Almost eight years ago an ambitious promoter with a dream and some determination helped create Bellator, arguably the second biggest fight organization in the world. That promoter is Bjorn Rebney and on June 18, Bellator announced that CEO and chairman Rebney is leaving the company he helped build from the ground up.
Rebney and the organization’s relationship had fallen on shaky ground over the past year but there is no doubt that what Rebney did for the company before the turmoil is second to only one other MMA promoter and I think I don’t have to spell that one out for you.
In 2008, Rebney founded Bellator MMA. What Rebney’s new fight organization brought to the table that no other MMA promotion did was the tournament format that other combat sports used like kick boxing, boxing and wrestling. It was an ambitious idea that worked well for the young organization looking to build up fighters that were unfamiliar to the casual viewer.
Bellator thrived in their role as the toughest tournament in sports, building relatively no name fighters into champions. Rebney and the company were so successful that in 2011, Viacom, the company that owns Spike TV, acquired a majority stake in the organization and began airing Bellator fights on the same channel that use to be home to the UFC.
Rebney built Bellator into a respectable organization with its roster of tough, young and talented fighters and also a good alternative to powerhouse promotion UFC. But even though the company was thriving, Rebney’s rapport with the fighters within it was not.
Former Bellator fighter Ben Saunders said, “Bjorn is the number one reason I left Bellator. I had a horrible traumatizing experience working for that man. I damn near retired.”
Saunders isn’t the only fighter who had a poor relationship with Rebney. Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez had a very ugly, very public dispute with Rebney that lasted over a year and put Alvarez’s career on the shelf for the time being.
Rebney would burn bridges with other fighters like former Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren, whom Rebney decided to let go of instead of resigning with the company because of Askren’s fighting style. Rebney gave Askren, the most dominant fighter on the roster, his walking papers because his wrestling was not entertaining enough.
The straw that may have broke the camel’s back was at Bellator’s first pay-per-view event headlined by Quinton Jackson versus King Mo Lawal. It was evident leading up to the fight that Rebney and Jackson were pretty cozy together while King Mo was visibly given the cold shoulder. This would result in King Mo hurling a slew of insults at Rebney inside the cage after his controversial lose to Quinton Jackson.
Barely a month after Rebney and Bellator’s first pay-per-view event something seemed to be brewing behind the scenes. Rebney came with to much baggage and Viacom had about enough of it.
Rebney was relieved of his duties and in to replace him is former Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker. Coker, who is less of a self promoter and more of a fighters promoter, will bring a fresh change of pace to an organization that has a little bit of damage control to do with its employees. Out with Rebney will also be the tournament format that Bellator built its name around. This is mostly due to Bellators move to pay-per-view and fighters who have built a strong enough record to argue they shouldn’t have to work their way back through a tournament to earn a lucrative fight.
Rebney did what many were others were unable to do and that’s succeed at building valuable fight promotion during the UFC era. His ego, determination and management of fighter relationships were his undoing but there is no denying he set the foundation for what may be the next best thing.