Let’s Get it On! UFC president Dana White and Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney have taken the fight outside the cage and into the press.
I’m fairly confident that one of the biggest fights MMA fans will get to enjoy in 2013 will be Dana White vs. Bjorn Rebney.
Or more generally, the UFC vs. Bellator.
Now don’t get me wrong, Bellator has a long way to go before they’re in a position to seriously challenge the UFC. They certainly don’t have the brand recognition or promotional muscle of a monster like the UFC. I’ve talked in the past about the changes I’d like to see Bellator make if they want to compete on the grand stage, but even that’s just a start.
Don’t write them off just yet though. Media giant Viacom’s purchase of Bellator last year was a game changer for North American MMA. Viacom’s backing gives Bellator the deep pockets to compete with the UFC, as well as a measure of stability. Oh, and they also happen to own Spike TV, the station that made the UFC a household name in North America – and the station where Bellator will be airing come 2013.
Many shots have been fired in this war already. But the latest grenade was tossed by Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney in an interview with Ariel Helwani on “The MMA Hour” Tuesday. Rebney took issue with UFC President Dana White’s comments at the UFC 152 post-fight press conference regarding Bellator’s “shady” business practices.
That’s in reference to Bellator’s attempt to block Tyson Nam and Roger Hollett from signing with the UFC by way of a “matching clause”. Essentially, this clause gives Bellator a certain period of time in which they can “match” an offer from a rival promotion on any of their fighters, even after the contract has expired. During that time, said fighter is forbidden from signing with another company.
Ideally, the contract is supposed to prevent rival promotions from stealing away talent with big offers without Bellator (or whoever) getting the chance to respond. In reality, this clause can be used to keep a fighter in limbo even after it’s long since clear the promotion has no plans for him. Except screw him over, that is.
White called these tactics “dirty” “grimy” and “despicable”. He claimed it was “one of the scummiest, dirtiest things you can do.”
And he should know – or so Renbey claimed, when he responded to White’s comments Tuesday.
We had to go through the exact same process with Zuffa when we signed ‘King Mo.’ Zuffa released ‘King Mo’ Lawal on March 27, 2012. They went public with their release, they put it up on their own website, on UFC.com, Dana confirmed the release of ‘King Mo’ to the media on the exact same day, and then in April, when Bellator looked to sign ‘King Mo,’ we had to submit our full contract to Zuffa. We sent it certified mail to their attorneys. Then we had to wait 14 full business days, which is typically 20-to-21 days in total, for them to decide if they were going to match or not going to match — which thankfully they didn’t, and we ended up with one of the most exciting and entertaining light heavyweights in the world — but, this is, to the letter, the exact same process.
So in summary: Yes, Bellator is using their “match period” to basically screw the UFC (and more importantly, the fighter they’re going to lose) if only a temporarily. Yet as Rebney points out, the UFC is hardly innocent of this tactic, either.
Perhaps the key difference is that, in the example of King Mo and the UFC, Mo had actually competed for Zuffa, had made them money and been paid in turn. Tyson Nam never stepped into the Bellator cage, and the time he spent on the sidelines in contract limbo had to be a financial blow for a fighter in his prime.
With the two promotions set to face off both in court (the UFC still has a pending lawsuit against Bellator, remember?) and on the ratings charts, 2013 is fixing to be an interesting year.