Bellator’s struggles with declining numbers has been no secret, but when you combine them with questionable decisions regarding the promotion of aging fighters over their homegrown talent still in their prime, problems with fighters making weight and slow fight schedules, the Viacom-headed company’s aura dims significantly. Rumors involving the phrase “hemorrhaging money” also run rampant, making their future seem bleak.
The athletes don’t have their heads buried in the sand, either...at least some of them don’t. Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald expressed disappointment with their “scattered” organization and worried they would keep him on the shelf for too long. MacDonald is not alone in those concerns.
In a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire discusses his concerns about declining numbers, promoting aging legends over fighters in their prime, slow fight schedules, the organization’s propensity to make quick catchweight fights, athlete expenses, financial burdens and more.
Stephie Haynes: You and Chandler have had ongoing beef for quite some time. How do you feel about him getting the Primus fight after calling you out so much on social media?
Patricio Pitbull: Chandler used to call me and my brother out even before his second fight with Patricky. Since that happened, Bellator could’ve made us fight a few times already and didn’t. He’s now had another chance to push for it to happen, but backed out mid-speech on his last post-fight interview, then later signed to fight [Brent] Primus. Perhaps he thought of the beating he’d take and decided on what he thinks is a safer route.
I thought it was a terrible move by Bellator. What if he loses to Primus again in a more clear fashion? You just lost one of the biggest fights you could have made in company history.
And there were so many things they could explore with Patricky going for the title while I’m champion, and then a third fight with Chandler, even with me beating him, as they have a history. Or if things went wrong for us, Chandler-Primus would be bigger.
They could have several possibilities in their hands and the build up would guarantee any of them would do great ratings, but they chose the worst possible option.
Reminds me of when I asked to fight Joe Warren; we were both champions and I said I’d drop down to get a second belt. They didn’t do that, Warren lost in his first defense and that fight was gone forever.
Stephie Haynes: We recently saw a title fight bumped from the main event to co-main so they could showcase a heavyweight fight that didn’t have as much value to the sport as the title fight. What’s your take on Bellator’s propensity to let “real fights” take a backseat to freakshow matches?
Patricio Pitbull: I don’t like it. I’ve been through it before when I fought Weichel and I made it very clear. I understood their decision and the ratings were really very high, but there were different ways they could’ve handled that. They should use these fights to build us, not the other way around. Once these guys are gone, so are their numbers. If that promotional push was behind the fighters that are spending all of their prime years with the promotion instead of one-off fights, the ratings probably wouldn’t be dropping so much right now.
Stephie Haynes: We’re seeing fighters all across the sport having financial issues, particularly with getting their corners to events and getting their rooms covered, etc. How does that work for you? Does Bellator cover all your corners or just 1?
Patricio Pitbull: They give me two cornermen, two rooms and per diem money for three. As I’m always either in a championship fight or fighting on the main event, I get to have 4 cornermen, so the other two I bring out of my own pocket. Three of them stay in a room, one stays with me in the other room and I cover all their expenses.
Stephie Haynes: Weight-cutting is also an issue we see lots of fighters struggle with, but Bellator is very quick to make catchweight fights. Do you agree with that, or should they be more strict with their weigh-ins, as the UFC does, penalizing fighters that don’t make weight by giving 20% of their purse to their opponent, taking away opportunities for bonuses or dropping them off the card in some cases?
Patricio Pitbull: Depending on the fight, if there’s nothing on the line, I don’t have an issue with them doing catchweights or if they’re trying to stage fights between fighters from different weight classes. But you can’t build a contender if he’s always fighting above the limit of the belt you want him to fight for, so it should be defined on a case-by-case situation.
Stephie Haynes: Rory MacDonald pocketed a $100K purse at Bellator 192. Do you think the payscale for the non-UFC crossover guys is fair in that regard?
Patricio Pitbull: Rory makes much more than that, and I know that because he makes more than me and I make good money. I understand Bellator has to inflate some numbers so the UFC won’t match their offers and keep the fighters there. But at the same time, if you have that much money available, you should also be paying more to the ones who have been spending their prime years in the company.
Stephie Haynes: Bellator’s second show of the year posted some pretty bad viewer numbers (only 477K). Does it worry you that their numbers have been in a constant decline for the last two years?
Patricio Pitbull: It worries me a bit because at some point Viacom may think they’re not viable anymore and pull the plug, and it’d be bad for fighters overall. At the same time, I believe there’s a lot of things they should and could be doing that would improve that. My numbers are way above average, even with little promotion and facing the same guys over and over.
They really need to get better at that. On [Benson] Henderson’s debut event, it was all about him. I was the co-main and most people only got to know me when my interviews started to pop up close to the show. But when he fought me, our numbers were bigger than any of his other fights and events in Bellator. The one when I was his co-main was his second biggest event there. My brother’s was third, the Chandler one was the least watched.
My last fight with Straus, we did pretty good numbers and lots of people, even journalists, told me they hadn’t seen much promotion to that. Then a few months later you have Straus, Curran and a Caldwell-Dantas title fight in the same card and it does under 500k. What was the only common thing when Straus and Curran pulled big numbers? They were fighting me.
So, you’d figure they’d have those bringing big numbers constantly promoted and active, and put more effort into making those who don’t more known. I can only imagine what kinds of numbers me and my brother and other smaller fighters would put on if their efforts weren’t only on promoting Chandler. Specially since ratings shows I’m one of their top 10 draws and the ones above me are either legends or guys fighting above light heavyweight.
Stephie Haynes: How long is your contract for, or more specifically, how many fights do you have left on it, and do you think you’ll explore other options when your contract is over?
Patricio Pitbull: My contract has some conditional provisions, so we could be talking less than a year or more. I don’t know yet what I’ll do next, but there’re some things I’ll want to see from Bellator before I make my decision.
Stephie Haynes: Do you think Bellator fights you enough?
Patricio Pitbull: I don’t. If it was up to me, last year I’d have fought no later than August and then in December, and this year I’d be fighting three times again. But I still have no idea when I’m fighting next.
Stephie Haynes: You live in Brazil, but fight in the states. Could you lay out your expenses (trainers, sparring partners, gym fees, special food, equipment, travel for corners if required, etc) and how they stack up against a standard purse?
Patricio Pitbull: I don’t really want to be too specific about numbers, but let’s just say it’s a lot. I spend over 50% of my money with taxes, management, training and everything fight related. If we add day-to-day expenses, it’s much more.
Stephie Haynes: Are there any changes you’d like to see Bellator make this year?
Patricio Pitbull: Yes. Get me fights more often. Sign more talent. Stop protecting some fighters. Implement bonuses for finishes and exciting performances for all fighters like other promotions already do. Stop airing events on tape delay. Start promoting more the fighters and not just their favorites. Create more Bellator content on TV, have people know the fighters.