After kicking off the season in Hammond, Indiana with the Featherweight championship fight between Joe Warren and Pat Curran, to last week in Laredo, Texas with Lloyd Woodard pulling off the giant upset with his win over Patricky “Pitbull” Freire, Rebney is ecstatic about taking his product around the country, specifically in cities that do not get to see world-class mixed martial arts that often.
Now three years and six seasons in, not only are the fighters improving dramatically, but the crowds are as well. With three consecutive sellouts, Bellator as a whole is doing exactly what Rebney set out to do when he started the organization- improving.
“I am really excited for the whole season,” Rebney said to MMAFrenzy.com. “We have continued to improve the quality of fighters that step into the cage. Specifically with these tournaments, when they go from 8 guys to 4, I look at the guys that remain and I am shocked at the amount of talent that is there. The talent really is amazing with the top-class fighters we are putting out there.”
“Not to mention, the crowds have been just as great. We sold out the show to kick off the season in Hammond, Indiana. Then we sold out the show Bossier City, Louisiana. While it was a smaller venue, a sellout is a sellout.”
Sellouts might become the usual for Bellator, with Viacom now owning a majority stake in the company. With the backing of a multi-billion dollar media corporation, Rebney’s excitement for the future has only continued to grow.
Viacom, which owns Bellator’s current home channel, MTV2, also owns Spike TV, which will be Bellator’s home as of 2013. While Bellator might still air some programming on MTV2, Rebney is looking forward to being able to tell everyone “Bellator is now on Spike TV.”
“The move to Spike TV is the realization of television dreams,” said Rebney. “They wrote the book on mixed martial arts programming. They understand the promotion, marketing, and advertising better than anyone else in television. They are the best and are the best at it.”
“That transition is spectacular for the Bellator brand, and to be able to say ‘Bellator is on Spike’ is as good as it gets from a worldwide television perspective. With Viacom owning MTV, MTV2, and Spike, along with many other channels, there will be all different kinds of engagement in basically cross-pollinating the Bellator brand, but the place where you will see all-things Bellator will be on Spike TV.”
Spike TV, which formerly broadcasted live UFC programming from 2005 to 2011, has a contract that allows them to broadcast previously-aired UFC content until the end of 2012. On January 1, 2013, the move to Spike TV for Bellator is official. But even with nearly a year to go before the move to Spike TV, Rebney has already seen the impact the support from Viacom has had on the company.
“All of the changes we have experienced have been for the better,” Rebney explained. “We now have the support of the smartest people in television, specifically in televising mixed martial arts. It has made my job easier, as I now have executives I can call for assistance whenever I need it. To be able to have that kind of support system, it is like having an all-star team of coaches, and I can go to them for help in anything I need. The evolution of this company, in terms of the brand, the promotion, the marketing, the production, the advertising, the public relations, and the interaction with the media, it just takes it to a whole new level.”
The beginning of that transition started when Rebney decided to move the company’s broadcasts from Saturday nights to Friday nights, a transition he could not be happier with. While the current season is currently airing on the same night as “The Ultimate Fighter: Live”, it is certainly less of a challenge than routinely going up against UFC pay-per-view events and Strikeforce events.
“We plan on continuing to air Bellator events on Fridays,” Rebney said. “Regarding The Ultimate Fighter and broadcasting on the same night, one of those programs is one where world-class fighters fight and the other is a reality program. It is a show I used to love watching on Spike TV, but they are two very different shows. Format-wise, they are about as different as they can get.”
Another transition that has been made is the preliminary card setup. This season, notable fighters local to the area that the event is taking place have garnered spots on the preliminary card. Notable fighters such as Sean McCorkle, Travis Wiuff and Shamar Bailey fought at Bellator 60 in Hammond, Indiana. That, too, is a transition that Rebney is happy to include on the season, and something he hopes to continue.
“We will continue to use that format, but it will be intermixed with other guys that we need to get back on track or guys we are trying to groom for future tournaments,” said Rebney. “Certain shows are so stacked that we will have to groom other guys to get fights for to prepare them for the summer series and for fall events, but there will still be plenty of events that we will be able to use local talent, as well.”
With the immediate success the moves the company has made, along with the moves the company will see in the near future, it is easy to see why Rebney is so excited about 2012 and beyond for Bellator.
Stay tuned for part 2 of the interview with Rebney, as he discusses other situations with Bellator, including the current situation with middleweight champion Hector Lombard, former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and his upcoming rematch with Shinya Aoki, and the status of heavyweight Blagoi Ivanov, who was recently stabbed at a bar in Bulgaria and has since been placed in a medically-induced coma.
That and more will be discussed in part 2 of the interview, which will be posted on Thursday.