Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney admits going head-to-head with UFC is a difficult assignment. | Photo: Keith Mills
CANTON, Ohio -- Bellator Fighting Championships 51 resulted in three knockouts from well-timed knees, two of them of the flying variety. Another memorable KO left the crowd stunned and exiting the arena with a general sense of satisfaction. Meanwhile, UFC 135 provided two featured heavyweight bouts that gave fans plenty of time to get a sandwich. Still, the battle for headlines was one-sided.
Going up against the UFC juggernaut has proven a fool’s errand on more than one occasion, but that is the position in which Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney finds himself. Being hemmed into its Saturday slot on MTV2 often leaves the fledgling promotion in head-to-head battles with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“It’s a tough decision,” Rebney told Sherdog.com in wake of Bellator 51. “We’re scheduled on Saturday nights. I think it’s a great night for us for mixed martial arts, but you’re going to run into -- on a consistent basis, at least once a month and sometimes twice a month -- going head-to-head with a UFC pay-per-view. It’s going to affect your numbers, especially when you’re going up against a fight like Jon Jones versus [Quinton] ‘Rampage’ [Jackson].”
Bellator’s fifth-season tournaments will be contested at heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight and bantamweight. No one tournament has captured fan interest quite like the one at 135 pounds, which kicked off at Bellator 51. Its original field included the reigning featherweight champion, two former titleholders from other organizations and an Olympic bronze medalist.
Top to bottom, Rebney considered it “one of the best shows we’ve ever done.” Even so, it was Jones and Jackson who were found on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“That is a tough head-to-head, but you have to look at it this way,” Rebney said. “You have to look at it from a competitive perspective that -- and I know this is a different sport -- if you track the expansion of the World Wrestling Federation before it became the WWE, their greatest growth curve came from when there was competition with WCW. Competition breeds expansion. Competition breeds more consumer interest and excitement.”
Bellator provided fans at the Canton Civic Center with plenty of excitement. Still, the struggle to compete with the UFC has never been more difficult.
“I say we put on a good card, and that’s all that matters,” Rebney said. “I’m not one for a lot of hyperbole. I’m not like your old school Bob Arum [or] Don King, where I’m pitching, pitching, pitching. I really truly believe that the [four tournament winners] that were sitting off to my left are four of the best 135-pounders in the world.”