Yesterday, in part one of an exclusive interview, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney talked about a potential move to Spike and how to move the sport of mixed martial arts forward. Today, Rebney talks about his top heavyweight, his promotional strategy, and what goes in to running a string of consecutive live events.
Jonathan Snowden: I've enjoyed, but not everyone has because I've seen the criticism online, the opportunity to see a fighter grow in front of our eyes from neophyte to champion. How much has Cole Konrad improved since joining the promotion?
Bjorn Rebney: I thought his performance last Saturday night was amazing, an amazing step forward in his maturation. If you had asked me to bet my house that my family and I live in that Cole Konrad was going to spend the first 10 minutes of a three round fight standing with a guy who has made his living in mixed martial arts from day one trying to knock people's heads off, I would have said 'you're out of your mind.' I would have said that strategically Cole is going to look to set up the takedown with a couple of punches and he's going to take Paul down.
For him to have this kind of development - you know, look - Paul is not going to look to put you in a triangle. He's not going to look to outwrestle you. He's never done that in any of his fights in his career. He's going to look to put you to sleep with his right or left hand. That's what he does. So for Cole to be able to take, what I believe, is the best wrestling in the heavyweight division of mixed martial arts, cast it to the side, and say 'Okay, I'm going to stand with this guy for two rounds.' And actually win the first two rounds standing with Paul, I thought an amazing step forward.
There are fans who are not yet in love with Cole Konrad's style. And that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. But for a guy who's been with Cole since the very first fight he did on a smaller promotion's show under our banner, to a guy who I think is rounding out his arsenal and his repertoire to a point where he would be very dangerous against anybody in the world at 265, I love what I see. He's a great kid. He's a terrific young man. He's going to law school and he's bright as can be. He's a great guy to work with. A true professional and he's consistently expanding the breadth of his game.
Jonathan Snowden: Sounds like you liked what you saw.
Bjorn Rebney: I liked what I saw. But I understand that some fans are not wrestling purists. There's a lot of fans who respond unbelievably well to the Seth Petruzelli knockout of Ricco. Some fans respond really well to the back and forth fist flying battle we saw in Sandro versus Curran. There are different types of fighters out there and as fans get more familiar with mixed martial arts and more familiar with how a fighter is progressing I think there will be more appreciation for the kind of stuff we saw from Cole.
Jonathan Snowden: It brings up an interesting issue about what a promoter's role is in helping someone like Cole Konrad decide what their fighting style is going to be. You're acknowledging that some people don't enjoy a wrestling based game. Some promoters, notably Dana White and Zuffa, have incentivized fighters to employ what they consider a more fan friendly standup game.Do you see it as part of your role to help decide how a fighter is going to approach the bout?
Bjorn Rebney: I've always felt pretty strongly that the essence of what makes Bellator different is that all that matters in Bellator is that you win. We are a real sport format. Everything that happens in front of those cameras in our cage is about objectivity. If you win, you move on. If you lose, you go home.
I've never said to Ben Askren 'you need to hit people more.' I've only said to Ben 'just keep winning.' If you look at every fight that Ben Askren has had beneath this banner he has probably collectively lost about a minute and five seconds over every single fight. I think the essence of what makes Bellator Bellator is that it's tournament based. You win and move on.
It's like if you're a football fan you may love three yards and a cloud of dust. If you are a fan of that type of offensive structure, you're probably going to be a fan of the Ben Askren's, and the Joe Warren's, and the Cole Konrad's. If you're kind of circa Air Coryell, early San Diego Chargers from years ago, or the St. Louis Ram's "greatest show on turf" you're probably going to be more apt to love a Pat Curran or to love a Nazare or a Patricio Pitbull.
There's different fighters for different tastes. The only thing I think is really relevant is are you the best? However you get to being the best is completely and totally up to the fighter.
Jonathan Snowden: Everything is a progression. Paul Buentello is an important kind of bout to take and win. Where can Cole go with Bellator though? I just read an interesting article on Yahoo about the dearth of heavyweight talent out there. Do you worry about running out of high end fighters in that weight class? Where are you going to find appropriate competition for a guy of his caliber? It seem like an issue many of your guys might eventually run into.
Bjorn Rebney: We're building them. We've had some amazing signings over the last year. You've seen our 135 division is now populated with some incredibly talented fighters. I think our 145 division is the strongest in mixed martial arts....we're trying to accomplish the exact same things at heavyweight. We've brought in some great new talent, we've got some terrific fighters coming into the next tournament which kicks off in season five.
The bottom line is, it's going to be very, very unlikely regardless of where you pick the fighter from on Earth, that anyone is going to go to the ground and beat Cole Konrad. The essence of a gameplan against Cole Konrad is, obviously, to try to figure out a way to keep the fight standing and try to engage Cole Konrad such that you don't set yourself up to be taken down. And we have some guys that are training very, very hard not only to win this tournament, but also to effectuate that kind of result. We'll see. We'll have a $100,000 tournament champion crowned before Thanksgiving and at that point we'll have a new challenger for Cole.
Jonathan Snowden: How many people does it take to make Bellator run smoothly. You guys run a lot of events in a condensed time. It seems like quite an operation.
Bjorn Rebney: We've got a production team of about 60 personnel that travel with us around the country and go to every single event. We have a group of independent feature producers and folks that work with us to create a lot of the content you see on the televised show. Before we ever get there, they're working. And we have an operational team that works for us full time out of the offices in Chicago. There's a good group of people. I've got a lot of good people working for me who are very vested. I'd rather have a smaller number of people who are hugely vested and live this like I do than I would have a huge number of people who maybe aren't as vested or aren't as focused.
When we go into a market we have 60, 65, 70 people traveling with us who are taking care of different elements, carrying out everything from fighter arrivals and departures in our Bellator vans, to coordinating travel from an airline perspective, coordinating hotels, working production, the set up of all of our big screens. Lighting setups and audio systems that travel with us around the country. There's a lot of people that go into making something like this fly. But we've been doing it for a lot of years. And, gosh, we're almost at 50 events now that have been nationally televised. We've got a good team that really knows what they are doing at this point.
Jonathan Snowden: Well, you've got a couple of weeks to rest and recharge. You didn't give yourself much time off. Hope you can enjoy a little bit of a vacation.
Bjorn Rebney: Thanks. I'll rest in about 15 or 20 years from now. For now, I'm going to keep riding the wave brother.