The rumors of Bjorn Rebney's departure from Bellator MMA came true on Wednesday, June 18. Spike TV announced that Rebney would be removed as the CEO and chairman of the MMA promotion that he created. President and COO Tim Danaher was also removed from his role. Before the news could settle, former Strikefoce CEO Scott Coker was installed as the new president of Bellator MMA. In one fell swoop Viacom made some interesting moves that will shake up the mixed martial arts industry.
Stories were swirling that the relationship between Rebney and the powers that be at Viacom were becoming strained. While he refuted the rumors that he would be fired from the position, Rebney could not save himself from the eventual dropping of the ax. Bellator MMA, widely considered to be the No. 2 promotion in MMA, was reaching a stalling point that began to hinder the promotion's growth. Still, Rebney left the organization in positive spirits.
“It is with bittersweet emotions that I announce that I am leaving the company I founded,” Rebney stated through a press release. “Viacom and Tim and I differed in our views of the right strategic direction for Bellator, but Tim and I both wish them well.”
Under Rebney's close eye, the organization made a lot of growth in the sport of MMA but still struggled in particular areas. Viewership was often erratic and the promotion was unable to build a strong base of homegrown stars. To help change that issue it was announced that Scott Coker would be installed as the new leader of the promotion.
“We are excited to have Scott Coker lead us in a new direction as we evolve the league format from a tournament-based organization to a more traditional model with big fights,” said Spike TV President Kevin Kay via a press release.
Coker has long been a part of combat sports. He launched Strikeforce back in 1985 which would become a major name in mixed martial arts before being purchased by the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2011. He played a part in the development of some big-name stars such as Gilbert Melendez, Ronda Rousey and Luke Rockhold. He was even able to bring Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem stateside.
“It feels good to be back. I'm excited to team up with Spike and Viacom, who played a very integral role in the success of mixed martial arts over the last decade.” Coker said as reported by Tristen Critchfield of Sherdog. “I see a lot of potential in Bellator. I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to build a brand and take it to the level I think me and my team can.”
With that it seems that big changes are coming. First on the docket is the removal of the tournament system which is a long standing part of Bellator MMA. The tournament has helped create promotional stars such as Michael Chandler, Ben Askren and Pat Curran. At the same time it's created matchup problems that haven't allowed for the creation of bigger name fights.
“As we move forward, my plan is to evolve the league from the tournament format that we've all known to a more traditional format where the fans get to see the fights that they want – more of a super fight format,” Coker commented during a conference call.
The reaction across the sport has been interesting to watch. Current Bellator lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez, wished his former employer well even though they've had a long public feud. Ben Saunders, who was recently released from the promotion, expressed joy in the move while Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is tweeting about retiring from the sport entirely.
This is an important move for Bellator to further establish itself as a brand. Their format of weekly cards kept a constant stream of MMA action but never featured a big enough helping of stars to draw attention to the events. Coker has found a way to build interest in fighters outside of the Octagon in the past so expect the same to occur here. With a roster full of potential, this new shakeup gives Bellator MMA a wealth of momentum to finish out 2014.