Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said Gilbert Melendez is just the first of many primetime fighters who may be headed to Bellator.
“We’re going to continue to sign the best fighters, whether they are from a favela in Brazil, the frozen tundra of Siberia, or they are fighting in the UFC,” Rebney told Dave Meltzer of MMA Fighting. “That’s the mission. The fighters are the ones fueling PPV buys or fueling cable television ratings. You’re not fueling ratings by promoting Bjorn or Bellator. Promoting the fighters should be first and foremost.”
Bellator is blatantly taking a shot at the UFC and its pattern of promoting UFC President Dana White and the UFC brand often before the fighters. Melendez has fought twice in the UFC, losing a controversial decision to Benson Henderson and then defeating Diego Sanchez.
Despite Melendez’s loss, he is still a fighter with his own brand. He made his name before fighting for the UFC, as the lightweight champion for Strikeforce. Melendez, having become at top 5 fighter outside of the UFC, likely feels more comfortable fighting for a smaller promotion, knowing that he doesn’t need the UFC to get people to notice him.
Bellator and Melendez came to a deal, but the UFC has right to match it.
Rebney said Bellator is looking to compete with the UFC.
“We’re going after everybody, more-and-more often. I think there’s a bigger picture issue. The biggest thing is there are two major players in MMA. It’s far and away better for the fighters. When a fighter has one option, he has no power at the negotiating table. But when he has two options, the fighter has all the negotiating power. That’s actually counter intuitive, coming from the CEO of a fight company. But that’s the truth. And my checkbook may take a shot because of it. But if the fighters can earn what they feel they deserve, overall we and the sport will be in a better place. You’re going to see much more of this as we move forward, guys coming from the smallest regions where we find undiscovered talent, to the superstars from the UFC and other guys we find in the United States.”
Bellator has already signed big names such as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Tito Ortiz and Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal. Bellator also blocked Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez from signing with the UFC.
Bellator, owned by Viacom, could potentially offer UFC fighters substantially more money through entertainment opportunities under the Viacom umbrella.