Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is fighting mad.
You see, for the past seven months his company has been embroiled in a contract dispute with its former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. Now any promoter worth his salt would be angry when an ingrate like Alvarez refused to sign a completely kosher contract extension after all the opportunities Bellator had given him in good faith over the years - from putting him on ultra-high profile television platforms like ESPN Deportes, Fox Sports Net, and MTV2 to paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars and a $150,000 signing bonus - but Rebney is enough of a pro that for the most part he hasn't let his feelings regarding Alvarez show when speaking about him to the media.
But then Alvarez had to go and drag the good names of Viacom, Kevin Kay, and Spike TV through the mud. That was the last straw.
"It bothers me," Rebney said in an interview with MMAFighting.com's Luke Thomas, "For as hard as this company works, and as much as Spike has meant to mixed martial arts and mixed martial artists, and providing the revenue, the ability and the platform for so many fighters to earn a great living in this space - for Ed to make the kind of statements he's been making about Bellator, Spike, and Viacom, is offensive."
One can understand how Alvarez got Rebney's dander up when he showed the unmitigated gall to make the downright slanderous and difficult to believe claim the majority owners of Bellator were ultimately the ones calling the shots in his contract dispute. After all, this is a television conglomerate that has, in Rebney's words, "done an amazing, amazing job of contributing hundreds of millions of dollars into this great sport." Who is Eddie Alvarez to disrespect the company that was generous enough to allow the UFC to pay them 10 million dollars to air the first season of The Ultimate Fighter back in 2005?
While we're at it, where does Alvarez get off saying Bellator failed to match the deal offered to him by the UFC? Not only is a cable channel like Spike TV obviously a comparable platform to a major network like FOX, but think of all the money Alvarez stands to make on pay per view against Michael Chandler given Bellator's generous matching of the pay per view percentage bonus the UFC guaranteed him. Alvarez is all bummed he missed out on the $1.35 million he would have earned by fighting on a card headlined by George St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz, but c'mon, everyone who understands MMA knows that with Spike's second to none promotional machine behind it Bellator's debut PPV would easily match the the 900,000 buys UFC 157 did. Man, I tells ya, the nerve of some people.
If you found yourself nodding along to the above paragraphs, then congratulations: you're likely either a wealthy executive or a high powered corporate lawyer. In either case, it's obvious why Rebney and Viacom would have your sympathies in their contract dispute with Alvarez.
For the rest of us, Bellator's case against Alvarez, not to mention Rebney's rather self-aggrandizing tone in his interview with MMAFighting, comes across like a case of the big guy throwing his weight around and unnecessarily messing with the little guy.
Rebney can claim 'till he's blue in the face that Bellator matched the terms of the UFC's offer to Alvarez, but anyone with a semi-functioning b.s. detector knows Bellator's side of this story reeks to high heaven like the inside of a livestock barn in the broiling July heat. Not only is Rebney's assertion Spike TV offers a similar degree of exposure as a powerhouse network like FOX specious at best, but his insistence Bellator offered Alvarez the same PPV percentage points as the UFC smacks of outright chicanery.
First off, the highest grossing non-Zuffa produced MMA PPV of all time is Affliction: Banned, which did a paltry 100,000 buys -- less than any UFC show in the post TUF-era. Since the contracts offered by both Bellator and the UFC guaranteed Alvarez a cut of the PPV pie for every buy over 200,000 -- a mark the UFC generally exceeds with all but its weakest shows -- Bellator's theoretical debut PPV offering would have to more than double what the most successful non-UFC PPV did in order for Alvarez to even see a cent of his bonus.
But that's not even the worst part: the amount of money Bellator cost Alvarez by duplicitously claiming they had matched the UFC's contract isn't a theoretical bit of conjecture up for debate anymore. We know for a fact Alvarez would have made at least $1.35 million if he had fought on the UFC 157 card as Zuffa originally offered him, since that show came in at 900,000 buys.
Given the glaring nature of these facts, even a nearsighted third grader who forgot her glasses at home could see Alvarez lost out on a life changing amount of money due to Bellator's legal slight of hand.
Which is what makes statements like this one Rebney gave to MMAFighting.com so hard to sympathize with:
"When you sign a contract with an organization like ours, or any of the other top organizations, of which there is only one, the UFC - the expectation is that you're going to honor that contract," Rebney said. "We didn't get into this industry nor are we in this industry to be a developmental program for anybody. We didn't get into it to be a stepping stone. We got into it to be the #1 mixed martial arts organization in the world. And in 4 years, we've gone from being #6 to #2. The intent was never to be #2."
In other words, Alvarez is right on the money when he characterizes this dispute as, ahem, "a big dick swinging contest between two big companies."
Rebney and Bellator may be dead set against setting the precedent that fighters can use whatever exposure they get from fighting in Bellator as a launching pad to the UFC, but in the process of the legal battle with Alvarez they are inadvertently setting another precedent that may come back to haunt them. What fighter with UFC aspirations wouldn't think twice about signing with Bellator after seeing the underhanded way they handled Alvarez's contract? Throw in stories of malfeasance on Bellator's part surfacing in the wake of the Alvarez case involving fighters like Zach Makovsky and Anthony Leone -- not to mention Tyson Nam's contract dispute with Bellator last year -- and you get a promotion that is, deservedly or not, developing a reputation for screwing their fighters.
That's far from the only PR blunder Bellator is committing though. Part of building your brand when you're a #2 promotion attempting to compete with an entrenched and dominant #1 is establishing a bond with fans and giving them a reason to get behind your company. Unfortunately for Bellator, most regular people are going to find Alvarez a much more sympathetic figure in this legal battle than an indignant CEO like Rebney and a multinational corporation like Viacom.
It's definitely within the realm of possibility a jury could rule in Bellator's favor in this case, but even if they do it may end up a Pyrrhic victory for them if the prevalent narrative coming out of the trial is how those in charge of the promotion are a bunch of conniving suits who won't hesitate to stab their talent in the back as long as it helps them keep up the illusion they're on the UFC's level.
And that's the rub in all this: if Bellator really are gunning for the UFC's #1 spot in the MMA industry, one wonders how they plan to get there if they end up burning bridges with fans and fighters alike thanks to the slash and burn approach they're taking with Eddie Alvarez?