Bjorn Rebney has made it clear in the past through interviews and statements; Bellator does not want to build their company on UFC veterans, and he doesn't want to become a feeder system to the world's largest promotion. This can somewhat be seen in the never-ending negotiations with Eddie Alvarez and their unwillingness to sign Jon Fitch when he became a free agent.
However, let's be honest here. Bellator is a business that is looking to sign the best available talent to give fans the highest-quality fights possible. That's what is best for business.
Although Bellator is attempting to build a rep as a star-creating company, as showcased by their high promotion of Michael Chandler and Patricio Freire, Bellator has built their company on past UFC fighters. From Roger Huerta a few years ago to the two men headlining their impeding pay-per-view (Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz), it has just been the nature of the beast to the tournament-based company.
While they try to build their success on budding stars and the attractive tournament format, they must recognize how much UFC talent they have on their roster before Rebney makes assertions about not wanting UFC talent.
Here are just the names of fighter listed on Bellator.com as on their roster (Note: They also have fighters not listed on the website that compete on the undercards from time-to-time, including UFC fighters).
|Fighter||Record||Last UFC Fight||Next Bellator Fight|
|Cheick Kongo||18-8-2||Knockout loss to Roy Nelson||vs. Mark Godbeer|
|Houston Alexander||15-9||Decision loss to Kimbo Slice||vs. Vladimir Matyushenko|
|Vladimir Matyushenko||26-7||Submission loss to Ryan Bader||vs. Houston Alexander|
|Rampage Jackson||32-11||Decision loss to Glover Teixeira||vs. Tito Ortiz|
|Tito Ortiz||16-11-1||Decision loss to Forrest Griffin||vs. Rampage Jackson|
|Muhammad Lawal**||11-2||N/A||vs. Emanuel Newton|
|Dan Cramer||10-4||Decision loss to Matt Riddle||TBD|
|Nah-Shon Burrell||9-3||Decision loss to Stephen Thompson||TBD|
|War Machine||13-4||Submission loss to Yoshiyuki Yoshida||vs. Vaughn Anderson|
|Ben Saunders||16-5-2||Decision loss to Dennis Hallmann||vs. Douglas Lima|
|John Alessio||34-16||Decision loss to Shane Roller||vs. Will Brooks|
|Matt Riddle||7-3||No contest vs. Che Mills||vs. Luis Melo|
|Rich Clementi||45-22-1||Submission loss to Gleison Tibau||vs. Rob Sinclair|
|Saad Awad||14-5||Decision loss to Joey Rivera||vs. Martin Stapleton|
|JJ Ambrose||19-4||Decision loss to Sevak Magakian||vs. David Rickels|
|Marcus Davis||22-9||Knockout loss to Jeremy Stephens||vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy|
|Mike Guymon||14-6-1||Submission loss to DaMarques Johnson||TBD|
|Kurt Pellegrino||16-7||Decision loss to Gleison Tibau||vs. Saul Almeida|
|Paul Sass||13-2||Decision loss to Danny Castillo||TBD|
|Martin Stapleton||12-1||Submission loss to Cameron Dollar||vs. Saad Awad|
|Rob Emerson||12-10||Decision loss to Nik Lentz||TBD|
|Diego Nunes||18-4||Decision loss to Nik Lentz||vs. Patricio Freire|
|Mike Richman||15-3||Decision loss to Aaron Wilkinson||TBD|
Now, I understand that when a fighter is cut from the UFC, they have to go with the best option available. In most cases, that option is Bellator.
However, recent turns in Eddie Alvarez's situation, including finding out his contract stipulation upon re-signing with Bellator, caused Dana White to say a loss by Alvarez would mean he wouldn't get signed by the UFC upon release from his contract. It's a lose-lose situation for Alvarez.
So it's kind of a two-way street. In looking at the men I listed in the tables who are UFC vets in Bellator, you can see all but one entered Bellator upon losing their final UFC fight. Sure, they may have picked up a regional win or two in the meantime, but it was shown that they were no longer at the top of the MMA food chain (i.e. the UFC).
Of course, fighters are capable of growing and becoming better. That is the case with a guy like Saad Awad or War Machine, who have greatly improved since their brief time in the UFC.
However, you also need to consider guys that have recently just left Bellator that are UFC vets as well. Two of them retired in Renato Sobral and Seth Petruzelli. The other two were released for questionable behavior outside the cage, something showcased while in the UFC in Paul Daley and Maiquel Falcao.
All four of them were prominently featured players in the company. Sobral, Petruzelli and Falcao all competed in at least one tournament, while Daley was to be the next poster boy before his demise for poor conduct.
Obviously, Bellator is trying to build their brand or else they wouldn't be putting on a pay-per-view fight between Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson, two proven draws that can talk people into ticket sales. Sure, they are over the hill at this point, but Bellator is going to be smart by also showcasing their up-and-coming talent and champions. That would be guys like Pat Curran, Michael Chandler and Emanuel Newton.
That being said, an interim title match between Muhammed Lawal and Emanuel Newton, a rematch in which Newton claimed the first fight, reeks of so much desperation on the part of the company. Attila Vegh, their current champion, has only had the title for less than a year and has only been unable to defend it on one, maybe two occasions. By having an interim title bout between a guy who deserves his shot at Vegh in Newton and a guy they are pushing to the moon (wrestling terms, people!) shows how shallow the talent pool is.
Again, they say they aren't trying to be a storage room for UFC fighters, but yet they sign guys pretty soon after they are released by the UFC. Nah-Shon Burrell, Diego Nunes and several others barely got a chance to catch their breath before Bellator came calling.
Believe me, I enjoy Bellator greatly. In fact, I am pulling for them as an alternative form of entertainment from the UFC because I believe competition is healthy. However, they way they are going about it is more wrong than right.
Just look at Bellator 99 for example this past weekend. The card lacked star power, but it provided huge entertainment. If they can consistently do that, they can slowly build their brand from card to card, especially with Viacom and Spike TV firmly in their corner.