Dave Herman file photo: Sherdog.com
Though he signed his name to the contract 21 months ago, as it now stands, Dave Herman will be conspicuously absent from the Bellator Fighting Championships season three heavyweight tournament that kicks off Aug. 12 in Hollywood, Fla.
Bellator attorney Patrick English confirmed to Sherdog.com on Tuesday that Herman will not be taking the eighth and final slot in the field, as the fighter and promotion are embroiled in ongoing litigation.
Herman, 25, is suing Bellator Fighting Championships for allegedly breaching a six-fight, 30-month contract he signed into with the promotion on Oct. 28, 2008. Herman is also claiming tortuous interference on the part of Bellator for a handful of fight assignments -- including a four-fight contract offer from Strikeforce -- he’s tried to secure since January. The promotion is countersuing for alleged breach of contract as well.
In 2008, Herman said he was “really excited” to sign with the debuting Bellator league because he felt the slickly packaged promotion had potential to be a player in the market. Back then, Herman was an undefeated prospect who’d gained buzz for three consecutive TKO wins in EliteXC. Bellator scouted Herman for an eight-man heavyweight tournament the promotion planned for fall 2009, though the fighter’s contract stipulated that Bellator had to provide him at least two fights in one year’s time.
“We were told the tournament was happening in season two, but we didn’t want to have Dave inactive, so we added the clause to ensure he got two fights before November 2009,” said Mike Camp, Herman’s former manager.
Also a part of those initial conversations -- according to Herman’s camp and disputed by Bellator’s attorney -- was a single fight that Herman had already agreed to with the Sengoku promotion in Japan that January. Herman would face Korean Mu Bae Choi.
According to Herman, he offered to postpone signing the Bellator contract till after the Jan. 4 bout to avoid any confusion but was told by Bellator’s matchmaker at the time, Chris Sanford, that an addendum would be tacked onto the contract.
According to a copy of Herman’s contract obtained by Sherdog.com, the addendum states that the fighter would receive a $12,000 signing bonus and have the ability to participate in bouts outside of Bellator with the promotion’s written permission. Specific bouts were not identified in the addendum.
Herman’s camp said Bellator gave permission for the Sengoku bout both verbally and via text by Sanford. In a signed declaration, Sanford, who is no longer working for the promotion, stated that the addendum was specifically drafted to acknowledge Herman’s Sengoku bout and to provide the fighter latitude to compete in additional bouts outside of Bellator.
English, Bellator’s attorney, would later argue that the Choi fight was never appropriately presented to or approved by the promotion and that Herman had breached his contract, but that the promotion decided to let that instance go. English could not tell Sherdog.com specifically which bout or bouts the addendum referred to.
Regardless, Herman flew to Japan and lost to Choi. When Herman returned to the U.S., he said he and his manager, Camp, were met with Bellator’s cold shoulder.
Camp said that when he inquired about Herman’s first fight for Bellator, he was told by Matt Stansell, who’d replaced Sanford as matchmaker, that Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney was threatening to sue the fighter to get his $12,000 signing bonus back. Stansell, who left the company later that year, declined to comment on the matter.
“I didn’t know about it for a couple of months, but the first time I found out (Bjorn) was upset was when they threatened to sue me to get my signing bonus back,” said Herman.
After the Choi loss, Camp described the relationship as “an uphill battle.” According to Camp, Stansell was accessible to the manager but often brought news of Rebney’s discontent with Herman, coupled with his unwillingness to discuss Herman’s contracted bouts. Camp said his requests to speak to Rebney directly were turned down.
That May, Herman fought his first bout for the promotion at BFC 5, earning a first-round technical knockout against Josh Barnes. Camp said Stansell told him afterward that Rebney was underwhelmed by Herman’s performance.
“There was one point where Matt Stansell told me that Bjorn had said to him that he was sick of Herman, that he’d paid for an undefeated heavyweight. It was clear after the Choi loss that Bjorn had it out for Dave,” said Camp, who added that despite the issue with Herman, Bellator remains a good fit for some of his other clients.
In June, Herman said Bellator offered him a second bout against Eddie Sanchez at the promotion’s season one finale event, but pulled the offer off the table to save the matchup for the tournament. Meanwhile, Bellator opted to postpone the heavyweight tournament past the fall and eventually rescheduled it for its third season.
Herman did not compete for the next four and a half months, until he said his manager Camp secured a one-fight deal with the Shark Fights promotion based out of Texas.
Shark Fights matchmaker Brent Medley said he was forwarded an e-mail from a Bellator representative to Camp giving permission for Herman to participate in a Sept. 12 bout against Don Frye. Herman’s claim states that the bout was “verbally approved by (Bellator matchmaker) Matt Stansell as a bout not promoted by Bellator.”
“They were supposed to issue a formal letter to us authorizing the fight, but I could never get it out of them,” said Camp, “so I stored a text from Matt Stansell that had roughly said, ‘Spoke to Bjorn, you’re good to go, working on the formal letter.’”