MMA Fighting's Luke Thomas has the details:
"I've felt very strongly for the last year or more that I think we have the best lightweight in MMA in Bellator," Rebney told MMA Fighting. "His name is Michael Chandler. Look, Michael, both inside and outside the cage, represents this company and MMA in a great light. He had a long time left on his existing deal, but I just felt like, you know what, he's elevated himself to a completely new level. I'm to reward what he's done and make sure Mike is part of the Bellator family for a lot of years.
"It's eight-fight. It's multi-year. We've got a lot of big plans. What we're doing with Michael inside the cage and what you'll see kicking off a week from tonight is just the start of it. There's a lot of other pieces to the equation."
The deal has two emphases. First, keep Chandler as competitively active as possible, even every season if the possibility exists. "We want him fighting all the time," Rebney explained. "The best example of who Michael Chandler is and what he means to this organization is what he does inside that cage, which is really kind of Jordan-esque in terms of what he's accomplishing."
Making his Bellator debut back in Sept. 2010 against Scott Stapp, Chandler went on a tear of the lightweight division before finally unseating former champion Eddie Alvarez for the title in Nov. 2011. Chandler will make only his second title defense when he faces David Rickels next week at Bellator 97. Chandler's new contract also allows for side projects, including opportunities in the entertainment industry.
The second aim of the deal is to incorporate the champion in heavy advertising rotation and Viacom-platform cross pollination. "I think you can look at kind of where we spent our advertising dollars last year. As we kicked off on Spike, Michael was really front and center on a lot of what we did from a print and television perspective," said Rebney.
"I think you will see a different evolution. Michael's in a unique spot in that he, from a brand building perspective and an establishment perspective, he is coming into his own right now," he continued. "We're already getting calls from people who have never called Bellator before that are part of the Viacom family, saying, 'Hey, how do we get him over here? What can we do with him?'"
Rebney is quick to note, however, that while Chandler's new contract takes advantage of exposure from various Viacom properties, this is "something unique on it's own" and not a facsimile of Quinton Jackson's arrangement. Rebney declined to name any specific campaigns Chandler would be a part of, but said to expect the champion's presence more forcefully on television and in print in the coming seasons. He also points to Chandler's previous points of exposure - "the national Dave and Busters advertising campaign, the Bellator app, red carpet appearances" - as a path forward "but now it's going to be taken to the next level."
Thomas plays Devil's advocate regarding many fans' desire to see Chandler compete for a higher tier promotion. The new deal all but locks up Chandler for the foreseeable future.
"I'm getting better every single day. I'm very happy with Bellator. Bellator is very happy with me. We've come to a long-term agreement. I think by me signing this agreement I am showing the faith [fans and critics] need to have in Bellator," Chandler said. "For me, I don't make the rankings. I don't really look at the rankings that much, but I'm ranked up there in the top 5, top 3. I've gotten that far and there's no doubt in my mind, if I just continue to put on great performances and put on dominant performances my ranking and my prowess is going to speak for itself."
Rebney suggests when it comes to facing Chandler, the onus is on challengers to face him in Bellator, not for Chandler to step into their territory. "If people want to fight the best lightweight in the world," Rebney said, "I would ask people to take a close, hard look at the situation and realize that he's fighting in Bellator."
Chandler seems to echo Rebney's plans for his future.
"Obviously they got me to where I am, widely being considered top 5, top 3 in the world right now," Chandler argued. "Everything is going well. We have a great relationship, a great working relationship. Everybody works hard and I love hard work because that's what I surround my life around. They've been working hard, especially with the new Viacom deal. The opportunities that we're going to have is great. I just want to continue to grow with them."