Questions Linger For Bellator Heading Into Fourth Season

January 17, 2011

Last month, Bellator announced a 3-year TV deal with MTV2 TV, claiming it as a turning point for the promotion.  As they head into their 4th season, there are still a few aspects of the deal that are not clear, mainly pertaining to time-slot, production, profitability, and future sustainability.

One aspect that was still not finalized when the deal was announced was Bellator’s broadcast team for next season. Many claim their two man booth, consisting of Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock, has been one of the best around MMA for the past few seasons, which made it seem like a pretty sure bet both men were coming back.  In this interview performed by MMATorch, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney expressed some doubt about the situation back in December:

JAMIE PENICK: Will Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock still be your broadcast team for this year?

BJORN REBNEY: Well, I hate to put people on the spot, but we’re working through all the broadcast team issues as we speak, both English and Spanish language announce teams, ring announcer, the whole thing. I was thrilled with our teams last year, I thought our Spanish language team did an amazing job, I though our cage announcer Michael Williams was, from my perspective, awesome and industry leading. And I’m just real happy with everything that everybody did on air for Bellator. We should be making those announcements in terms of who’s going to be back in short order. We haven’t done anything official, but of course with a three year deal, with television, you’re looking to secure alliances with your talent that extend throughout the entirety of that three years, so we’re working through all of that. What I can tell you is that I thought everybody did an amazing job. I thought we had two of the best on-air teams in the history of MMA in both English and Spanish, and I thought Michael did a great job as well.

Last week, Jimmy Smith went on TapouT Radio and shed some light on the situation (transcribed by FightOpinion):

Well, it’s… it’s kind of strange, I haven’t heard anything since early December. I want to say like December 1st, maybe even the end of November. Pretty much we had a, you know, we still have a contract through 2011 but they, the deal was they wanted me to sign an extension and, you know, for various reasons I didn’t like the extension and so I haven’t heard anything in, God, coming up on two months now and, uh… so it’s, I find it highly unlikely I’ll be coming back to Bellator.

MiddleEasy was also able to catch-up with Smith, where he went into more detail regarding the situation.

Here’s the situation right now, we had a contract through 2011 to do Bellator. They wanted us to sign with their new network deal an extension of three years, starting with this year [2011]. The contract was just unacceptable, it wasn’t what we wanted so I refused to sign the extension. I thought the contract we had until 2011 was a better deal, and that was it. I haven’t heard anything since late November.

“It’s really odd, considering what I thought was a really great breakout 2010 year for Bellator and for Sean and myself as a broadcast team it feels like we had a lot of momentum and everything was going great — and then, boom. It was almost within — not even a week for everything to fall apart. It was really weird considering the kind of 2010 we had.”

Payout Perspective:

There is plenty to question about Bellator as they head into their 4th season. Most have focused on trying to tackle how Bellator will make a profit and become sustainable in 2011, but putting those aside, there are also some other pretty big question-marks heading into next season, including multiple pending lawsuits with Zuffa as well as dealing with contract disputes with fighters and staff.

It appears that Bellator may be doing a bit of restructuring for their next season, trying to lock everyone in for the 3-years as well as dropping lingering contract issues with fighters. One publicized dispute pertained to HW prospect Dave Herman’s inability to get a fight with Bellator or with any other MMA promotion in North America.  MMAPayout has learned that Dave Herman is now free from all legal disputes with Bellator and has started fielding offers from other promotions.

Heading into next season, Bellator will need to focus on the tasks they have at hand with their new TV partner. Legal disputes with Zuffa ,which will most likely run into 2012, regarding the UFC’s signing of last season’s TUF winner Jonathan Brookins, will definitely hurt their bottom line, as they struggle to turn the corner and aim to become profitable this year.  Dropping ongoing legal battles with fighters like Herman are smart choices, considering they will have their hands full heading into another ambitious season of weekly televised events.

16 Responses to “Questions Linger For Bellator Heading Into Fourth Season”

  1. Jose Mendoza on January 17th, 2011 3:21 AM

    MiddleEasy is reporting that Neil ‘The Goliath’ Grove is rumored to replace Jimmy Smith in the Bellator commentating chair.

  2. jv on January 17th, 2011 8:34 AM

    I had read some where that the first show was going to be on a Saturday night at 8PM. If that holds true and goes for the whole season then Bellator will be counter programming the UFC and the Strikeforce Champions shows. If that is the game plan then I fear that “the end is nigh”.

  3. JMAN on January 17th, 2011 10:12 AM

    jv is right..the only way they can beat them is to buy them and they don’t have that kind of money..going head 2 head with the UFC is complete suicide…as jv said “the end in nigh.”

  4. Jose Mendoza on January 17th, 2011 11:47 AM


    Yes, I believe Bellator will kick-off their 4th season on March 5th, the same date when Strikeforce is having their Columbus card. I believe they were starting their events an hour or two before the typical start dates of UFC or SF events, so it will be interesting to see how that all works out.

  5. jv on January 17th, 2011 12:05 PM

    Going early could be an interesting idea. Especially against SF. But if they go an hour early they are counter programming the UFC prelims which are free. I could see Dana stacking the prelims just to twist the knife. See the previous story.

    If they go 2 hours early then you are asking fans to watch 4 to 5 hours of MMA in a stretch. Save those with PVRs.

    Now I will watch a Dream show from begining to end and if HDNet had put Soul of Fight on as one continuous show I would have watched that in one stretch as well. But I have slight doubts that I am representative of the average MMA fan.

  6. el chango on January 17th, 2011 12:54 PM

    I want as much MMA as possible but Bellator is heading to a pretty obvious crash. At some point, things are going to catch up to them. this will be their last season.

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  8. mmaguru on January 17th, 2011 3:35 PM

    I also would have concerns with the sustainability of Bellator. If they can stay away from putting on super fights, where they appear to be losing money, than they can always stay afloat as a regional organization.

  9. Jose Mendoza on January 17th, 2011 4:12 PM


    But do you think that will fly in the long run, to just stay away from big name fighters and make MTV2 happy?

  10. mmaguru on January 17th, 2011 5:29 PM

    That’s true Jose, MTV2 would be looking for the Roger Huerta types, but you have to wonder just how much they had to pay him to fight for them. Bellator were able to somewhat outbid both the UFC and Strikeforce for his services but in return they got very little as far as ticket sales and ratings.

    A lot of pundits like to complain about StrikeForce and their dealings with Fedor but there’s no denying the guy can sell tickets and get better than average ratings for them. However, even Coker himself admits to the fact that they lost money on an event that Fedor has fought in.

    I just feel we need to be honest about the whole Bellator experiment. They can’t compete with the UFC and they are a far second to StrikeForce. What value is it for them to continue to lose money when they could be focusing on selling 1500 seat events and keeping things on the regional level with a good mix of quality fighters that don’t come with a big price tag.

    Anyway, that’s my thoughts. If they survive past this year I would be pleasantly surprised. The UFC is having trouble putting butts in the seats, how can Bellator expect to grow let alone keep things relative to 2010?

  11. Nick on January 18th, 2011 4:48 AM

    Considering that this was the deal that helped them turn the corner to profitability, you have to wonder what kind of fights they put on in the future. I have a hard time thinking that Jimmy Smith had a monster contract, so requiring him to take a pay cut to continue on does not bode well for their revenue streams. Bellator is a great format for prospects to fight their way into the UFC or Strikeforce, but being a champion holds no prestige. Everybody wants to see their champs in a bigger show fighting better fighters, not kicking the shit out of Josh Neer and whatever 185 body they can drag in for Lombard to bombard.

  12. edi on January 18th, 2011 2:31 PM

    Nick-Right on the $$$. Although I do like the Bellator model of the cage on a stage of an old grand city theater- thats cool. Too bad that kinda cool does not mean profit w/ out great fights every show.

  13. rj on January 19th, 2011 8:51 AM

    “A lot of pundits like to complain about StrikeForce and their dealings with Fedor but there’s no denying the guy can sell tickets and get better than average ratings for them.”

    Frank Shamrock and Gina Carano sold more tickets main eventing shows in San Jose than Fedor against Werdum. Not sure on TV ratings in regards to Frank, but I believe Carano-Cyborg had more viewers on Showtime than Fedor-Werdum as well.

  14. mmaguru on January 19th, 2011 3:42 PM

    rj, absolutely. Frank and Gina are bigger draws. Fedor is a big draw as well, but not quite at that level. Fedor vs Brett did 3.79 million viewers average which was much higher than 2.5 million for Lawlor vs Smith. Fedor vs Werdum 412,000 viewers third highest rated Strikeforce on Showtime event ever:

    1.) Carano vs. Cyborg (576,000)
    2.) Strikeforce: Miami (517,000)
    3.) Fedor vs. Werdum (412,000)

  15. Jose Mendoza on January 20th, 2011 12:39 AM

    rj, mmaguru:

    You also have to take into account that the Fedor vs Werdum card in San Jose gave them a million dollar gate, which has only been done two or three times by the promotion ever.

  16. Nick on January 20th, 2011 2:41 PM

    I will guarantee you that Fedor made a hell of a lot more money than Carano or Shamrock did, though. It’s one thing to do big ratings and gates, it’s another to make money doing it.

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