Bellator went thru some major changes this past week when both Bjorn Rebney, the CEO of Bellator MMA, and Tim Danaher, the President & COO of the company, left the organization. In turn, Bellator named Scott Coker, the former Strikeforce Founder & CEO, the President of Bellator in their place.
Scott boasted that he would revamp Bellator to “Bellator 2.0″ by having big fights, big events, and moving the organization into a more traditional model rather than the previous model based on seasons and tournaments.
Jimmy Smith, Bellator’s color commentator since 2010, sat down in an exclusive interview with FanSided to give us his thoughts on the change, what is was like working with Bjorn, and what he expects from Bellator in the future:
The initial reaction to Bjorn Rebney leaving Bellator
“It was the biggest shock ever. There were always rumors about it because he was very difficult to work with. He had a vision for Bellator that was becoming increasingly difficult to realize in terms of practical TV. The actual him being let go? We had no more warning than anyone else. It was a complete out of the blue shocker to everybody.”
Fans perception of Bjorn leaving the organization
“I knew Bellator would continue, but what concerned me was the perception of the fans. With all of the promotions that have failed and been bought in the past, I thought that as soon as Bjorn was gone, the perception amongst the fans would be that the wheels are coming off. Anytime there are any large systemic changes, such as getting rid of Bjorn, the perception is “Oh, they are circling the drain”. My biggest concern was that would have been the public perception, but I think Scott Coker is really an upgrade. I think the fans know that he is a solid promoter with a great history in the sport. Therefore we have not had that perception. ”
His personal thoughts on working with Bjorn Rebney
“First of all, I don’t know how it is with other announcers and their promoters. I don’t know how it is with Joe (Rogan) and Dana (White), but Bjorn pretty much left me alone. He would have one or two things to say to me if I were doing the opening of a show. He would say things such as “emphasize this guys striking because I want to pair him with another good striker at the next show”. That was it. He was not in my ear during shows telling me what to say or what not to say. He pretty much left me alone, but I was the exception to the rule. He micromanaged a lot and made a lot of people’s lives a lot more complicated, but he got the show done.”
Bjorn’s legacy in Bellator
“The positive is that his vision got this going. His enthusiasm for his product saw Bellator through some very difficult times and yet we progressed every year. I mean, we went from ESPN Deportes, which is a Spanish station that a lot of people don’t even get on their cable subscription, to Fox Sports, MTV2, Viacom, and Spike. All of those steps were Bjorn. Bjorn’s drive led us to all of those steps. He deserves a lot of credit for that. The negatives were the Eddie Alvarez problems, the problems with fighter’s contracts, and it ended up becoming an uphill battle with him at the end for a lot of people. That is the balance of his legacy. It’s going to be that balance between his vision driving things forward, and his personality keeping things from working fluidly on a day-to-day basis. It is that contrast.”
What Scott Coker brings to the table
“The emphasis is going to be different with Scott than it was with Bjorn in terms of his relationship with fighters, wanting big shows that emphasize big fights, and wanting big venues. Those are Scott Coker’s priorities from what I have seen and heard. He thinks Bellator makes for a very good TV show with their production, so why change the TV side of it? His personality is different than Bjorn’s also. He is a soft spoken guy that people get along with really well. I think that is very important at this juncture for Bellator.”
His thoughts on moving away from a season model
“Let me tell you a little story about the season format. Mauro Ranallo called me to do an interview on his show just about every week during the Bellator season. So we are talking about the week’s upcoming show and he said “Now in two weeks…” and I had no idea what he was talking about. The reason is because when I am in Bellator in the middle of the season I am thinking about this week, next week, maybe the week after, but anything beyond that is a blur. When you work in a twelve week season, I as the commentator do not know who is fighting in three weeks. If you said “Jimmy who is fighting in your fourth show?” I don’t know! I am dealing with this show, and I will cross that bridge when we get there. So how are the fans supposed to know what is coming up? That was very hard during the season in Bellator. It was very hard to build up hype for anything during the season. It is hard as a promoter. When you get away from the season model, and have a show a month in a more traditional model, you can build and hype that show for a month. We could not do that with a 12 week season. You had to really follow us every week to know what is going on. Coker’s idea is a total different emphasis and I think it is a move in the right direction.”
Could Coker’s presence spark a more intriguing rivalry with the UFC? Is that ultimately good for MMA as a whole?
“If you remember, the high point of wrestling came when their was a rivalry between the WWF and WCW. At the height of that rivalry, 11 to 12 million people a week were watching pro wrestling. They each got between 5 and 6 million viewers. When the WCW folded, the WWF’s numbers actually went down. When they were battling against one another a lot of people just gravitated to the entertainment. It has happened in MMA before too; Pride vs. UFC. That was a huge high point in MMA. People were talking about Wanderlei fighting Chuck, and whether or not the elite of the UFC could beat the elite of Pride. The back and forth rivalry generates buzz and entertainment. I think having a rivalry elevated the sport, period.”