Today was about Bellator. There was some UFC news scattered throughout the day, but the news was dominated by Bellator and the change in leadership. So let's make sure we reflect that as we run down the three most interesting stories of the day in mixed martial arts.
1. Bjorn Rebney out as Bellator CEO
The morning got off to an interesting start with reports that the long rumored--as in, rumored for the better part of a year--replacement of Bjorn Rebney as Bellator CEO was coming.
Rebney was unpopular at Viacom, the company to whom he sold majority interest in Bellator in 2011. Phase one was Rebney's contract to run out, and phase two was someone the promotion was interested in becoming available as a replacement. Both situations were complete and this allowed the promotion to move forward with their plans.
It's unclear what the actual issues were that made Rebney so unpopular. It appears that Viacom wanted to get away from the tournament format, recent changes were announced that seemed to be Rebney trying to edge in that direction without completely abandoning it with the fact that all tournament winners were forever eligible for title fights. But, the "evolution" away from the tournament format was one of the few things mentioned when Rebney's replacement was announced.
It's possible (and this is only a theory) that Viacom felt bigger fights were being left on the sidelines in favor of tournaments and Rebney was holding firm to the format that differentiated Bellator from any other promotion on the planet.
Either way, the move was made and that meant it was time for...
2. Scott Coker is in as Bellator CEO
As noted, in the short press release from Spike TV, two things were made clear. 1) Coker, the former Strikeforce CEO, was filling Rebney's old position and 2) there is an "evolution" coming that edges away from tournaments.
Coker is well liked and well respected in the MMA game, that's a good start. His prior relationships may make Bellator an attractive destination for former Strikeforce fighters. And maybe Viacom is willing to put even more monetary muscle behind the promotion now that they have "their guy" running the show.
There is still some reason for concern, however.
If the plan is for Bellator to try to compete with the UFC by aping the UFC style of "best fighting best" with no extra flash, I don't know how successful they could be. I've talked about it at length in the past, but Bellator is limited in how big of a star they can create on their own. Without other top ten fighters to pit fighters against, it's hard to establish a true sense that a fighter is legitimately "great."
The tournament format, for all its faults, did provide some sort of structured progression.
Coker claims that he'll build the roster, there was a lot of talk on the conference call that they were no longer going to let any big fights get away from them. If it's big, it'll happen.
But how many fighters and fights are there that can have that sense of "importance" in the promotion right now?
For as many issues as I had with Rebney and the way he ran the company, one of his greatest accomplishments was taking a "doomed to fail" Bellator PPV event and cashing in over 100,000 buys (a number repeated by Spike TV president Kevin Kay earlier).
Changing direction carries some big risks.
3. Other notes from the Bellator conference call
There were a lot of unanswered questions heading into the Bellator media call, and almost as many during.
Certain questions were given a "get back to me" by Coker, others were simply not answered (such as Ariel Helwani asking if Scott Coker bought into the promotion with his new position).
Also not answered was what the promotion intends to do with the fighters who had already won a tournament and were waiting for a title fight. The impression I got was that they aren't going to put a "non-money fighter" in a title fight as that goes away from the "evolution" toward a more TV friendly product.