Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has seen his promotion come under scrutiny this month due to a contract clause granting the promotion the right to match any offer made to a recently released fighter by another organization.
Both light heavyweight Roger Hollett and bantamweight Tyson Nam were released from their Bellator contracts this summer. Hollett, who competed once for Bellator last November, then signed with the UFC and was tapped to welcome Matt Hamill back to the Octagon at UFC 152. Nam, meanwhile, was signed and released by Bellator without ever having fought for the promotion. Bellator officials then booked the Oregonian a non-title fight against Bellator bantamweight king Eduardo Dantas on Aug. 25 at Shooto Brazil 33. Nam upset “Dudu” via first round knockout, catching the champion with a hook to the jaw that turned out his lights in just 1:40.
In both instances, Bellator exercised a clause in the fighters’ contracts that allows the promotion to match any offer the fighters receive within a specific time period after their Bellator departure. As a result, Hollett was removed from his UFC 152 booking temporarily, though he would find his way back on the card after Bellator declined to match the UFC’s offer. Nam also entered into negotiations with rival promotions, but the fighter’s status currently remains unclear due to Bellator’s right-to-match clause.
Several days ago, UFC President Dana White publicly commented on the matter, calling the practice “dirty, grimy and despicable.” Rebney took issue with that statement, pointing out that his promotion has been on the other side of issue when trying to sign a fighter who was recently cut by Zuffa.
“That is a wildly hypocritical statement, because Zuffa follows a precisely duplicative process, and we had to go through that exact same process with [Muhammed] Lawal,” Rebney said during an interview on Tuesday’s episode of “Cheap Seats” on the Sherdog Radio Network. “Zuffa released ‘King Mo’ publicly on March 27, 2012, and Dana confirmed that release to the media on that same day. We jumped on it, because I’ve been a huge ‘King Mo’ fan for years, and we had to go through that exact same process. We had to submit our full contract and submit a certified letter to their attorney with the contract included in it. We had to wait for them to sign for it and then wait 14 business days to even substantively talk to Mo about signing with us, and this is a fighter who had already been released publicly.
“I have no issue at all with people voicing their opinions, but when you follow the exact same process, that’s where I have difficulty with it. They have that exact terminology in their contracts. We had to follow the exact process that we’re being chastised for,” Rebney continued. “I felt like we gave an incredible opportunity to Tyson Nam. With 30 guys who we could choose, I thought we stepped up and gave him a shot at our world champion in a non-title fight. He took advantage of it. God bless him. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, but I think the fallout from it is, to a large extent, undeserved.”
Regarding Hollett, Rebney said his promotion acted quickly in granting “The Hulk” his release earlier this month upon receiving the UFC’s formal offer.
“As soon as we got the actual offer from the UFC, which is what the contract stipulates, we [elected] not to match it. I believe we got back to them literally within six hours,” Rebney said. “Now, you can’t just send out an overture and say, ‘Hey, we’ve received an offer.’ There are contract terms, and they say that you have to actually supply the [new] contract. Once they supplied it, we got back to them immediately. We don’t want to hold the guy back on an opportunity in any way shape or form.”
During his interview, Rebney also addressed criticisms surrounding the quality of Bellator’s seventh season -- the promotion’s final push on MTV2 before upgrading to Spike TV in 2013. Additionally, the Bellator CEO provided his thoughts on a myriad of topics, including his relationship with Spike’s executives and the impact of Viacom buying a majority stake in the promotion, as well as the viability of Bellator’s heavyweight division after champion Cole Konrad’s retirement and whether the Season 7 welterweight draw will serve as a “set-up” for vaunted Russian prospect Andrey Koreshkov.
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:00).