MMA journalists such as MMA Fighting's Luke Thomas and Fox Sports' Mike Chiappetta said that grumblings of Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney's departure could be heard as long ago as 2012, making his eventual split anything but a surprise.
To Abdel-Aziz, the move, while not shocking, represents a key moment for the sport of mixed martial arts.
"It's a victory for MMA that this individual is out of the sport," Abdel-Aziz told Bleacher Report. "It's great for the sport to get these promoters who want to come and hold guys hostage on their contract out. Listen, you can keep your champion and try to protect your contract sometimes. You just have to be fair to guys and give them title shots when you need to. When it comes to hurting people's families and taking guys to court and all this stuff, it's not worth it."
Like Rebney's exit from Bellator, Abdel-Aziz's sentiment is not startling. He previously challenged Rebney to a cross-promoted event, Bellator vs. WSOF. He's called Rebney a "candyass," his actions "dirty" and "slimy."
The WSOF matchmaker did acknowledge Rebney's successes, complimenting the former Bellator executive on his longevity and the positive impact he had on the sport and its fighters.
"You also have to give this guy credit, though, because he put on 121 shows, he started a promotion to give guys some fights," Abdel-Aziz said. "He did something positive, for sure. I personally wish him the best of luck in whatever he does."
Now that Rebney is gone, though, Abdel-Aziz looks forward to a cleaner, more professional MMA landscape. He thinks newly named Bellator President Scott Coker can do great things for the sport, and he eagerly anticipates the new Bellator regime.
"Now they want to clean up their image, and they bring in a gentleman like Scott Coker, who is an unbelievable human being, a great guy, and now I think it's great for the sport," Abdel-Aziz said.
And while he said that he doesn't wish to publicly challenge Coker—a man he respects—to a Bellator vs. WSOF show, Abdel-Aziz talked about how such an event would look.
"Scott is somebody I respect. I might pick up the phone and say, 'Look, dude, let's do it,' but he's too smart, too clever," Abdel-Aziz said. "He probably won't do it because right now our roster is too strong, too talented versus the Bellator roster…If we beat them—and we'd beat them—five to zero, that would not help their promotion."
While this concept is fun and interesting for the promotions and the fans alike, Abdel-Aziz knows he has something successful at home, something that he's building with a band of young, talented fighters and established veterans competing side by side. He's proud of this product, and he works day and night to ensure that the WSOF becomes the world's No. 1 MMA promotion.
"Honestly, I believe as soon as we did our NBC deal on July 5, Newell vs. Gaethje, we separated ourselves. You got the UFC on Fox. You got us on NBC. Now, everybody comes third and fourth and fifth and sixth, because we're on network television. It's a completely different ballgame," Abdel-Aziz said. "If you wake up in the morning wanting to be No. 3, you're going to be No. 10. If you want to wake up No. 2, you'll be No. 5. But if you want to be No. 1, you'll be No. 1 because you have goals, you have energy, and you're challenging yourself. That's our goal. We want to be the best promotion out there."
The next two steps on the WSOF's road to No. 1 are huge.
First, the promotion will run WSOF 10—a card featuring three title fights and the No. 1-ranked women's strawweight in the world, Jessica Aguilar—June 21. The company will then follow that card with WSOF 11 July 5 on NBC.
From there, things keep expanding. Abdel-Aziz said that the WSOF will host two cards on NBC this year (including WSOF 11), but next year it will "probably have more." In addition, he mentioned that holding a card live on pay-per-view is not outside the realm of possibility moving forward.
"Right now, we're trying to build our roster, we're trying to have our own stars…At some point do I think we'll have pay-per-views? Yes," Abdel-Aziz said. "I want to make a pay-per-view, and we'll make a whole bunch of money if we do it, but I don't think our time is here yet..I have my team working on some of the stuff, and we just want to take our time and do it and make sure we do it right."
For now, the present-day status of the WSOF is not too shabby. With a big-time upper management shakeup in Bellator and the UFC continuing to grow and expand, competition has never been healthier for Abdel-Aziz and company, and he's enjoying every second of the wild ride.
"We're working hard, we're humble…I remember where I come from, and I remember what we need to do," Abdel-Aziz said. "It feels so good when we're putting on events, and we hand a guy a check and they support their family with it. For me, that's the greatest satisfaction ever."
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