Two months from now, Bellator MMA will be holding the first ever pay-per-view event in promotional history. The stakes would be high for any company looking to expand into new territory, but early success will be particularly important for an organization which claims to be truly looking to compete against the hegemonic force of the UFC. Bellator is attempting to showcase every bit of talent from their roster that they can muster, but have they gone too far?
Recent reports from Bellator indicated that light heavyweight champion Atilla Vegh had sustained an injury and would be unable to defend his title this fall. The promotion was quick to announce that an interim championship fight would be scheduled in its place, pitting “King” Muhammed Lawal against rival Emanuel Newton, the only man to defeat him in the Bellator cage. Lawal is one of the biggest stars on Bellator’s roster, and it would make sense that they would want to feature him on their pay-per-view debut. This posed a match-making challenge for the promotion, as Newton had preference in fighting for the title as he had won a light heavyweight tournament earlier in the year. King Mo could either stay on the shelf as he awaited his own opportunity, or fight a lesser opponent in the meantime. The announcement of Vegh’s injury allowed Bellator officials to instead book a high profile rematch between two title contenders, essentially functioning as a title eliminator between the two tournament winners. It seemed to be a highly convenient development at the time, as the champion’s language barrier and lack of name recognition made him a tough sell on a pay-per-view card. Crazier things have happened (see Pettis earning title shot in hometown), so many gave Bellator the benefit of the doubt.
Things changed over the weekend, as champion Atilla Vegh told Polish publication MMA Rocks that he is in perfect health, and his absence from the pay-per-view card is strictly for business. In a translated statement, he said:
“It’s about business on Bellator’s side. People want to see the rematch between King Mo and Newton. That’s why my fight is postponed to January and I’ll face the winner of the November’s fight. I’m not injured, I’m perfectly fine. It may be caused by the fact that I’m a foreign fighter, I’m not an American. American people want to see their fighters, but I won’t give them my belt for free.”
Pretty damning statements from the champion, but Bellator officials maintained that there was no truth to the comments and it was just a simple matter of mistranslation They responded with a press-release of their own, along with a document they insisted was evidence of the injury in question:
“Numerous websites yesterday posted a story regarding Attila Vegh and statements he allegedly made to a reporter while in Poland. The interview was done in Slovakian, through a reporter speaking Polish, and a number of US websites published the story with inaccurate and misleading information.
Please see the attached medical report to this email, a doctor’s report provided to Bellator by Attila’s doctor detailing his injury and instructing him to do nothing for 2 months.
Additionally, Attila has confirmed that his statements were not translated correctly and were not accurate. Attila was fully aware that Bellator made numerous attempts to schedule his world title defense vs. Emmanuel Newton, and that his injury prevented that bout from occurring and that Bellator was going to schedule an interim world title fight because of the delays.
Attila will be facing the winner of the Newton vs. Mo Interim World Title fight in early 2014.”
Here’s the problem: the attached medical report in question does nothing to dispel rumors of foul play. Vegh was seen by a Polish physician back on April 15, 2013, and the diagnosis made at the time would see him getting treatment for 6-8 weeks. This would place his return at sometime near the middle of June, plenty of time to prepare for a fight in November. If Bellator wants us to take them at their word, they will need to produce some evidence that fits into the narrative of a current injury. Vegh’s camp has not yet responded to the promotion’s most recent comments, but it will be interesting to see how this story progresses. Stay tuned as we bring you further updates once they are made available.
What do you think SciFighters? Has Bellator crossed the line?