Bjorn Rebney isn't known for playing nice. As one of the faces of a new move toward fighter unionization, he's not curbing that behavior now.
The former head of the Bellator MMA promotion company, who as of last week officially co-directs the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA), went on The MMA Hour broadcast Monday and told host Ariel Helwani he was prepared to fight his past and current nemesis: the big, bad UFC and their owners, WME-IMG.
"I hate bullies more than anything else on Earth," Rebney said. "They're bottom feeders. And the UFC and WME-IMG, today, that conglomerate, they're bullies. It may not be with their hands, but it's with their money and it's with their power and it's with their influence."
Welterweight GOAT and current (alleged, according to MMA Fighting's Marc Raimondi) free agent Georges St-Pierre, former UFC champs Cain Velasquez and T.J. Dillashaw and current welterweight Donald Cerrone, among Rebney and others, form the nucleus of the new association. No one has yet revealed who initiated the MMAAA's formation, and Rebney declined Monday to name them. But Rebney's inclusion has ruffled feathers among some who say that he, during his time running Bellator, was not a pro-fighter presence. On Monday, he tried to put a brave spin on the reaction while steering the conversation back toward the union.
"I didn't expect people to go, 'Oh that's awesome, what a great dude,'" Rebney said. "The good news is the negative vibe has been focused on me, which is exactly where it should be. But the better news is that the reaction has been big."
Rebney focused many of his comments on WME-IMG, the UFC's new ownership, and attacked MMA honchos for what he suggested was exploitative behavior.
As you start diving into it, and you start to look at the numbers. ... I said, 'This is insane, this is unethical, it's outrageous, it's despicable.' I've been around combat sports athletes since I was six years old. I see what happens to combat sports athletes when they're 35, 40, 45 years old. And it's frightening. Not for everybody, but for a lot of these guys that evolution is a very, very scary evolution.
MMAAA leaders are hoping for a financial settlement for active and retired fighters, greater revenue sharing and more collective bargaining power. Rebney told Helwani Monday:
There is no way mixed martial arts can continue down this trajectory and survive. It can't. And that's not hyperbole, that's not a threat, that's not me sending out a message to [WME-IMG co-CEO] Ari Emanuel. That's the god's honest truth. It will not survive. It has to change. ... I can't stress enough how vitally, vitally important this is. So I felt it was time to say something.