This past week there was an announcement that Viacom has purchased controlling percentages in Bellator FC. The announcement was accompanied by the word that Bellator FC was going to move from MTV2 to SPIKETV for the year 2013. This is impressive manuveuring by Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney. Even UFC President Dana White spoke without his usual lack of respect for Bellator, and he mentioned that VIACOM had more cash at their disposal than the UFC.
In my opinion, this will change nothing in MMA. The UFC will remain dominant for years to come. Here is why.
The UFC already has most of the real, top echelon talent in the sport locked up under contract, and the UFC’s contract is relatively airtight. This means that aside from some recognizable scraps of talent (more Kimbo Slice, anyone?), Bellator is going to have to work with the talent they have, and develop new talent. Developing new talent is a long term process, it is not done overnite. Bellator has 50 plus shows to their credit, but it has not been enough to develop a roster with star power. Yes they have some talent, such as Eddie Alvarez, but that wasn’t developed under Bellator, in fact Eddie’s star is down since he joined the group. Rebney has acknowledged the need for more fights and more events, and has stated that under VIACOM there will be more shows. That is a good sign.
They will likely have to change or add to their format, the tournaments are not enough. They will need to do some standard shows, and develop perhaps a reality show or a smaller set of developmental shows (like the UFC Fight Night shows, or Strikeforce’s Challengers series). Bellator has a lot of work to do to offer the range of shows that the UFC has.
Plucking up talent as they become available from the UFC means you will always be leaving them the top fighters. The UFC Champions are on lockdown, contractually. If you hold a belt for UFC and you contractually are not owed anymore fights, the UFC still has pages upon pages in the contract that give them exclusive negotiating rights for a long time. Should you wait that period out and get an offer, they will have a right to match any offer as well, so you will never peel the top guys away.
So the UFC releases a guy coming off two losses. That is the kind of talent that will be available.
Bellator is forced to wait until 2013 to move to SPIKE, again because of the UFC. Despite moving to FOX, the UFC and SPIKE have a contract to air archive material (old shows and fights) on SPIKE throughout 2012. I’m certain that came with exclusivity, keeping Bellator waiting another year.
So this is not the end, it is the beginning of a long process for Bellator. And the UFC is already making it difficult. I hope the Bellator and VIACOM people don’t think this is going to happen quickly, they are still five years away from even being taken seriously.