"Based on some of the things that had happened, we were hesitant," Rebney said. "A lot of people were."
Still, Rogers' manager kept telling Rebney how much Rogers had changed, how deeply sorry he was for what he'd done, and how determined he was to get his life and career back on track. Rebney didn't doubt that the manager was telling the truth, or at least thought he was, but he'd have to hear it for himself before he could even think about believing it, he said.
"I got on the phone with him and listened to his story, listened to him express regret for what had happened, and it all came off as very legitimate," Rebney said. "He was working delivering papers, getting up at like 3:30 in the morning. He could have made more working as a bouncer in a club, but he told me he didn't want to do that because it would put him in the wrong environment. It sounded honest to me."
So Bellator gave him a fight against Kevin Asplund in June. Rogers won and, according to Rebney, "looked OK," though not great in the process. When it decided to give him one of the open slots in the heavyweight tournament that begins at Bellator 75 this Friday night in Hammond, Ind., Rogers knew he had to step up his training, which is why he headed to Coconut Creek, Fla., to work with American Top Team. There, he said, he found a heavyweight's delight. All dedicated fighters, all under one roof, "and when you go back the next day, you see the same faces," he said. "I never had that before."
The time away from his family hasn't been easy, he said, but much like the counseling sessions, he sees it as something he can do to show his wife and kids how serious he is about being the husband and father and provider they need.
"The kids, they understand what I'm doing and how important it is for me to be away," Rogers said. "My wife, she understands that this is what pays the bills. I think we all learned so much from this. We communicate so much better now because we learned that if something is hurting one of us, it's hurting us all."
But if Rogers (12-4 MMA, 1-0 BFC) is serious about climbing the heavyweight ranks again, he has his work cut out for him. Not only does he face a tough first-round opponent in Russian Alexander Volkov (16-3 MMA, 0-0 BFC) on MTV2, he'll have to battle public perception after so many saw his name in the headlines following what may have been the biggest mistake of his life. Many fight fans may still remember him for that incident more than any of his exploits inside the cage, and he knows it.
"I want that fan to pay more attention to me now than ever," Rogers said. "I'm human, and most likely that person is human too. I know we make mistakes and we get over things. You have to move forward in life. I'm not going to be stuck in that period for the rest of my life. That's not me. I want that fan to see and recognize the changes in me."
Rebney, who might end up crowning Rogers as the new Bellator heavyweight champion by the time the tournament is over, also has every reason to worry about fan reaction to Rogers. But, Rebney said, he's always been "a believer in second chances," and he's hoping that Rogers won't make him regret it.
"I don't know where it will go from here," Rebney said. "I don't have a crystal ball, and I don't know if this will turn out to be a positive story in the end, but based on what he told me, I felt like he was at least deserving of an opportunity. We decided to give it to him."
What Rogers will do with that opportunity remains to be seen, but he knows he still has a hard road ahead of him, he said. His hope is that maybe his willingness to walk it will help someone else who thinks they've fallen far past the point of redemption – a feeling he knows all too well.
"I know that I fell down pretty hard," Rogers said. "But I want to prove to people that you can bounce back. You can, if your heart is in it and you know your mistakes."