Facing delay, Bellator looks to place champs elsewhere
Following the delay of its second season, Bellator Fighting Championships is trying to secure a fight for each of its four champions "in different markets around the world" before the start of 2010, CEO Bjorn Rebney informed MMAWeekly.com on Wednesday.
Rebney said he was open to any promotion that offered "the right opportunity," though he anticipated the champions -- featherweight Joe Soto, lightweight Eddie Alvarez, welterweight Lyman Good, and middleweight Hector Lombard -- would fight above their natural class if they moonlighted elsewhere.
"In all likelihood, they will fight in bouts analogous to what Anderson Silva or B.J. Penn would do, fighting outside their weight in a non-title fight, challenging themselves," said Rebney.
Last month, word leaked that the promotion was pushing back the expected start date of its second season from October to the first quarter of 2010. Rebney says the scheduling of venues for the promotion's 12 consecutive events was to blame.
"Everybody asks me what is the one thing that you wish you could change about last season, and that is, I wish I could have more time," he said. "From a venue procurement perspective, we had two or three episodes last season where the venue came together very late. While I'd like to kick off sooner, I'd much rather kick off and have every venue done and be able to pre-promote every venue for 60 days minimum."
The promotion's first season, broadcast on ESPN Deportes in English and Spanish, attracted a respectable viewership for an inaugural effort, with a 0.5 average rating. Aided by a viral video campaign that featured stunning highlights from tournament action, Bellator created buzz on a budget.
Dan Lambert, manager of middleweight champion Hector Lombard, said he and his fighter were not happy with the recent development, but would give the promotion a chance.
"Hector's asking for Strikeforce to get him in with Mousasi," he said. "He wants (the rematch) bad. They did pay him well for his tournament win, so we want to respect them and try to do right by them, but they've got to do right by us too," said Lambert. "I'm letting them see what works for them and see if it works for us, and hopefully we'll find some common ground. If we don't, then we're gonna have to take it to the next level of conversation."
Lambert said Bellator was "very flexible" with non-champion fighters who wished to pick up a fight before the next tournament.
Bellator's next season focuses on a "challenger series" to groom the next contenders to the champions from season one. An announcement of a new television partner was expected over the summer. Rebney on Wednesday said Bellator's new partners were secured, but declined to name the platform, despite concerns the company needed sufficient time to get sponsors for the new season.
"I'm like the kid in the back seat of the car saying, 'are we there yet?'" he said.
In exchange for allowing Bellator champions a one-off in another promotion, Rebney is offering tournament spots to their standout fighters in season two.
"We're trying to figure out how to bring over one of these spectacular names that hasn't yet fought here, but the endemic market fans are hugely interested in seeing," he said. "That's the dynamic that we're going through: can we make that happen? Of course, other organizations like the concept of the reach we have moving forward as well. It expands the brand equity that they've got in a fighter like that.
"Some of the conversations have been hugely positive and some haven't. But at least we're exploring it."