*Note* This interview took place prior to Saturday, so no questions were asked about War Machine's Tweets or Bjorn Rebney's statement that was issued after, as well as the rematch between Lightweight champion Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez that was announced earlier this afternoon right here.
Michael Stets (MMAmania.com): From hearing the conference call last week for the Quinton Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz PPV, you seem pretty excited about it.
Bjorn Rebney: Yes I am super excited about it. I'm an old school fan, and it's a fight that I've wanted to see for a long time. I know both of these guys. I have been watching them train over the last few months and I think it will be a great fight. I think stylistically it's a great fight. Icon-wise it's a great fight ... I'm excited.
Michael Stets: Bellator is based off the tournament format that you have pushed since its inception. Now you are going with a match between Rampage and Tito. Will we see either of those two get involved in a tournament after their fight in November?
Bjorn Rebney: One of the good things about our relationship with Quinton is that I talk to him more like my partners than I do with guys that work for me. I think any and every door is open. We are not going to shy away from the tournament format, that's what made us who we are. That's what we do. But, I've never said that we wouldn't do great, great fights that were organized and set up if the right opportunity arose. It's not for a world title fight. This isn't about our 205-pound title, that's a situation right now that is between Emmanuel Newton and Attila Vegh and "King" Muhammed Lawal.
But, this is a great fight, and when you get an opportunity as a promoter to make an awesome fight like this, you have to take advantage of it. When this thing is over, who knows? Tito feels really good ... Rampage is looking to go on a complete tear, so who knows, we might see one or both of those guys get into a four-man tournament or make a run at the title.
Michael Stets: I think fans would salivate at a 205-pound tournament with King Mo, Tito Ortiz and Rampage all as participants. That could be one of your biggest and most popular tournaments to date.
Bjorn Rebney: That would be a pretty big tournament, two of the four guys that belong on the Mt. Rushmore of mixed martial arts, and one of the biggest names in the game. That would be insane. I don't know if that would happen, but you never know. Page and Tito have said that they are open to discussing anything. That's a good part of our relationship is that we can just discuss ideas openly. I can throw out ideas and they can throw out ideas and we can figure out what's the best way to go.
Michael Stets: With Tito and Rampage, comes a lot of baggage. They have a lot of negative things to say about the UFC. It's become a bit of a redundant, underlying narrative with those two. If I was a promoter, I would want my guys to focus on the positives and the future, but they seem to keep dipping back into the past on how they weren't treated good. Does that bother you at all?
Bjorn Rebney: Look, it's a good question. Those guys have an amazing history. You are talking about two of the four guys that are in large part responsible for the largest and most epic events in the history of the UFC. Chuck was part of some monsters. Randy was part of some monsters, and Tito and Rampage. Those are the four cornerstones of that organization. It's part of who they are. It's part of their story. As I've said many times, I'm not, nor do I believe I should be the first amendment police in terms of telling guys what they should say, and telling the stories they should tell and shouldn't tell. Those guys feel strongly about things, and I'm a huge supporter of their right and their ability to go out and express themselves. That's part of their narrative. The history of Rampage and the history of Tito is intertwined in their fights, and it's intertwined in some of those relationships that they've had.
Michael Stets: Obviously there is no love lost between Viacom and the UFC. Do you ever feel caught in the middle of that at all?
Bjorn Rebney: The reality of it is, look, we are in the fight business. My partners at Viacom and Kevin Kay my partner at Spike -- who I work with day-in and day out -- and myself, we are not in the golf business. We don't run cooking shows. I run a mixed martial arts company that is in a hyper, hyper competitive state.
Kevin runs a network that is in the largest supporter and the most successful distribution platform in the history of MMA. We are in the fight industry. With that comes a fighting spirit. The competitive air to it and the fighting spirit air to it ... I think that when you see those types of situations and when you see those comments, that is just part of the parcel of what our industry is about.
It's part of the parcel of the competitive nature and the people that play in it. None of that surprises me and none of that attracts my attention. That's part of my personality. That's part of the personality of anybody who would run a company like this. You are not going to find anybody in this industry who is exceptionally soft spoken and passive in their nature. It's not part of the gig.
Michael Stets: As far as building the rest of the PPV card is concerned, is it a tough and delicate balance to figure out how to build the rest of the card without losing ratings for the fall season?
Bjorn Rebney: That's a great question. The reality for us right now, across all of our weight divisions, we are just getting more and more depth. So saw it in the last card we just did, and you will see it in the launch of this next season. These tournaments are the most stacked tournaments I've ever put together. There's title fight after title fight lined up. We are going to put huge meat on the bone on this pay-per-view. As an MMA fan for the last 20 plus years, as a guy who has watched everything and everyone in MMA forever, from the moment it first dawned on U.S. television, to be able to sit between Tito and Rampage and announce that fight was just awesome. That was as cool as it gets. I was sitting between Rampage and Tito announcing our first pay-per-view. I think one of the things that's going to be maybe not as awe inspiring, but definitely as exciting is going to be the announcement of the other four fights that support Tito and Rampage on the pay-per-view.
We are going to put some epic fights together for this pay-per-view and it's going to be great to see them. I think we have enough depth now where look, there is an important buildup over the nine or 10 weeks of the season where we want to do great ratings on Spike, too.
I think we have enough meat on the bone now where I don't think that the fact that we are doing the pay-per-view in November -- two shows prior to the end of that season -- where it's going to negatively impact. I just think the depth is there now where we are going to have killer shows leading up to it and a crazy good pay-per-view and then two weeks of wicked finals.
Michael Stets: And the plans for the "Prelims" for the pay-per-view?
Bjorn Rebney: Kevin Kay and I will do a show on Spike together and that will be terrific, too. That will have great meat on the bone, as well to grab people before and get everybody ready for the pay-per-view. So, yeah, we will do a pre-show on Spike as well.
Michael Stets: You announced that the price for the PPV will be between $34.95 and $44.95. Dave Meltzer wrote an interesting article recently, bringing up the point of if you have a cheap price, many just assume it's a cheap product. Did that factor into your thinking at all for the price?
Bjorn Rebney: What we really did is we went to the different distributors and said to them hey look we are going to ... the distributors asked us for a certain degree of flexibility and market to launch this new pay-per-view product. I think one of the good things about our organization is we do well with others. We are not dictatorial. We know what we know, and we also have a pretty good handle on what we don't know.
My mom used to say, ‘If you want to be the best, strive to not be the smartest guy in the room.' So we've taken that approach with the different distribution partners. We said to them you can price if it you feel you believe you can most effectively monetize this great big premium event. Some of them have come back and said, ‘Hey, we want to go at $35' and some have come back and said, ‘Hey, we want to go at $45.' We've left them a certain degree of flexibility on this first event to gauge where they believe their market is, and where they believe their tolerance levels of their consumer base to maximize the buy rate.
We will see how it works.
It goes in line with a lot of what we've done, which is playing well with others, listening to people and trying to allow people to have expertise in a certain space, to be able to utilize that expertise to maximize the B.R.O.I. for both of us. And they are our partners, too. Those pay-per-view distributors are our partners. They don't work separately from us. They work together with us. So if they come back to us and say, 'We think this would be the best possible price to maximize our buy rate,' you want to listen to those people.
Michael Stets: Outside chance or pipe dream? Any remote chance of Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler 2 happening now that you are going the PPV route.
Bjorn Rebney: If you've listened to interviews I've given in the past, I'm never one to say never, because as a student of the human condition, and listening to people and working with people over the last few years you never know what could happen. I would say it's been a confrontational situation.
It's been an uncomfortable situation for all involved and I wouldn't bet the house on it. You never know. You are not the only one to ask that question. Everyone who has interviewed me in the last week brings that up and has asks that question. I've said it a lot of times I've probably seen more mixed martial arts fights than anyone in the world.
There maybe a few people out there who have seen as many or maybe a couple more than me, but I have to up on the top list of four or five people on Earth in terms of live MMA fights that they've seen. When Chandler beat Alavarez for the world title, it was the best mixed martial arts fight I've ever seen.
I look back on it as a fan. I've probably watched the replay of it in my office 40 times now. It was an awesome, epic, incredible fight. To say it was the best mixed martial arts fight I've ever seen, I've watched every one of our fights, a ton of UFC fights, and I've watched a lot of other peoples fights. I use to watch all the old Pride stuff, so I've seen a lot of fights. At this point, I would bet the house on it.
*Note that since this interview the epic rematch has been book for the Bellator 106 co-main event (details here).
Michael Stets: Part of the lawsuit between Bellator and Eddie Alvarez is on the hypothetical earnings he would receive on a UFC PPV. Alvarez felt Bellator wasn't planning PPV event. This is Bellator's first venture into PPV, and while it's not necessarily to show a point to Alvarez that you are doing a PPV and he could have been on the card, but in essence you are showing him.
Bjorn Rebney: The decision and the determination to do this pay-per-view had absolutely nothing to do with Ed, nothing to do with Ed. The decision to do this pay-per-view was based on my relationship with Rampage and my eight-year-long relationship with Tito and the ability to put together an awesome, awesome main event that I -- as a fan -- wanted to see. I don't know if it will have impact or it won't.
Michael Stets: Ben Askren is now a free man. How important is it for Bellator to lock him up long term and keep him under the Bellator brand?
Bjorn Rebney: We'll see. That was Ben's last fight under his current deal. We've got an exclusive negotiating deal we are going to be working through. We are back in the office and now we've made this big pay-per-view announcement. So we have to figure out what's what and who's coming up when. We'll see what happens. We'll see what happens with Ben in the coming month. I think we will have good open communication with his management and him and we'll see if there is a deal to be made.
Michael Stets: How hard is it to acquire talent at 155 to challenge Michael Chandler? He's blown through his last three fights in under five minutes total.
Bjorn Rebney: I don't think the situation would be any different for Michael Chandler fighting anyone on Earth. I don't think it would be any different if he were fighting in the UFC than fighting in Bellator. Michael Chandler is a monster. I believe both subjectively and objectively that Michael Chandler is the best one hundred and fifty five fighter on earth today.
It is a tough chore as it would be a tough for anyone. Fortunately for me it's my chore and I'm thrilled to have it, it's a good job to have. Being in the Michael Chandler business is a very good business to be in. Michael Chandler is a monster. His standup game is evolved at a high rate, it's almost inconceivable, his wrestling is unbelievable, his submission game is spectacular, he's fast like a cat, he's got the athleticism, the kind of athleticism that can translate into any sport in any arena.
He's a beast. He's an absolute beast, and a good dude outside the cage. So if the question is am I going to be able to put forth the one hundred and fifty five pounders that can challenge Michael Chandler? That's a good question. I'm not sure.
Everybody thought that Anderson Silva was unbeatable, and then an unknown fighter on the east coast ended up beating him. So you never know what's going to happen in mixed martial arts, it's always a fight. Michael Chandler is an unbelievable talent and anybody that does beat him is going to have to have game on game on game.
Michael Stets: Women's MMA doesn't appear to be a priority for Bellator. Why is that?
Bjorn Rebney: We've had some really talented ladies sign to the organization. The focal point, our focus has really been on the development of the men's game -- 45, 55, 70 and 85 have been rock-solid strong for us, they are getting deeper and deeper and I'm putting a huge amount of effort in the last year into 205, 265 and 135. I'm putting just an amazing amount of effort into those divisions so we can round them out and try to get them closer in terms of talent level.
I think you see it now at 205 with the Newtons, and the Mikhail Zyatts and the Attila Veghs and the King Mo's, that's rounding itself out beautifully. 265 is coming around. I think Minikov is an absolute monster. Minikov vs. Volkov is going to be a crazy world title fight for us. Ryan Martinez -- who just went in for hand surgery today -- I know he lost to Minikov, but man, Martinez is a beast.
So we've got some great, great talent at 265 and we still have to keep rounding that out and building more guys. Thirty-five has been rock solid as well. It's been that focus and now the pay-per-view. It's been more difficult for us to round out the fullness of divisions at either 15 or 25. I'm going to have to figure out in very short order, what I can do to give the ladies more flexibility to fight anywhere and everywhere.
Look, the cornerstone of a fighter's career is fighting and fighting often. It's about building up their resume as a fighter and building up their brand. It's incumbent upon me as a good guy and as a promoter, to ... If I can't give them the fights that they need on a huge platform, I've got to put them in a position where they have the flexibility to fight somewhere else.
We are going through that as we speak and we are trying to find out the best way to do it. I have nothing but wild respect for Jessica Aquilar, who has been with us since the start. She's awesome, and Jessica Eye is just a hugely talented fighter. Felice Herrig is terrific.
We have some good ladies signed. It is by no means fair to them to not be fighting all the time. Those ladies are so talented that they deserve to be fighting all the time, so we are trying to work our way through it. You may see them fighting in other places.
Michael Stets: The four-man tournaments worked pretty well in the "Summer Series." Will you look to have those more frequently now?
Bjorn Rebney: Yeah absolutely. I love the four-man. I love that that was a slight variation of the theme and a change in our structure and our format. I love what it's done for us. I love the flexibility that it gives me and gives guys title shots more quickly. I love the fact that it keeps our champions in there defending their strap on a consistent basis. I love the four-man, and I think you will see more and more of it as we move forward. I'd love to have at least two and maybe three four-man tournaments this fall to complement what we are doing with the eight-man. Absolutely part of our present, and without question, part of our future.
Michael Stets: I liked it. I thought it revved up the excitement a little bit because you are only one win away from the final. I think that everyone is biting down on their mouth piece a little harder in that opening round.
Bjorn Rebney: You saw it this summer. I completely agree with you. It's exciting. It still plays into the format. You still have to win two huge fights to earn it. I love it. I want to do a lot more of it.
Michael Stets: "Fightmaster." How do you think it is going so far? Me personally, I enjoy it. I enjoy Frank Shamrock and the coaching aspect of the show. How do you feel about it so far?
Bjorn Rebney: I like it. I think it is a good show. I love listening to Joe Warren and Frank. I like the back and forth ping pong game that goes on between Frank and Joe. I think it reflects really well on mixed martial arts. I think it's a great competitive format that plays well into what we are about. It's a good product, I like it and I hope we can figure out how to make the adjustments to it, keep tweaking it, and see if we can get more people to tune in. I think it's a good show, I like making it and I like the end result.
Michael Stets: Have you sat down with Kevin Kay and the show's producers to discuss things you can work on for season 2? Has their been any possible coaches being bandied about?
Bjorn Rebney: I always end up talking to Kevin about stuff like that. If you can probably well imagine, my hyper, hyper focus has been coming up on this fall season, which has been incredible and hugely important in terms of leading in to our pay-per-view, and then the pay-per-view that's coming up in November with Rampage and Tito and all the other announcements we're going to make. That's been kind of the central focus. Look, when the season gets done and when we have the final episode of "Fightmaster," we will all sit down and analyze it and see what's what and analyze it and see what's next.
Michael Stets: Tell me about the challenge of putting on fights in the fall season on Fridays, largely due to the NFL on Thursday nights? Kind of bad timing, since they just started doing the full slate of Thursday night games last season.
Bjorn Rebney: As an NFL fan, I've never dislike them more. It is what it is. There's no way around it. Thursday night was a great night for us. I loved having Dixie's (TNA Wrestling) shows lead in for us. She's an awesome partner. Her and I were getting some great ping-pong back and forth in terms of promotional synergies.
The reality is the NFL is an enormous juggernaut and a wildly successful, the most successful sports franchise we have in the United States. To go head-to-head with them for eight out of the 11 weeks was not a good idea in anybodies book. We had to pick a night. We bandied about Wednesday nights. We looked at Friday nights and we looked at Saturdays and Friday seemed to be the best night.
Will it be our long-term home? I don't know, we'll see. I hope we do good numbers on Friday nights coming up this fall because it will be a great season. Kevin and I will have to reassess after we get done with the ... When we are the entire first three quarters of the way through the season, but hopefully it does well.
The good news is that there isn't a lot of competition on Friday nights. The bad news about Fridays is that it's Friday. I'm hopeful. We have incredible shows that we are going to be putting on. I'm hopeful that it shows in the numbers.
Michael Stets: The crossover promotion with TNA wrestling and Bellator. Is that ever a surreal thing to you, to see your fighters over there? Also do you get nervous of an injury happening to one of your guys when they are over there?
Bjorn Rebney: I run nervous by nature on things like that, so I'm always thinking about it. It's something that Dixie and I have talked about for 1.5 years in terms of how to cross-pollinate the two brands. How to try and draw wrestling fans to MMA and draw MMA fans to wrestling. This is kind of the tip of the iceberg of it.
You haven't seen Rampage or Tito really wrestle yet. That's coming because they are in hard-core training as we speak. We are setting the tone now for the storyline perspective. It's not surreal, only because I've been talking to Dixie about it for so long and her and I have been bandying about ideas and options and concepts. Guys like King Mo, Rampage and Tito are perfect foils for stuff like that.
We just have to keep building on that. Dixie has an amazing show that does huge numbers on Spike, with millions of viewers on a consistent basis. It's an incredible platform. It is incumbent on me as a promoter of mixed martial arts, as the head of the second largest MMA organization of the world, I have to figure out how to bring more consumers over to MMA.
Ninety-nine out of 100 people that watch MMA for the first time or go to a live event are going to come back. So if I can pull even five percent of those viewers who are watching Impact to Bellator ... If I can get them to tune in because they see Rampage or they see Tito or they see Mo, that is incredibly important, not just for Bellator, but for the entire sport of MMA.
I love it. I think it's cool. I love the fact that my guys are making money in a different arena. I love the fact that I'm helping and Dixie has been cool enough to help build their brand in a different arena for a different fan base. I think it's all positive.
Michael Stets: What about the MMA purists who knock it? Whether they like it or not, Bellator is crossing into brand new territory with cross promoting wrestling and MMA. You are doing something that no one else has done before. How about the negative reaction to it?
Bjorn Rebney: Look, I'm a purist as well. I love this game. I would have never started this company on a pure objective format if I didn't believe in the purity of the game and that this is the greatest sport on the face of the Earth. We are not a mainstream sport yet. We are not yet a huge crossover sport like a baseball, football, or basketball. If we want to get there, we have to keep pulling in fans. We have to keep exposing this incredible sport that we have to more people who have never seen it.
You don't that just by watching new MMA events. You do that by bringing in Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Tito, King Mo, and Michael Chandler and Pat Curran on other MTV shows and properties. You do that by exposing them to people who have never seen them on an "Impact Wrestling" setting, where there are two million people watching on a Thursday night. You do that by introducing them on spectacular tattoo shows on Spike and by having them walking the red carpet and present at the "Guys Choice Awards" with Jennifer Anniston. You do that with all those mechanisms. You do that through Quinton "Rampage" Jackson being on "The A-Team," etcetera, etcetera. \That's how you do it. So, everybody opportunity that I get to expose these guys that are the cornerstone of this organization and help them build those brands, I'm going to take it.