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Bellator MMA offers up new competition to UFC

March 13, 2013
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The UFC has been the king of mixed martial arts since its first event in the United States back in 1993. Former MMA promotions such as EliteXC, StrikeForce, Pride Fighting Championships and World Extreme Cagefighting all tried competing with the UFC, only to fall in the end. While all these companies ultimately failed, the UFC has been growing with large pay-per-view buys, record fan attendances, and a huge television deal with Fox. 

The UFC might be at the top of its game, but that hasn't stopped the founder and CEO of the second largest MMA promotion in the USA Bellator. Bjorn Rebney founded Bellator MMA in 2008 and has been pushing his company through the uniqueness it brings of being completely tournament-based. This means that every fighter must win a series of matches through a tournament to become eligible for a title shot. 

Bellator hasn't had a steady network television deal to expand its product on a national television audience until the recent announcement in January that it had reached a deal with the former UFC host network Spike TV. Bellator has continued to expand its live events across the entire United States and for the first time will host a live nationally televised event on Thursday, March 21 in Maine at the Lewiston Collisee. 

Fans in attendance will not only get its first taste of Bellator live, but will get to see its home grown fighter Marcus Davis in action and the debut of kickboxing champion Michael Page. The Maine Edge recently had a chance to talk with Bjorn Rebney and the two new additions Marcus Davis and Michael Page to learn more about them and the Bellator organization.

Bjorn Rebney and the creation of Bellator

Bjorn-RebneyThe Maine Edge (TME) - A lot of people might not know exactly who you are, so could you start off by giving a little background information about yourself?

Bjorn Rebney (BR) - I have been in the combat sports arena as a producer of television programming, as a promoter of fighting sports events and as an agent and attorney representing sports athletes for almost 25 years. Started out in the boxing business many years ago, and produced a show for ESPN before transitioning into mixed martial arts in 2008, which was something I had trained in and watched for years. I then started Bellator in 2008 and the rest is sort of history.

TME - Bellator is the second largest MMA promotion in the USA. The company is relatively new. What is Bellator all about?

BR - What makes us different from the UFC is the tournament format. It is objective, it is real sports competition, as we don't have a matchmaker in a shiny suit sitting at a desk deciding who gets to fight for what and when. Everything that happens at Bellator is like any other professional sport - you play and win, you move on, with winning giving you an ultimate shot at the title. It's a real sports competition that fans attach to, as it's easy to understand, it's a bracketed system, and you start at one point. Win three fights, you earn $100,000 dollars and are guaranteed a title shot.

TME - What made you want to start an MMA company, and what went on during the process?

BR - My dad always used to tell me as a kid, 'Hey, look, if you can ever get paid to do what you used to pay to do, then you've won in life.' I loved MMA and had a skill-set based on having worked in combat sports as a producer and agent for many years, and about 2006 I started putting it all together. I put all the money I had in the world into building the company. The genesis of it all was following my dad's advice and saying hey, if you ever have a chance to do something like that, you've got to go for it.

The Spike TV deal and the UFC

TME - You have a television deal to broadcast events with Spike TV. When did talks first begin, and what went into making that a reality?

BR - I had been already been in conversations, as the writing was on the wall - you could see UFC was out looking at other options. Spike is the greatest distribution on a TV platform in the history of MMA, so any way I can get in that family to get closer to them would be a great strategic move for Bellator. We had a deal with MTV2, and as soon as the UFC move was made, we started putting everything in place to make the move to Spike.

TME - How have your relationship been with Spike since teaming up?

BR - I have been working with the key people at Spike now for almost two full years, and it is a true partnership in every sense of the word. They sit on the Bellator board, assist on a daily basis and were in communication with one another figuring out how to put on the best shows possible.

TME - Viewership is up, but still small in many people's minds. How has viewership been and what is being done to help it increase?

BR - Viewership has been very consistent, ranging between 750,000 and 1 million viewers. You don't get into a position like mine if you aren't always striving to get better, so we are building something and are in a very solid place right now.

TME - Were you shocked by UFC getting done with Spike? What was your first reaction?

BR - I had seen both groups voice opinions about what the relationship looked like. It was music to my ears when hearing they were separating because it opened up that door for us to ultimately align with Spike.

TME - Have you ever talked with UFC's Dana White at all?

BR - No, never met him or had any conversations with him.

TME - UFC has been the top MMA brand. Do you see Bellator competing with them, and what steps must be taken for that to happen?

BR - At this point in the evolution of martial arts there are only two large companies. We will see what happens over the coming year, as we have incredible partners, have held some incredible events on Spike, and we will see where everything goes.

The current and future state of Bellator

TME - Bellator will be hosting the biggest MMA event to hit Maine on March 21. What made you see the state as a potential market?

BR - Maine was a place we wanted to come to, as we felt it had some real potential and our partner at the National Guard was interested in the Maine market as well. We were able to combine a market we wanted to come to, and we had Marcus Davis, who is without question Maine's biggest fighter.

TME - What do like most about Marcus Davis?

BR - He brings the fight and does not know how to have a boring fight. Marcus is very active and aggressive, and is looking to finish. He is everything you could ask for out of a fighter in terms of the mentality he brings inside the cage, and that is exactly what myself and fans are looking for.

TME - There have been, as you mentioned, quite a few defunct companies. What have you learned so the same fate doesn't happen to you?

BR - A lot of people got into this MMA space thinking, 'Wow, that looks easy.' It's a very complicated business, so the essence of making it in this business is understanding the drivers of cutting television deals, cutting deals to promote shows, the advertising dynamic, how to sell your product and how to merchandise and license the product.

TME - Bellator is still relatively new, and many people still are yet to witness it. Anything else you want to say about the company?

BR - The events live on Spike at 10 p.m. every Thursday speak volumes to who we are, what we are about and our philosophy and our format, so to our fans, just tune in!

Marcus Davis on fighting for Bellator

Marcus-Davis PhotoTME - You are getting ready for your debut fight for Bellator MMA at the Lewiston Colissee on March 21. 

Marcus Davis (MD) - I am really looking forward to showcasing some of the new stuff I have picked up and have trained on that night in front of the hometown crowd of Mainers.

TME - When were you first in talks with Bellator, and how did the opportunity come about?

MD - When they were looking to grab Maine to do a show, I was contacted by a Maine promoter who said they wanted my contact information. We came to an agreement for me to fight for them three times and also fight for a couple other organizations.

TME - You will be the crowd favorite and fighting in front of friends and family. Does that put any more pressure on you for the fight?

MD - If you were to look at my entire fight career, when I was a boxer I was able to fight three times in the state of Maine, the rest of them were always outside of Maine. I have always fought hostile situations such as in England and Sweden, in which I won those fights. Fighting at home makes things all that much easier for me. 

TME - Your opponent that night is going to be Waachim Spiritwolf, who has an overall fighting record of 22-11. What are some things you do in preparation for a specific fighter?

MD - It all depends on what the main attributes of the fighter are. Spiritwolf is one of those guys that likes to brawl and comes straight at you. After watching his fights, I think he's tailor made for me since the guys I do best against are the ones that come forward and use strength rather than technique. 

UFC experience and MMA Future

TME - You were a contestant on the 'Ultimate Fighter 2.' What do you remember from your time on the show?

MD - It wasn't a whole lot of fun as it's an experience, but reality TV isn't really reality. I got really sick while on that show, so I don't have a whole lot of good memories. The show though did open up the way for me to get into the UFC and open up doors for me to get better training.

TME - During your time in the UFC, you got to face and meet quite a few guys. What would you say was your favorite fight?

MD - The Chris Lytle fight in Dublin, Ireland, as that was a big moment since it was my dream to fight there.

TME - I am a huge wrestling fan. Did you interact with Brock Lesnar at any point during your time with the UFC?

MD - While doing a military tour there was one fight in particular where they saw me ringside with Brock Lesnar. He is really big in person and just a huge dude. 

TME - Dana White always stood behind Brock Lesnar despite the controversy he created. What was your relationship with him like?

MD - I knew Dana from the outside of the UFC, and on the outside when you aren't talking about business he is one of the greatest guys you could know as he is a real true friend. He keeps everything completely separate, as he keeps the business end of it and the friendship stuff separate. I believe we still have a good relationship with one another even with me fighting for Bellator.

TME - How much longer do you see yourself fighting for?

MD - I don't plan on fighting past age 42, so I am going to stick with what I am doing right now. I am really busy with everything going on, along with the two books that will be coming out. We're looking at about a year and a half before I hang up the gloves for good.

A look at professional kickboxer Michael Page

TME - You were slated to fight at an earlier Bellator event, but weren't able to. Are you 100 percent ready for your fight on March 21?

Michael Page (MP) - I'm training really hard for my fight, and I'm more than ready for March 21.

TME - You have been training in mixed martial arts since a very young age. Do you feel like you have something to live up to?

MP - Martial arts is something that I enjoy, so I don't feel pressured when I am doing it. I'm lucky to be doing something I enjoy and have the ability to make a living from it.

TME - What made you decide to transition from kick boxing to MMA?

MP - Kickboxing doesn't have the kind of exposure mixed martial arts has, meaning you're not able to make the same kind of money and you're unable to get many sponsors due to the lack of exposure. I felt I needed to be in something that can offer me this and also give me new goals to work towards.

TME - Your father is a really big influence of yours. What is the biggest lesson or piece of advice you have kept from him?

MP - He tells me no matter what keep working hard and you will achieve success in whatever you do.

TME - People say you have a very unorthodox style because of your kickboxing background. Do you think that is an advantage for you against your opponent in the ring?

MP - This is an advantage to have because my opponents are going to find it difficult to have training partners that can mimic my style, meaning he's going to have to adapt while we are both in the cage and I don't believe he will have enough time to do so.

TME - What made you want to come over to the United States and fight for Bellator, and do you see yourself staying with them long-term is all goes well?

MP - The United States has a massive amount of talent in their mixed martial arts industry, and I want to beat the best to become the best. Bellator seems like a good place to be to establish myself.

The Bellator MMA event takes place live Thursday, March 21 at the Lewiston Collisee. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.thecolisee.com/, and to learn more about Bellator go to http://www.bellator.com/.

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