As Bellator Fighting Championships has slowly but surely positioned itself behind Zuffa as America's No. 2 mixed martial arts company, CEO Bjorn Rebney has steadfastly insisted that his promotion's format of crowning champions and contenders through tournaments is the right way to go. And Rebney says there's no chance that will change as long as he's in charge.
"Not unless they drag me out of here kicking and screaming," Rebney said Monday on The MMA Hour.
With Bellator poised to move off MTV2 and onto the much bigger audiences available on Spike TV in 2013, there could be some pressure to try to generate ratings by positioning bigger names in title fights. But Rebney said that will never be the way Bellator works: You earn your way into bigger fights by winning tournaments, not by having a recognizable name.
"It's real sports competition," Rebney said of Bellator's tournament format. "It's football, baseball, basketball, soccer -- every sport we've watched since we were kids is competition. You start with a group and then at the end there's one."
Rebney was a boxing promoter before he was an MMA promoter, and he said he has never liked the way champions are crowned in boxing, with promoters, sanctioning bodies and TV networks having more to do with who gets a title shot than the fighters themselves do.
"Being involved in boxing through the years, the matchmaking in boxing seemed so theatrical -- you know the outcomes of the fights before they occur," Rebney said. "That's what I wanted to do away with."
Rebney acknowledged that some Bellator fighters don't like the tournament format, and that it's been particularly problematic for champions who have had to wait around for a tournament to finish before they could defend their titles.
"Not everybody is going to be in love with the format, nor is everybody going to be in love with the matchmaking format where you have to ask for a world title fight," he said.
But Rebney defended Bellator's seasonal format as like the NFL's.
"Should the Giants just be bestowed the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl again? Or should they have to go through the season of 16 games?," he said. "My answer is, you've got to go through it."
Ultimately, Rebney said, the tournament format puts the focus where it should be: On winning fights.
"All that matters is when that cage door shuts, do you win?" Rebney said. "I think that's the purest form of sports."