Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez got the news that Viacom had purchased a majority share of the promotion he fights for along with everyone else this week.
Alvarez (22-2) said he figured it would have been the UFC, not the world’s fourth-largest media conglomerate, that would have recognized the quality of the Bellator product and eventually buy it.
“Originally, when the UFC purchased Strikeforce (last March), I got very on edge,” said Alvarez, whom I interviewed Thursday on CyberstationUSA.com’s Last Call Internet radio show. “I called (Bellator owner) Bjorn Rebney to ask him if there was any possible way that I could buy stake in Bellator. The way (the UFC) was buying up promotions like that, I didn’t want them to come in on Bellator without me being able to capitalize on it.”
Rebney had been open to the idea of his star fighter purchasing stake in the company, said Alvarez, but followup discussions never happened.
However, once Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the UFC, announced that it had signed a seven-year exclusive broadcast deal with the Fox Broadcasting Network across its multiple TV platforms in September, Alvarez said it was a foregone conclusion that Bellator would have filled the void left by the UFC on Viacom’s Spike TV. Bellator currently airs on MTV2, another Viacom property, while Spike.com has recently begun airing Bellator’s preliminary bouts.
The plan is for Bellator to make its debut on Spike TV in 2013, once the cable network’s exclusive contract to air UFC footage only in 2012 expires.
The Philadelphia-based fighter, who’s fought for Bellator since April 2009, anticipates that Spike TV will follow the same framework it did with the UFC for the last six years.
“Spike knows what it takes,” said Alvarez. “They know the UFC’s production value. They know the UFC’s game plan. They’re probably going to follow the formula that the UFC does and just tweak it because Bellator has its own flavor with the tournaments. I’d imagine they’ll try to create a product that is similar in value when you turn on the TV, but the tournament structure will make it different.”
Bellator’s stringent 12-week tournament schedule has made it stand out from the promotional pack, but traveling from city to city so quickly — sometimes on little notice — has greatly impacted its live attendance figures. It’s been an area where Bellator has repeatedly missed out on revenue, though having the Spike TV platform moving forward could make for powerful advertising.
With a year to plan and prepare for the Spike TV launch, it would seem feasible that the cable network and Bellator might explore dropping the 12-week structure in favor of spaced-out events so they can be built up and amply promoted, as was done with the UFC.
“I’d love that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the tournament format, but I’d love fighting five times a year,” said Alvarez, who’s contracted to the promotion for three more fights. “It’s hard to do that when we’re waiting on a guy to win the tournament. I’m almost tempted to enter another tournament waiting around.”
Alvarez, 27, is often identified as one of just a few lightweights outside the UFC that could hold his own if he ever entered the Octagon, and Bellator has been criticized at times for not finding caliber opponents to face him. Alvarez said that way of thinking will change among fans and media through the power of television.
“You’re going to see, and mark my words, I’m going to say it now. Spike TV is behind Bellator now,” said Alvarez. “Watch how good (middleweight champion) Hector Lombard becomes. Watch how good I become. Watch how good (bantamweight champion) Zach Makovsky becomes overnight as soon they start promoting us. Look how excellent of fighters we become. The reality is I’m not any better today than I am tomorrow. It’s just more people will know.”
– Loretta Hunt