January 16, 2015
Earlier today, Neil Rooke from Combat Press broke the news that Bellator MMA will be announcing the signing of the Ex-EliteXC and TUF star Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson during Fridays Bellator broadcast on Spike TV.
John Morgan from MMAJunkie later confirmed that report on Twitter.
— John Morgan (@MMAjunkieJohn) January 16, 2015
This is an interesting time for MMA. In the past, this would have been ridiculed and perhaps bashed by many MMA fans, but the fact is that MMA needs as many stars as possible right now and this move has been perceived as positive by many. After all, this comes after the UFC just signed pro-wrestler CM Punk and there are talks of other pro-wrestlers negotiating with both the UFC and Bellator. Brock Lesnar is another big name that the UFC hopes to sign back into the promotion after his WWE contract is up in a few months.
The move should come as no surprise to those who have followed Bellator recently. There has been a big effort in signing proven talent to the company as of late. Rampage Jackson was signed after producing some big ratings on Spike TV during his TUF 10 stint against Rashad Evans. The same can be said about Kimbo Slice, whose season of TUF drew 3M viewers for the entire season and his fight against Roy Nelson drew a record-breaking audience on the network with nearly 6M viewers. Bellator has also shown interest in having talks with Brock Lesnar after his contract expires, which is intriguing since Bellator MMA already has TNA pro-wrestling star Bobby Lashley under contract.
December 31, 2014
A pair of Bellator events make it to the top 3. First, Bellator 131 has its best ratings.
Bellator 131 on SpikeTV
November 15, 2014 was the biggest event in Bellator history to date. As we know, Bellator 131 took place in San Diego, California with Tito Ortiz taking on Stephan Bonnar in the main event. The main card took place on Spike TV and scored the largest rating ever for the organization.
Ortiz-Bonnar drew an average of 1.8 million viewers on SpikeTV with a peak of over 2 million which made it the most-watched and highest-rated MMA fight on cable in 2014. The overall telecast of 3 hours and 16 minutes drew a rating of 1.24 million viewers. Each of the fights on the Spike TV card drew over 1 million viewers and it was the clear winner of the night compared to the UFC 180 Prelims and WSOF card which portions of those shows aired at the same time as Bellator 131.
The great ratings for the event were based on strong promotion of the card which included shoulder programming on SpikeTV and, of course, Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar. While their “bad blood” stemmed from a pro-wrestling-like skit, the build was promoted well by Bellator. Although the actual fight was not a classic, Bellator got what it wanted, an audience willing to tune in.
Bellator 131 was a reflection of the Scott Coker-era and his new strategy. Based on the ratings, it seemed to work. On a night opposite a UFC PPV, Bellator seemingly won the night. We will see if its strategy of placing quarterly tent pole events will continue to work.
Bellator finally on PPV
In May, Bellator decided to test the waters of PPV. After its initial plans were set aside due to an injury by headliner Tito Ortiz, it went ahead with another try in May.
Unfortunately, its co-main event fell through as Eddie Alvarez had to pull out due to an injury. In his place to face Michael Chandler was Will Brooks. With a Rampage Jackson-Mo Lawal headliner the question was whether the card was strong enough to remain on PPV.
The PPV’s price point was between $35 and $45 which some believed was overpriced for the talent the event was offering.
It turns out, the PPV was a small success as multiple reports had the PPV at 100,000 buys. The number was confirmed by Spike TV’s president Kevin Kay.
Although the PPV was a success, it appears that Bellator will step back from any further attempts at PPV for now. If the 100K PPV buy rate is correct, it’s a testament to the promotion and shoulder programming by Spike which supported the event. It also played up the rivalry between Jackson and Lawal. Once again, known talent (Jackson) and a hot rivalry helped bring in the PPV buys. We’ll see if Coker’s strategy will include another Bellator PPV down the line.
December 30, 2014
It’s rare that a hyped-up announcement lives up to expectations. But, the signing of Phil Brooks (aka CM Punk) did when he came on during the UFC 181 PPV to announce his intent to fight in the UFC.
Punk’s announcement left many UFC fans wondering about the direction of the UFC. Some like the signing seeing it as good business as Punk is a “needle mover.” Others, like Nate Diaz and Jon Jones questioned the signing. For those fighters that had to fight and scrape their way to make it to the UFC, seeing Punk, a 36 year old without any MMA fights under his belt, entering the UFC was a joke.
Jones provided sound reasoning for his anti-Punk sentiment (via MMA Fighting):
“Every day I’m [Jones] at the gym watching these kids training. These guys have no money and they’re training their tails off, giving up everything to be a fighter. Living in the gym, eating turkey and peanut butter, bare minimum to chase this dream and then a superstar like him just gets to jump into the UFC just because he knows the right people and has a name.”
Punk stated at the initial interview that he had not decided on a place to train and what weight division he would compete in.
The signing came shortly after Punk was on the Colt Cabana Podcast detailing health issues including admitting to 12 or 13 concussions. One would think that this concern will come into play if a commission will have to sanction Punk’s first fight.
Can Punk draw ratings and PPV buys for the UFC? The day after UFC 181, the name CM Punk drew over 100,000 in U.S. google searches. A Fox Sports Live which featured a CM Punk interview drew more than the usual amount of viewers. One might conclude that there is a definite interest, or should we say curiosity, about whether Punk can actually fight. Sure, he is great in the gym and trains with a lot of MMA fighters, but there are a lot of basketball players that are great in the gym but horrible in actual games. Will Punk be able to translate his athletic ability in the Octagon? Although Brock Lesnar was able to make the switch to MMA, he was a decorated college wrestler. He also had at least one pro fight before entering the UFC. Thus, the Punk signing is a gamble. Moreover, the Punk signing reflects a move by the UFC to focus on the spectacle aspect of its business.
December 29, 2014
Bjorn Rebney was relieved of his duties as the head of Bellator in June of this year. He was replaced by former Strikeforce head Scott Coker.
In addition, Bellator president and COO Tim Danaher was let go by Viacom. According to MMA Fighting, the replacement of Rebney was dependent on waiting out Coker’s Zuffa’s non-compete clause.
Rebney indicated that he had differed “on views of the right strategic direction.”
A week or so before the change Rebney announced a change to its title fights which allowed for former tournament winners to challenge for a title. They would no longer have to enter a tournament again to regain a chance for a title fight.
Looking back, one might infer a difference of opinion with the Bellator tournament structure. In fact, this was one of the changes made by Coker upon him taking power.
Coker produced the biggest event in Bellator history in November with Bellator 131 with the main event of Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar. The change in promotion philosophy looks to have the company turning the corner as it competes with the UFC in the MMA landscape.
The move from Rebney to Coker looks to have worked out in the short term. He’s focused on the “less is more” strategy with the goal of producing 16 shows next year while focusing on quarterly “big events” which would include title fights along with headline names. Per MMA Fighting, Coker plans on concentrating on promoting the company’s monthly shows on Spike TV along with focusing on a three month marketing campaign for its “big events” which will air on Saturday nights. With word that it will actively try to sign more free agents including Brock Lesnar after his WWE contract expires, one might assume that Viacom is willing to expand its budget for Bellator.
December 29, 2014
The manager for Rampage Jackson issued a statement regarding the reasons it left Bellator and signed with the UFC per a report with MMA Fighting. Jackson’s management cites Bjorn Rebney as the source of the contractual irregularity with Bellator and its subsequent reasons it left the company.
Per Lee Gwynn, Jackson’s manager, Jackson was disenchanted with Bellator and decided to leave. According to Gwynn, in addition to a Bellator contract, Bjorn Rebney offered a Paramount movie deal, a Spike TV reality show and a TNA pro wrestling contract. Gwynn interpreted these additional incentives as creating an entertainment contract rather than a normal fight contract. He also included a PPV payment model for Jackson.
It appears from the statement that the PPV buys did not meet Jackson’s incentives in his contract and they looked to renegotiate the structure at that point. However, Rebney was replaced by Scott Coker.
As Gwynn interprets the contract with Bellator as an entertainment contract, they claim that there was a 45 day notice to list the grievances it had with the company and the company had time to rectify the issues. Obviously, with Jackson signing with the UFC, Coker was not able to satisfy Jackson’s concerns. Per Gwynn’s statement it gave Bellator 70 days instead of the requisite 45 days.
Gwynn indicated that his lawyers, UFC lawyers and “an outside law firm” agreed with Jackson’s position that terminating the Bellator contract was “legitimate.”
This is obviously one side of the story. But, Jackson’s reps paint the picture that Rebney is to blame for the contract and the subsequent breach. The question of whether Jackson could renegotiate the contract when the PPV did not fulfill his contract is an issue. Also, another issue is whether the additional “entertainment” sweeteners made the entire contract an entertainment contract. Rampage did have a “reality series” on SpikeTV entitled “#Rampage4Real.” He also participated in TNA. As we recently revisited the Ronda Rousey split with Fight Tribe, at least in California (we assume the Rampage contract was signed in California since Bellator’s office is in Newport Beach) the fight contract and entertainment portion of the contract can be parsed out to be litigated and/or arbitrated. This will not be the end of this contractual drama.
December 27, 2014
MMA Fighting reports on Scott Coker’s impressions of the UFC lawsuit as it pertains to how his organization is described in the lawsuit as a “minor league.”
Coker indicated in the article that he had not read the Complaint (we assume the first one filed by Le, Quarry and Fitch but all of them mirror each other) filed by former UFC fighters against Zuffa. Unsurprisingly, Coker does not think that Bellator is a minor league. He did not comment on whether the UFC was a monopoly or his thoughts on the lawsuit. He did indicate that Bellator and parent company Viacom had nothing to do with the lawsuit.
Coker also stated to MMA Fighting that it reached out to Brock Lesnar about fighting with the company. Lesnar’s WWE contract ends after Wrestlemania in March. He also stated that Bellator would be in on “every single major MMA free agent in 2015.” Apparently this also may mean every pro wrestler wanting to be an MMA fighter as it has initiated talks with former WWE star Alberto Del Rio. Del Rio is slated to do some dates with Ring of Honor Wrestling in the new year but Bellator has reached out. The 37 year old Del Rio (real name Jose Rodriguez) has an MMA background including two fights in Pride which includes a loss to Mirko Cro Cop in 2003 per Sherdog. His last MMA fight was in February 2010.
The lawsuit filed against the UFC has to be of interest for Bellator and its own business practices. For the cynical, the fact that Coker did not read the lawsuit or watch the press conference announcing the lawsuit allows him plausible deniability on commenting on his impressions of what was filed and what he thinks becomes of it. Certainly, Bellator lawyers are keeping an eye on the litigation that is evolving in San Jose. Yet, Coker denying that Bellator is “minor league” is not surprising. As the head of the organization, he does not want the company characterized in that way as it sends a message to fighters, sponsors and advertisers.
Will Bellator business come into scrutiny if the UFC lawsuit gets to substantive legal issues? Certainly. But, even before the lawsuit, in January of this year White stressed that Viacom-backed Bellator was a competitor (h/t MMA Junkie). Coker’s comments appear to indirectly support White’s statement here which may be beneficial for Zuffa in the lawsuit.
As for its strategy in 2015 of actively pursuing free agents, looking at a pair of 37 year olds (Lesnar and Del Rio) may not be best for competition but as we are seeing, MMA is moving to more entertainment than pure sport. Bellator’s biggest night occurred with a Tito Ortiz-Stephan Bonnar main event. The UFC recently signed 36 year old CM Punk. Signing Lesnar would be huge for Bellator. Although the former UFC Heavyweight Champ may be past his prime, he is a proven draw. Besides Lesnar and Del Rio, if Bellator can secure quality free agent fighters in addition to “brand name” talent, it can continue to build toward competing with the UFC.
December 23, 2014
MMA Fighting reports that Scott Coker has turned over the Rampage Jackson issue to Bellator attorneys. The UFC announced the signing of Jackson on Saturday night.
Jackson provided an official statement on his departure from Bellator on his web site.
A portion of the statement reads:
After five months of grueling negotiations and gray-area contract talks with Bellator MMA and parent-company Viacom, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson officially terminates his contract with the up-and-coming promotion citing multiple breaches since the removal of President and Founder Bjorn Rebney. Jackson exercises a clause in the agreement that allows for a 45-day window to satisfy any contract dispute. Bellator MMA, failing to fulfill the requests of Jackson, was put on notice, failed to respond and eventually notified that negotiations were officially terminated.
Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting reported that the point of contention for Jackson was that “Bellator refused to provide the pay-per-view numbers for Bellator 120 when he fought against Muhammaed Lawal as contracted.”
It appears that what Helwani is reporting is Jackson’s request for an audit of the Bellator 120 PPV numbers which one may conclude the buy rate is related to Jackson’s compensation. One might assume that the contract allowed a 45 day window where the parties would work to fix any issue with the contract. We can deduce that whatever problem that arose in the contract between Jackson and Bellator was not fixed. Or, it was not fixed to the satisfaction of Jackson. Jackson argues that since Bellator could not “cure” the problem with the contract within 45 days, he has a right to cancel the contract and thereby making the contract “void.” Certainly, Bellator is taking a different position on this. With Bellator attorneys involved, we may see another lawsuit in MMA coming soon.
December 19, 2014
MMA Junkie reports that Tito Ortiz was asked, but declined to participate in the current UFC lawsuit filed by three fighters alleging violations of antitrust law.
Ortiz’s attorney, George Prajin, informed Junkie that the current Bellator fighter would not participate in the lawsuit which seeks class action status. According to the Junkie article, Prajin and Ortiz met with Rob Maysey, one of the attorneys leading the charge for this lawsuit a year and a half ago. Although intrigued by the proposed litigation at the time, Ortiz declined to be involved. Ortiz’s attorney indicated that he was contacted recently about the lawsuit but maintained to stay out. However, Ortiz indicated that he may change his mind if the class is certified by the court.
The Ortiz information is interesting and may be one of the hurdles the plaintiffs will have in getting fighters to join the lawsuit. It appears that Ortiz would most likely not want to actively participate for several reasons. He indicated in the article that he doesn’t want his name used just for publicity. Also, there is a storied past with Ortiz and White and perhaps he is looking down the road at does not want to get caught up in messy litigation. Regardless of being a named plaintiff, if this lawsuit enters the discovery stage we will see if one of the sides attempts to depose Ortiz about his past with Zuffa.
December 2, 2014
MMA Junkie reports that Wanderlei Silva will appeal the Nevada State’s Athletic Commission’s lifetime ban. Silva’s lawyer filed a petition for judicial review in Clark County, Nevada on Monday.
The process for appeal of an administrative hearing ruling such as the NSAC’s, is usually through filing for judicial review in superior court. Goodman’s lawyer believes that the legal issue was not given full review by the NSAC.
Although Silva did not appear at the NSAC hearing which handed out the ban and fine, his attorney appeared to argue Silva’s case. The legal theory asserted by Silva’s lawyer was that the NSAC could not discipline him because the commission did not have jurisdiction over an unlicensed fighter. Silva was not licensed by the NSAC at the time it attempted to take a drug test from him. You may recall that Silva eluded the test which was preceding his match against Chael Sonnen at UFC 175.
It’s interesting that Silva has decided to continue pursuit of this claim. Although it may be just to clear his name, it seems like a moot point based on Silva’s advanced age and the fact that he is likely banished forever from the UFC. Although it appears that Bellator would welcome him, due to contractual issues, he’d have to sit out for some time. Still, it’s likely Silva could work around the Nevada suspension if he wanted. According to the report, there should be a court date and briefing on the issue in the new year.
November 25, 2014
MMA Payout has learned from a Nielsen source that Friday night’s encore presentation of Bellator 131 drew an average viewership of 617,000 viewers peaking with 821,000 viewers.
Bellator 131 featured Tito Ortiz narrowly defeating Stephan Bonnar in the main event. The event was the largest for the promotion as it drew the highest attendance in franchise history with 8,243. Bellator 131 drew 1.4 million viewers including Live + 3 viewership (1.2M viewers in overnight viewership)
The 617,000 viewers is a very good replay rating considering it was the third on Spike TV. Still, it shows that the promotion of the event and Tito Ortiz can draw fans to watch an event.