After discussing the future of Bellator in part 1 of the interview, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney was excited to discuss his current crop of fighters. Names such as Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard, and Ben Askren have graced the Bellator cage for years, and if it was up to Rebney, they would remain there for the duration of their careers.
Alvarez, the former Bellator lightweight champion, is set to rematch Shinya Aoki on April 20th in Cleveland, Ohio. The rematch has been a long time coming for Alvarez, who lost to Aoki at Dynamite!! 2008 on December 31, 2008. The loss was just the second of Alvarez’s career, and he has desired a rematch since the night of the loss.
For Rebney, it has also been a matchup he has long wanted. In fact, had he gotten his way, Alvarez vs. Aoki 2 would have been one of the first major matchups that Bellator ever put on. Unfortunately, contract discussions halted, and Aoki instead fought in the United States for Strikeforce, along with continuing to routinely fight in Japan. Alvarez was also continuing to fight, and win, as he won the first season’s lightweight tournament, and went on to defend his belt nearly two years later against Pat Curran.
But then everything began to shift, as Zuffa took ownership of Strikeforce in March of 2011, thus ending the partnership between Dream and Strikeforce, and Aoki’s ability to fight for both promotions. Later in 2011, Alvarez lost his lightweight belt to Michael Chandler.
After that loss, Alvarez went to Rebney, pleading for the rematch. Rebney made sure it happened this time around.
“We had our eye on the Alvarez vs. Aoki matchup for a very long time,” Rebney said of the rematch. “Eddie has been a longtime friend of mine, and I signed him in 2008. He had the first matchup with Aoki soon after, and he lost that fight. He came to me after that fight and said ‘If there is ever a favor I could ask of you, it is to get that Aoki rematch’, so I’ve been trying to make this work for years now.”
“After Eddie lost to Michael [Chandler], in typical Eddie Alvarez fashion he came to me and told me if that was still a fight I could put together, that he still wanted it. I would expect nothing less from Eddie. He never wants to take the easy road. If there was a picture in the dictionary next to ‘Philly Fighter’, it would have Eddie Alvarez’s face next to it. I then went to the folks at Dream and finalized the deal right after that.”
Unfortunately for Rebney, contract negotiations with another longtime Bellator veteran, Hector Lombard, have not gone quite as well.
Lombard, who won the Bellator middleweight championship in June 2009, has defended that belt just once in the nearly-three years since. He has fought in Australia for local Australian promotions nearly as many times as he has stepped into the Bellator cage. But Rebney still remains optimistic, hoping to retain the man he sees as the “best middleweight in the world”.
“Unlike many promotions, we don’t have champion’s clauses,” explained Rebney. “We don’t have re-occurring never-ending contracts. Our contracts have a definite term to them, and at the end of that term, the fighter has an exclusive negotiating period, which lasts a short period of time.”
“Our exclusive negotiating period is coming to an end with Hector relatively soon, so he will be able to go out on to the market to sign elsewhere. Because of our contract, we will have the right to match any contract offer. So if he does try and sign elsewhere, we will have the opportunity to sit down with our business people and figure out if we want to match that offer or if we want to wish Hector the best and see him go knock people out somewhere else like the UFC.”
Aside from dealing with those fighters and their workings inside the cage, Rebney has had to deal with other issues, after being given the horrible news that Bellator heavyweight Blagoi Ivanov was stabbed in his home country of Bulgaria in February.
After the incident, Ivanov was placed on an artificial respirator, hoping to stabilize his condition. After some improvements, Ivanov’s condition worsened, and he was placed in a medically-induced coma just weeks after the incident.
“Blagoi is still fighting for his life,” Rebney explained. “There has not really been any good news recently, unfortunately. He’s in a very tough spot and is in a bad situation. People are not cautiously optimistic right now. But if there is anyone that can come back from this and beat it, it’s someone that has been fighting his entire life like Ivanov.”
What Rebney is optimistic about is the remainder of the sixth season of Bellator, with the aforementioned Aoki vs. Alvarez rematch set to take over Cleveland in April, along with Ben Askren taking on Douglas Lima for the Bellator welterweight championship in Windsor, Ontario.
“Cleveland is going to have an absolutely amazing card,” said Rebney. “Not only are they getting the Aoki and Alvarez rematch, but also the second round of the middleweight tournament with Brian Rogers and Bruno Santos and the lightweight semi-finals with Rick Hawn taking on Lloyd Woodard and Brent Weedman vs. Thiago Michel.”
“Not to mention going to Windsor for Askren vs. Lima, which is right across the river from Detroit, and has a great history in the fight game. As we typically do, we are going to continue going into the major markets along with sprinkling in the smaller places like Laredo, Texas, where the people embrace a big-time show coming into town.”