HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney knows the score. In 2013, if a mixed martial artist wants to fight in North America and make a living, the choices are either Zuffa or his company.
But with scores of fighters, including several big names, likely to hit the market after the demise of Strikeforce, Rebney has made it clear he’s not going to be the walking ATM so many of his now-out-of-business predecessors once made themselves.
Speaking to reporters at Tuesday’s open workouts for Thursday’s Spike TV debut show in nearby Irvine, Rebney said Bellator has gotten as far as it has through strict adherence to a business model, which could spell bad news for former UFC champions like Josh Barnett and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and their hopes for one last, big contract.
“We’ve never looked to get in a bidding war with someone if it didn’t make sense,” Rebney said. “We’ve always, the business model has been what’s driven the decision making. We’ve never been, ‘I bet if we did this and I bet if we did that we can conceptually do this.’ It was based on real models, Excel spreadsheets and figuring out, how do we turn this into a profit center for the company or at least a cash flow break even that could build to something. That philosophy is not going to change.”
Barnett, the former UFC heavyweight champion, has played the contractual game as well as any fighter in the business. But Barnett’s deals often haven’t worked out so well for the promoters. On Saturday, Barnett earned $ 260,000 for his main-card fight with Nandor Guelmino. The show itself did a paid gate of $ 132,905.
Rebney didn’t get Bellator this far by paying a single fighter twice as much money as the evening gate. So Barnett and Strikeforce fighters who didn’t sign UFC deals may need to look elsewhere.
“I think you can count on the fact the guys who the UFC can monetize, who are draws, they will sign quickly,” Rebney said. “Then the guys who haven’t gotten there yet or who have had their day, they’re going to let go. And we’ll look, just like we look when a guy’s contract comes up and see who conceptually we could sign, if it makes sense in our format. Our format’s tough. There’s no big getting to the end goal in our [tournament] format. There’s no ‘Kimbo Slice has a superfight’, if you’re not good enough to compete you’re going to get blown out in the first or second round.
“Our focus right now is the next three months, Rebney continued. “Everything we’re doing right now is focused on that. [Barnett] hasn’t been a topic of conversation in our meetings with the staff. Josh is a great character and he’s had some great fights, but its not really on our radar.”
As for “Rampage,” Rebney indicated a fondness for the former light heavyweight champion and wouldn’t rule out the notion of a potential signing if Jackson decides to test free agency waters after the final fight of his UFC contract on Jan. 26. But Rebney said the big question is whether Jackson has enough left in the tank to make a go under Bellator’s format.
“I used to watch ‘Rampage’ when he fought in Pride,” Rebney said. “That’s a tough question. He’s an awesome, awesome fighter, and an incredible personality, and I’ve been a fan for a lot of years. How he could conceptually fit within the format and the structure we have? That is something where I would have to get people smarter than I around the table and discuss. I don’t think he’d deny he’s at the latter stages of his career. He’s suffered a lot of injuries but he’s still a rock star at a very high level, and we’ll see what happens with his next fight. But we’ll still have to sit around and figure out where he fits. He’s exciting, he’s entertaining, but, that would be one of those square peg, round hole situations, but sometimes you can make those work. It would depend on a lot of stuff. It would depend on the legalities of where he is with the UFC. … We’ll see. Who knows.”
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