Loretta Hunt of Sports Illustrated recently interviewed Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez to discuss a slew of topics. One that definitely sticks out is the champion's view on the current state of the MMA market domestically. It seems that with the UFC purchasing organizations left and right, the champion got a bit antsy. So much so that he approached Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney about potentially buying into the company. It wasn't for any reason other than an investment opportunity, one that could pay off had a buy out occured. Now, a year late, the champion revisited his reasoning with Loretta saying:
Originally, when the UFC purchased Strikeforce (last March), I got very on edge. I called (Bellator owner) Bjorn Rebney to ask him if there was any possible way that I could buy stake in Bellator. The way (the UFC) was buying up promotions like that, I didn't want them to come in on Bellator without me being able to capitalize on it.
Turns out Rebney was open to the idea. It would guarantee that his champion would never leave for the greener pastures that exist under the Zuffa umbrella, and it would bring in additional capital. Unfortunately, the follow up talks never happened and Alvarez never bought into the company.
Fate it seemed had a bigger plan. When the UFC announced they had signed a seven-year network broadcast deal with Fox, everyone knew that Bellator would likely be transitioned over to Spike TV. The Viacom owned companies in MTV2 and Spike TV had already begun making preparations for the eventual move airing commercials for other Spike-owned television properties and television events. They even began to air the Bellator preliminary fights on Spike.com.
Last week Viacom and Bellator finally announced that the parent company of MTV, MTV2, and Spike had purchased a majority share of the fighting organization. It's a best case scenario for both. Bellator is ensured a broadcast partner that has been in the MMA business since 2005 when they aired The Ultimate Fighter. Alvarez is excited because with Spike's experience, he only sees ways they can improve the Bellator product:
Spike knows what it takes. They know the UFC's production value. They know the UFC's game plan. They're probably going to follow the formula that the UFC does and just tweak it because Bellator has its own flavor with the tournaments. I'd imagine they'll try to create a product that is similar in value when you turn on the TV, but the tournament structure will make it different.
He definitely has a point. The UFC and Spike TV were intertwined for the greater part of a decade with the deal not fully over until 2013 when Spike loses rights to the UFC's video library. If there is any singular entity that knows the Zuffa product it would the production team at Spike. There are concerns regarding the Viacom/Bellator deal. As long as Spike has access to the UFC's video library, no other organization can air their product on the network. It means that Bellator will be left to flounder on the rarely watched MTV2.
Perhaps it is a case of wearing "rosey lensed glasses" but the champion can't see any negatives to the Viacom/Bellator deal. It makes sense as he is looking at the situation from a fighter's point of view. For him it comes down to familiarity. Once more fans have access to the Bellator product, they will accept that the fighters are as elite as their peers in the UFC and Strikefoce. As he explains to Hunt:
You're going to see, and mark my words, I'm going to say it now. Spike TV is behind Bellator now. Watch how good Hector Lombard becomes. Watch how good I become. Watch how good Zach Makovsky becomes overnight as soon they start promoting us. Look how excellent of fighters we become. The reality is I'm not any better today than I am tomorrow. It's just more people will know.
It is an interesting point of view as there are plenty of top fighters around the world outside of the Zuffa-owned organizations. The champion is correct that once fans become familiar with a fighter, it is easier to accept that they are considered "elite" in the sport. It is a sentiment that is shared by Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky who echoed this very point to me when I interviewed him earlier this month.
However, speaking as a member of the MMA Nation/USA Today rankings panel, my reasoning for not ranking a Bellator champion higher than UFC title contenders is due to the belief that the level competition that the organization brings in for their "super fights" is exponentially lower than what a champion in the UFC or Strikeforce will face.
In the end, I'll concede that the fighters will benefit from this Viacom deal. It ensures that they have another option outside of Zuffa and that's what really matters at the end of the day. It will attract top-tiered talent from the UFC which will only raise the level of the product that fans will receive. That's the most important part. And it's good that Eddie Alvarez views this the very same way.
There are no losers with Viacom buying Bellator. It's literally a win-win situation for everyone, including the UFC who will benefit from a real sense of competition in the market. It will force them to produce an even better product and promote even better card for fear that they could lose a foothold in the market place. It's what fans have been begging for and it's what fans will finally receive.