Bjorn Rebney Bellator President Interview
By: Zach Heim, RCM MMA Correspondent
I had the chance to speak with Bjorn Rebney, the president of Bellator MMA about the promotion, upcoming title fight, and future plans. It was a good conversation with a class act guy.
RCM: I first asked Bjorn what got him what type of background he had from the time he gradated from Ohio University until he founded Bellator MMA.
Bjorn: It’s a long story. I always knew I wanted to be in sports. I was a scholarship athlete playing football, got a masters in sports business, that I got a law degree. Did a lot of work in the sports industry, representing athletes as an agent, doing marketing for athletes, securing sponsorships doing marketing and securing corporate alliances with teams. Then really I fell in love with mma early long before there was any kind of big cross over before anybody from a general market prospective knew what it was. I found myself working in the boxing industry, I had a boxing promotional company, and I put a lot of shows on over an number on years on ESPN. I spent a lot of time in that industry, learning the ropes of the fight promotion. Just finally had put together enough money and had enough saving to where I could put all to build this company, and formed it. Went out and looked for financing and got it in 2009 launched on ESPN Deportees, and the rest is history. Over the last five years I have been able to build the second biggest mma organization on Earth. We put on over 110 shows and we are about to launch our biggest and most spectacular season yet on SPIKE. We are partners with SPIKE and Viacom. So it’s all worked out pretty well.
RCM: I then asked if he had any conversation with Tito Ortiz about his future and if he planned on coming back to fight.
Bjorn: Yeah Tito lives about 15 minutes away from my place so we have been talking pretty regularly. It’s really just a matter of insuring that he is 100% health and able to fight without endangering his health long term. He had a pretty serious injury; he has had neck problems in the past. He had a pretty serious injury with the fracture before the November 2nd fight with Rampage we had to cancel. Right now we are getting a series of medical test run to confirm what we hope will be a green light but it will be up to Tito if he wants to come back and fight. But right now we are just getting the medical test process done to make sure there isn’t an chance Tito could hurt himself in the future unnecessarily.
RCM: Is Randy Couture still involved with Bellator? If so he has come back several times for title shots would you consider bringing him back to face the winner of this next tournament?
Bjorn: Randy’s awesome one of my favorite fighters ever and really one of the best guys you could ever work with in mma. Randy’s involvement with us was strictly as a coach on the reality show on Fight Master. Our relationship with him was really just about being a coach on the reality show and lending his expertise and his knowledge of the space to the fighters on that show. I think he did a awesome job along with Greg Jackson, Frank, and Joe but that was really the limit of it. To my knowledge Randy is real happy having great staring roles in crazy fun movies like the Expendables and stuff like that. I don’t think he has any plans on making a comeback but he was sure awesome to work with on the Fight Master Show.
RCM: With the Fight Master, is there going to be a season two for that show?
Bjorn: We are still waiting to see. We produced what we think was a good show. It wasn’t the highest rated show in the world. It did higher then the current UFC TUF has done but it wasn’t the highest rated show for us. We are more of a live event promotion business, I think the essence of what we do and do really good is putting on those tournaments and putting on live events. That’s where our focus is right now but, who knows you can never say never we might end up getting back into that space at some point.
RCM: I asked Bjorn if it was his plan to run a straight tournament style organization.
Bjorn: That was my plan from the very beginning. I looked at the landscape of mma when I first got into this and there was Strikeforce, WEC, IFL, Bodog, Elite XC, Affliction and they all seemed to me to be poor man version of the UFC. We were like number seven in the space. Some of them had some good fighters but it was the same old same old. The one thing I always looked at when I looked at the UFC that didn’t make any since to me was it wasn’t pure sports compaction. Its guided run, by a concept called match making. Folks sit behind a desk in an office and decide who fights who for what and when. I just thought, I’m a big fan of sports compaction. I love watching March Madness, I love watching the NFL play offs, love the World Cup and they all work the same way. So my thought was if your going to form a sports organization you should have it be pure sports. You should have actual athlete performance dictate who gets a world title shot and who ends up being your champion. So that was my thought from the very beginning. We have made some deviations from it with the championship rematch clause but other then that the format holds true. Athletes should earn their shot at the world title. It should really be something you win by getting W’s not having the best smile or the best talker.
RCM: I then asked if Pat Curran had his upcoming title shot at Daniel Straus because of the championship rematch clause.
Bjorn: Yeah, exactly. I looked at the first Straus v Curran fight and Curran was able to knock Straus out, and in the second fight Straus was able to grind out a win against Curran. I looked at the possibility of doing a trilogy fight and I looked at the guy inline for a title shot was Pitbull. He had already fought five times over the last 11 months so it just seemed like a reasonable rematch to make so I made it.
RCM: I said to me it looked like even though Curran landed two illegal blows on Straus that Straus dominated the fight and seemed to get better the longer the fight went. I asked Bjorn what part of the he thought was close?
Bjorn: Sure you know it’s a weight and a balance. If you look Pat was ranked on most objective list most real list in the top two in the world for 18 months. He defended the title in spectacular fashion numerous times I thought he was incredibly talented he had a fight against Daniel in the past where he had knocked Daniel out so I just looked at all the different factors and looked at how busy Pitbull has been and thought, you know what I can delay Pitbull’s world title fight for three more months or so. Do this and see who the best between Straus and Curran is. So it seemed to make since, sometimes you have to make those decisions and not everybody is going to agree with them.
RCM: I then asked if they have any pay per view plans after they had to cancel the last on in November.
Bjorn: Yep, we are going to do Chandler v Alvarez 3, the trilogy fight with them. We will do it this spring.
RCM: Where do you see Bellator going in the next five years or so? Do you think you can catch up with or pass the UFC?
Bjorn: Look everybody that get into this space, this is a very competitive business. This business is very well suited for competitive people. I never got into this to build the number two mixed martial arts business in the world that was never the plan. The plan was always to be the number one and to take all the right strategic step to get there. We have been around for five years the UFC has been around for 20 plus years. We have made some unbelievable gains over the last year since we aligned with SPIKE. We have the best TV partner in the history of mixed martial arts in the history of combat sports. Our ratings are going spectacularly well beating the UFC on average on an event by event bases so we are in a good spot. We have some of the greatest fighters on the face of the Earth. I am excited where we are and we are going to just keep building. If we can experience growth anywhere close to what we have had over the last five we will be in a spectacular spot come 2019.
RCM: I asked about the partnerships with SPIKE and Viacom.
Bjorn: SPIKE is our exclusive domestic broadcast partner, every single show you see in the US is on SPIKE TV and they are the best partner you can hope to have. They are run by people who love the sport and understand the space, people that get it. They have been great partners to work with. Viacom owns a majority steak in our company. They bought a majority steak in my company a few years ago and they have been unbelievable partners. So I’m working with people who are lagitamently invested, people who not only want to build Bellator but build the sport of mixed martial arts.
It was great getting a chance to talk to Bjorn. Make sure you all watch this upcoming season with the Light Heavy Weight tournament to see is Rampage can live up to the expectations and win the whole thing. Also keep yours calendars marked for March 14th as Daniel Straus will face off with Pat Curran to put an end to it and see who will take home the title with a win in the rubber match. I know I can’t wait.