It was the post-fight Bellator 107 media scrum on Friday, and Bellator boss Bjorn Rebney was ready to field questions.

The CEO and founder of the Bellator MMA promotion, who often appears emotionally reticent to onlookers, playfully joked around with a colleague in a makeshift media room across the hall from the event center that held the night’s festivities. He made funny voices and mimicked karate with what seemed more like friends than co-workers who were relaxing after a productive day’s work.

He’s a large man, a former college ball player, listed at 6-foot-3 on his IMDB page. He’s the kind of guy that will give reporters sore arms from having to hold their recorders up high enough to capture his voice. And they’re likely to be greeted by the more reigned-in version of Rebney. The deadpan pragmatist promoter. One fighting for his due respect on the MMA map, so often set against the colossus of the space, those three letters on everybody’s lips: the UFC.

Rebney’s product is moving right along on the heels of Bellator 106, its biggest show to date, viewership-wise, which featured another successful meeting of Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler. That success was followed by Friday’s Bellator 107, which crowned tournament winners in three of the promotion’s divisions.

If you’ve been keeping up with the various MMA headlines throughout the last few weeks, you’ve seen the attention that has been given to a back-and-forth between Rebney and UFC President Dana White. According to Rebney, firing jabs at his biggest competitor isn’t something that he feels he needs to initiate.

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t hazard a guess,” Rebney told The MMA Corner. “He does seem to focus a great deal of time talking about our organization. Back when there were six or seven other organizations in the space, there wasn’t a lot of talk in our direction. So, I dunno, you’d have to ask him.”

When it comes to responding to name-calling—White often refers to Rebney as “Bjork”—Rebney doesn’t have any names of lob in White’s direction.

“I’m not that type of personality,” Rebney explained. “You won’t see me going on a three-, four-minute tirade filled with profanity. You won’t see me step up and call people this name and that name. The thing that matters is the numbers. The numbers are black and white. You can’t lie about the numbers. The numbers are what matters to me. The great fights we put on for the fans, like we did tonight, like we did last week with Eddie versus Mike, that’s what matters. That’s the thing that’s ultimately going to move the needle. All the talk and the hyperbole and profanity and silliness, that doesn’t move the needle. That may have been impactful when we were in six or seventh grade, but it doesn’t move the needle much now.”

Bellator 106 was the promotion’s most viewed event to date. Yet Rebney is not patting himself on the back with the news of a ratings peak of 1.4 million viewers.

“It just says that we’re building,” he explained. “People are always, ‘Oh, you must be thrilled with 1.4,’ and I’m not. You don’t start an organization like this and build it starting from your living room and find yourself overjoyed with anything. We did one-four; I would have preferred to have done two-two. If we would have done two-two, I would have wanted to do three-seven. If we would have done three-seven, I would have wanted five. It’s just the nature of my personality. We had three great fights tonight; I wish we would have had four. That’s kind of where my mind always goes. The glass is never full, but that’s what keeps me driven to fill it.”

Friday’s show saw the conclusion of the season-nine heavyweight tournament. It’s a division that has seen a slower build than others, especially since the loss of champion Cole Konrad in late 2012. Now, with an established champion in Alexander Volkov set to make his first title defense next week, as well as a newly established and intriguing contender in the form of Cheick Kongo waiting for his shot, it appears that 2014 will be a more interesting year than 2013 in regards to Bellator’s biggest men.

“Next week, we’ll see [Vitaly] Minakov vs. Volkov, which will be a crazy good fight. Minakov’s a freak and Volkov’s our champion,” Rebney said. “Of course, [it’s on] the same card as [Quinton] ‘Rampage’ [Jackson] versus Joey [Beltran]. Of course, this tournament just finished, Cheick won the tournament. Cheick will get to fight Minakov or Volkov. It’s locked and loaded.

“Then we’ll do another heavyweight tournament coming up at the beginning of next season. So, we’ll keep creating the No. 1 challenger for our champs. You see a lot of movement because our heavyweight division now is just filled with a lot of guys that are really exciting. It’s a fun division to watch. You saw that tonight with Peter [Graham] and Cheick.”

A good amount of the recent attention that Bellator has received is based off the signing of Rampage, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, as well as his meeting with fellow former title holder Tito Ortiz. It’s led some to criticize Bellator for what they see as a change in philosophy. Bellator was once the promotion that claimed that it wouldn’t be there to opportunistically catch the UFC’s dropouts, but now the promotion is openly building its name off former UFC stars.

Rebney seems to resent the criticism, firing back that perhaps the ones finding issue are looking at things from an unbalanced perspective.

“I don’t think so. There’s just two of us left. Reality is that they’re going to release good fighters and we’re going to release good fighters,” he argued. “I think what nobody really reports on is the disparity in numbers. That’s where the actual legitimate research would take place. How many prior Bellator fighters that had long-term Bellator contracts with us have moved on and are now competing under the UFC in long-term contracts? And there are about twice as many Bellator fighters doing that in the UFC as there are UFC fighters doing that here.

“So, when you only have two organizations in the space, you’re going to get some back and forth. Cheick Kongo becomes available, I would sign him everyday of the week. Other than that, when you look at this card, there wasn’t much overflow. But in some cards there is. You’ll see Terry Etim fighting for us. Terry Etim was No. 5 ranked in the world 24 months ago at 155 [pounds]. He’s a freak. Terry Etim becomes available, I wouldn’t care if he’d been fighting for Pine Lake Junior High School or for the UFC or for anybody else.

“You’re going to see that back and forth. But I think it would be responsible from a journalistic perspective for people to see it from both sides of the fence and go, ‘Hey, I think there’s an awful lot of guys that were long-time fighters for Bellator that got released and are now fighting for the UFC as well.’”

Shots fired, as they say, but Rebney does have a fair point that each promotion deserves its own respective consideration from media, fans and fighters. A point that everyone and everything else is not to be measured by the UFC’s yardstick simply because Zuffa is the current captain of industry.

So, is it a catch-22 for a promotion to make a name for itself with former UFC talent while creating its own, which doesn’t always carry the same weight of exposure?

“I don’t think it’s a catch-22; I think it’s a huge benefit,” Rebney clarified. “Cheick Kongo looked amazing tonight. And I think if guys become available and they’re great fighters that I want to watch fight, then I’m going to sign them. There’s nothing about it that’s really catch-22; it’s a great opportunity. Guys become available and I’m going to go after them.”

Catching flack for signing talent is just a part of the game. Another is showcasing the good number of champions the promotion has crowned. Alvarez and Chandler have been the most successful examples so far, even if they were originally scheduled to play second fiddle to Ortiz and Rampage. But that “homegrown” talent has always been the heart of Bellator.

“Just keep building up the Michael Chandlers,” Rebney said of the talent unique to Bellator. “That was just ‘Fight of the Year.’ You could have given that fight to either one of them. I’ve watched it five times. I thought Ed won it three of those times. I thought Mike won it two of those times. So, you just keep building up Michael Chandlers, Pat Currans and Daniel Strauses and Eduardo Dantases, the list goes on and on—Alexander Shlemenko. We’ve got a ton of homegrown talent that are some of the best in the world.”

With that, the chat was over. Rebney obliged a few photos, assuming a bland smile, showing some teeth and holding a clenched fist in the air. He’s not one to try to overwhelm people into liking him or believing his version of things, because, as he said, the numbers speak for themselves.

To Rebney, there’s really only two major MMA promotions out there. With Bellator’s recent notable signings, a stab at a pay-per-view which brought on its best television numbers to date, as well as a new deal with UFC partners Fox, with Fox Sports Latin America set to televise Bellator in South America, it appears that Bellator is making headway into a more prominent place on the MMA map. A place where the numbers don’t lie.

Photo: Bjorn Rebney (Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.