport. I parlayed my high school wrestling experience with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo and became a fairly talented grappler until my knees gave out on me. I digress, though; the point I'm trying to make is that I've been around for a bit and at one time in my life I was quite invested in the sport. In all of that time, I haven't come across the amount of misplaced vitriol that some people have for Bellator, and especially for its CEO, Bjorn Rebney.
Grievances I understand. The champions have to sit on the shelf for an inordinate amount of time waiting for the tournament to crown a challenger. There have been contractual snafus. Some may say that Bellator and Rebney stonewalled Eddie Alvarez until he re-signed with the promotion. But you know what? These grievances are all relatively paltry and none are worthy of unabashed scorn. There has been no Yakuza scandals, there has been no forcing fighters to sign away their digital rights for perpetuity, there has been no throwing fights or cooking books. Those who want to blame Bellator for stonewalling Alvarez's career are keen to forget the UFC's situation with Randy Couture years ago (which happened more than once). The sad fact of business is that while building or maintaining a company toes often get stepped on and sometimes broken. That being said, here's a strange thing that is often glossed over: many fighters actually enjoy working for Bellator just as many fighters enjoy working for the UFC. Here's another fact: Bellator puts out a consistent, quality product. It seems that there are some that are actually rooting for this product to fail. To those who share that opinion I have this to say: calm down and stop being a damn child. More quality MMA is not a bad thing and it will never be a bad thing.
Moving on to Rebney himself, I find the way he presents himself as the frontman of a company infinitely more preferable to Dana White's modus operandus. He is never brash, but reserved. Instead of liberally spouting four letter words while acting as a public face of a company, he chooses what he's going to say carefully. He doesn't insult fans over Twitter, but rather treats them respectfully. As far as I know, he has never called a female journalist a "bitch" and has never publicly used a homophobic slur. Yet the amount of antipathy that the mere mention of his name produces is astounding. When I try to find out the problem people have with him I generally run into a few things:
- He gives off a douchey vibe. Often this is extrapolated into derivative nonsense that clusters back into an equivocating miasma of douche-vibey-ness. This is not a real reason.
- He gives off a slick vibe. He's lawyerly, and is using his slickness to profit off of MMA, a sport he doesn't even care about. First, there is no evidence that he doesn't care about MMA. Just because he isn't as overtly passionate as Dana means very little. The man took out a second and third mortgage to help give Bellator a cash flow, so I would say that is indicative of him caring quite a bit. Second, even if this is the case, I don't care and neither should you. There is nothing wrong with profiting off a quality product, which Bellator is.
- He is personally responsible for the aforementioned contractual snafus and will screw over anyone for a quick buck. Finally, something that isn't a complete ad hominem attack. However, business is nuanced, unlike this opinion. Bjorn is not the same as Bellator. Bellator is a company beholden to its financial backers to profit. It's also trying to become the top MMA organization in the world. As such, It will pursue its incentives aggressively. This is not unique or special and should not be treated with a unique or special amount of hate. In addition, most of the dealings were behind closed doors, so we aren't privy to the whole of each situation. Things can go ugly, but I have seen little evidence of Bjorn himself acting maliciously.
- Some vague occurrence involving a dog. Trying to ascertain exactly what this was about, I have managed to glean about a thimbleful of actual information that isn't simply hearsay. The whole thing is so nebulous that it would be disingenuous to reach any conclusions whatsoever.
Yes, both Bjorn and Bellator have made missteps. Nothing, though, that warrants the screeds that the subject typically inspires. I'm forced to conclude that a large chunk of this malice can simply be attributed to herd mentality. So the next time you are inclined to go on a rant about either Bellator or Bjorn, ask yourself one question: do I really feel this way or is it just because it's the thing to do?