With Bellator MMA set to debut in its new home on Thursday night, point-counterpoint returns for the first time in 2013, as Carlin Bardsley and Trevor Dueck debate a couple of topics related to the organization.
This year Bellator moves to Spike TV on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET, which is immediately following TNA Impact Wrestling (a “pro rasslin’” league). This is an intentional move to provided cross-promotion on the cable channel.
Meanwhile, one of Bellator’s biggest stars, Eddie Alvarez is currently embroiled in a legal battle over whether he is still under contract to stay with the organization or can sign with rival UFC if he pleases.
Our guest bloggers present their opposing stances on each issue. Cast your votes as to which arguments you like better…
IS BELLATOR MMA, WRESTLING CROSSOVER GOOD OR BAD?
Bardsley: Not a good association
When Viacom first acquired an ownership percentage in Bellator, one of the advantages touted by Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney was that being under the Viacom umbrella would enable Bellator talent to appear on other mainstream shows, thus building the brand. So far, the only example has been the appearance of Muhammed (King Mo) Lawal on TNA Impact Wrestling, a move that ultimately does more harm than good.
Associating the MMA brand with something that most of the population regards as low-rent and kitschy doesn’t exactly speak of “putting your best foot forward.” It’s also a move that can easily lead to confusion and doubt regarding Bellator’s legitimacy among casual observers.
While it’s true that “The Ultimate Fighter” got its start airing after WWE Raw, it’s now going to be used as a lead-in for “Justified,” one of FX’s most successful shows. UFC was eager to push away from any WWE association as soon as it was proven that TUF was going to be successful and stand on its own two feet. WWE at the very least is a widely recognized brand; truth be told I had to ask around to figure out what Impact Wrestling is.
MMA has worked hard to clean up its reputation from a “bloodsport” and “human cockfighting.” As fans, we’ve all had to explain to others the misconceptions about the sport. Lumping it in with pro rasslin’ only serves to reinforce those negative connotations and stereotypes.
There’s a reason that Dana White wouldn’t allow Brock Lesnar to do a WWE show while under UFC contract. He built a successful brand, and doesn’t want the whiff of pro wrestling anywhere near it. Bellator shouldn’t either.
Dueck: It’s been going on for years
Professional Wrestling and MMA have been strange bedfellows for years! In fact Japan fused the two together and blurred the lines when they created PRIDE. I remember when Ken Shamrock showed his face in the WWF and he was billed as “The Most Dangerous Man.” He should have stayed in professional wrestling, because to be honest, he was pretty good at it. Josh Barnett was able to make a fine living as a mercenary fighting in different MMA promotions around the world, and still had time to lace up the boots and wrestle top guys in New Japan Pro Wrestling. This is nothing new. Tank Abbott, anyone? Dan Severn? The list goes on.
Lawal signed his deal with Bellator last year so that he could have the freedom to pursue professional wrestling as well. Lawal has spent the last few months at Ohio Valley Wrestling (TNA’s developmental territory) training his arse off to learn the craft. I say kudos to guys who want to do more than just get into the Octagon and compete in MMA. If a fighter wants to try his hand in the WWE or other pro wrestling circuits, I say more power to him.
I also say good luck with that, because both are considered full-time jobs. However there is big money to be made if you can successfully crossover to the squared circle or vice versa.
Guys like Quinton (Rampage) Jackson or Chael Sonnen would probably be quite successful throwing fake punches and talking trash. In the end why do we care? A lot of these guys bring viewership and intrigue with them. Brock Lesnar went from super stardom in the WWE and brought fans and big PPV dollars to the UFC… and back again to the WWE. The two entities do crossover and in fact sometimes intertwine.
If Cung Le and Randy Couture can crossover to bad cinema, I have no problems with fighters trying their hand at pro wrestling. King Mo isn’t the first and he won’t be the last. MMA fighters will want to be pro wrestlers, and pro wrestlers will want to be MMA fighters. It was inevitable and it will continue to go on.
SHOULD ALVAREZ RE-SIGN WITH BELLATOR?
Bardsley: He’s better off staying put for now
Eddie Alvarez would make more money in the UFC than he would in Bellator, but it appears that Bellator has acted in good faith by matching the contract, thus Alvarez should return to the organization that built him into a star in the first place.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has insisted that he opened up the PDF of Alvarez’s UFC offer, substituted “Bellator” for “UFC,” then sent it back. While that’s not quite true, the two offers largely do mirror each other. The money is identical, the difference of opinion seems to hinge on the pay-per-view percentage cuts and TV appearances.
The pay-per-view percentage seems like a no-brainer on the surface, but the key is in the wording. The UFC offer makes no iron-clad guarantee PPV appearances where those revenue percentages would kick in, likely protecting themselves if Alvarez fizzles in his UFC debut. So as long as Bellator guarantees to give Alvarez the percentages he would make under that offer should they attempt a PPV, they are technically matching the offer.
UFC also promised Alvarez a fight on FOX, which Bellator countered with Spike TV appearances. According to a SI interview with Rebney, he believes that the disparity of viewership between FOX and Spike can be rectified by replay viewings. While this area is a little murkier, by the letter of the law he may also be correct here.
Alvarez would stand to make much more money in the UFC due to increased visibility, increased sponsorship revenue and the famed “locker room bonuses” that UFC likes to hand out. Unfortunately, none of those things can be quantified in a legal contract. Alvarez should recognize that battling in the courts for a year or more instead of the cage would do more damage to his career than continuing under the Bellator banner. He may waste a lot of time and money for a judge to ultimately tell him the same.
Dueck: Define “matching”
I’m not a lawyer but from what I understand Alvarez is saying that Bellator never truly matched Zuffa’s contract offer. Although “first/last refusal” is pretty standard in Bellator and UFC contracts, there seems to be some strong opinions coming out of the Alvarez camp concerning the language of the contract when it comes to “matching.”
Bellator is saying that they can offer and provide everything that the UFC can, including pay-per-view points for Alvarez. Excuse me? There is no way Bellator could ever come close to selling enough pay-per-views to make it worthwhile for Eddie. When have they ever done a pay-per-view?
Don’t get me wrong I understand why Bellator wants to hang onto its stars. Nobody wants to be pushed around and be looked at as a glorified feeder system. Now that Strikeforce is dead, Bellator sees itself as the No. 2 promotion in North America, especially with the financial backing of Viacom and its programming about to hit the Spike TV cable network. Apparently Bellator is arguing that Spike TV and the FOX network aren’t that far apart in viewership and only separated by 10-12 million homes. That’s almost as preposterous as Carlin’s argument.
It’s more than just the cash up front, it’s the overall exposure and the potential earning power of being in the UFC that far outweighs anything that Bellator can offer, and this is what I imagine will be argued in court if it ever does truly see the light of day in a court room.
Unfortunately you have a talented lightweight in the prime of his career that might have to sit out 6-12 months before he will eventually be fighting in the UFC. Let’s be honest, it’s inevitable that Alvarez will be in the UFC and if I’m Bjorn Rebney, why would you want to force someone to fight in your promotion if he doesn’t want to be there? It’s just bad PR and this isn’t Bellator’s first rodeo when it comes to contract disputes. They are gaining a reputation for being combative and the more that this sort of thing happens; the less likely young and talented fighters will sign with them.
Carlin Bardsley is a writer for MMASucka.com and the host of a daily MMA radio show on NextSportStar.com. Follow him on Twitter @CarlinBardsley.
Trevor Dueck writes for MMASucka.com and 24 Hours Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter @tdueckMMA.