Bjorn Rebney is doing some bold talking in the aftermath of the somewhat shocking news that Gilbert Melendez, the ex-Strikeforce champ and the #3 Lightweight in the UFC, had elected to sign with Bellator. Keep in mind that the UFC can still match the offer and retain Melendez' services, but it's clear that there is a new landscape for free agents in MMA.
Dave Meltzer talked to Rebney and got the scoop:
"We're gong to continue to sign the best fighters, whether they are from a favela in Brazil, the frozen tundra of Siberia, or they are fighting in the UFC," he said. "That's the mission. The fighters are the ones fueling pay-per-view buys or fueling cable television ratings. You're not fueling ratings by promoting Bjorn or Bellator. Promoting the fighters should be first and foremost.
"We're going after everybody, more-and-more often. I think there's a bigger picture issue. The biggest thing is there are two major players in MMA. It's far and away better for the fighters. When a fighter has one option, he has no power at the negotiating table. But when he has two options, the fighter has all the negotiating power. That's actually counter intuitive, coming from the CEO of a fight company. But that's the truth. And my checkbook may take a shot because of it. But if the fighters can earn what they feel they deserve, overall we and the sport will be in a better place. You're going to see much more of this as we move forward, guys coming from the smallest regions where we find undiscovered talent, to the superstars from the UFC and other guys we find in the United States.
"I can't be too specific (about the Melendez deal)," said Rebney. "But it includes on-air opportunities, entertainment opportunities behind-the-scenes, some marketing opportunities, really, the whole genesis is Gil-specific. The key to the deal is building the Gilbert Melendez brand, not the Bellator brand or the Bjorn Rebney brand. The fighter's brand is what's important. The focus was on talking to Gil and his team. How do we leverage all the different resources to build the `El Nino' brand, and that's what got us all on the same side of the table to put this structure together."
In my last post I made some comment about the UFC promising to deliver all the fights the fans wanted to see when they bought Strikeforce and having failed on that promise. Several of you objected and asked what fights we didn't get to see. My response is simple: the UFC bought Strikeforce in March of 2011, Gilbert Melendez didn't debut in the Octagon until 2013.
That's two years worth of the best vs. the best we didn't get to see. Not that I didn't enjoy Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal or the rubber match with Josh Thomson, but I'd much rather have seen Gilbert against Anthony Pettis, B.J. Penn, T.J. Grant, or event FW champ Jose Aldo. Also they had plenty of time while he was under contract to book him against Khabib Nurmagomedov and didn't manage to do it.
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