While the road to Bellator 106 may have been filled with more twists and turns than a Formula One course, the outcome was an unquestionable success. Last Saturday's show, a precarious pay-per-view moved to free TV due to an eleventh hour injury by Tito Ortiz, wound up smashing Bellator's previous ratings records, peaking at 1.4 million viewers and introducing a brand new audience to the Bellator product through one of the year's best fights.
Now, days after a bloodied and battered Eddie Alvarez settled the score with Michael Chandler and set up the salivating prospect of a third fight between the two lightweight standouts, the question stands whether Ortiz's withdrawal, and the subsequent viewership increase Bellator gained from the shift away from pay-per-view, proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Viacom-owned promotion.
"Part of you looks at it and you say hindsight is 20/20," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney told MMAFighting.com. "You go, wow, we got a huge number and we had an amazing fight that a ton of people got to see that wouldn't have otherwise seen it. (They) got to be introduced to the Bellator brand at it's very highest level, so that's a huge positive.
"Of course there are some negatives, economic and otherwise for having to have changed things like we did eight days out. But the magic that Ed and Mike created inside of that cage, and the effort that gave, the power of that performance, is just something that, hopefully, opened a lot of eyes to Bellator. People who, maybe they've never seen it, they didn't watch us regularly on Friday nights, hopefully those people will come back this Friday and the next Friday and the Friday after. So when you look at it that way, it was a huge positive."
Realistically there was never any doubt about the significance of an Alvarez-Chandler rematch. Even when Ortiz and Rampage Jackson officially fronted the card, more fans viewed Alvarez vs. Chandler II as the main event than not. But even in a best case scenario, the buyrate for Bellator 106 would've likely never approached the 1.4 million mark the event drew on Spike TV -- which begs the question, why would Bellator, a promotion by all accounts on the rise, considerably limit viewership by taking its best product to pay-per-view in the first place?
"We were looking at a transition and trying to figure out when would be an appropriate time to do it," Rebney explained. "We signed a big deal with Rampage and Rampage was coming back like gangbusters in terms of his training. I was able to put Quinton in touch with the folks who did the incredible work on Kobe (Bryant's) knee vis-à-vis the blood transfusion work. So it was all kinda coming into focus, and it just looked like the right move at the time to make that change and to go in that direction.
"When you look at what happened on Saturday night, hindsight is always 20/20. Maybe if you could see into the future, you'd say this is an incredible fight. Let's put it on Spike for free and let's introduce the brand to a much bigger audience and give everybody this crazy fight for free, because maybe it'll lead to the trilogy fight, number three, that will be a pure pay-per-view fight. Who knows? But it's tough to say."
Regardless of how things played out, one takeaway from Saturday night is unquestionably true. Alvarez's next fight will be a rubber match against Chandler. And due to the frenetic nature of the first two meetings, it will easily be the most anticipated fight in Bellator history.
Though as to whether the trilogy fight will mark the last fight on Alvarez's new contract, as is widely speculated, Rebney won't say.
"There's a lot of different options on Ed's contract," Rebney explained. "Ed could be with us for a very long period of time or a shorter period of time. There's a lot of different options. We haven't gone into the specifics of what our actual settlement with Ed was, but the next fight with Ed is going to be Mike, and the next fight with Mike is going to be Ed, and then we'll see what the outcome of that fight is. That will dictate what we're going to do next."
In many ways, Alvarez seizing the belt back from Chandler was perhaps the most fitting ending one could draw up after a bitter year-long battle with Bellator locked Alvarez in the courtroom, rather than the cage. At times there seemed to be no end in sight to the dispute, as the relationship between Alvarez and Bellator officials deteriorated into a rancorous war or words, and both sides took their turn airing grievances through the media.
Yet in the aftermath of Saturday night, Alvarez has been the epitome of class, electing not to speak ill about the way everything played out.
"You'd always prefer to have situations work out without any kind of conflict," Rebney said of the courtroom standoff. "It's just human nature that if you can avoid the conflict and things can be positive, you want them to go that way. But look, it was what it was. We had an agreement, we had a specific agreement that we wanted to enforce, and hindsight now, looking back at it, to be able to put on that kind of fight, Ed made great money on Saturday night, Ed's going to have an opportunity to make great money on the third fight. Mike's going to have an opportunity to make great money. It's going to get huge coverage, a very real potential to be an main event on a big pay-per-view. It's all come around. Were there things I'd do differently? I don't know, that's a tough call. I'd have to go back and analyze every step we took.
"When you're building something like this, and you're competing in a space that's as hyper competitive as this with people, there's a reason they call it the fight business. It's not populated by a lot of people who write children's books. It's a tough business, it's a tough industry. It usually involves and engages tough people with dominant personalities. When you get people like that and they're running a business, you're going to run into conflict and you're going to have to fight for certain things."
Among Rebney's loudest critics throughout the Alvarez case was UFC President Dana White, who ultimately lost out on Alvarez's services due to Bellator's courtroom tactics.
As is his way, whether through social media or press events, White has taken more than a few shots at Rebney, who he often refers to as "Bjork." He did so again in the aftermath of Bellator 106, tweeting a congratulations to Alvarez while implying that Chandler's loss was "karma" for the way in which things were handled.
Rebney, though, fired back at White on Tuesday, and days later he maintains that stance.
"I'm in the business of mixed martial arts. I'm not a theatrical performer. But occasionally, just like in any situation that anybody would find themselves in, people will say certain things and you just feel an obligation to respond," Rebney said.
"When [White] made the comments a month or so ago about how Bellator had no value, it was three days after his partners had paid us tens of millions of dollars for our rights in Latin America, and I just felt like I gotta say something. When you throw up a softball like that, you'd have to be a fool to not take a swing at it. And when he made the comments that he made via Twitter about karma, it was just like, look, it's not about karma. It's not about some sixth or seventh grade back-and-forth that you have when you're a kid. It's about numbers, it's about ratings. It's about putting on incredible fights for fans. That's what matters. The numbers don't lie. And coming off the heels of a show where his group did 124,000 viewers, where ours did ten times that, it just felt like, you know what, it warranted a response. I've never going to be the guy who goes off on three and four minute profanity laden tirades. That's just not me. But look, let's see how they do on [Wednesday], and then let's see how we do on Friday night.
"Let's compare numbers to numbers," Rebney continued. "That's what the business is. The business is not childish slings.
"When Bellator was very small and insignificant, he had nothing to say. When we were on ESPN Deportes and we were on FOX Sports many years ago, he had nothing to say. Now we're on the No. 1 network in the history of mixed martial arts programming, on Spike, and our ratings are in some instances beating his ratings head-to-head. Now he has a lot to say. I wonder why."
White responded to Rebney's tweet not long after it was posted, referring in part to a .gif which made the internet rounds on Saturday night. The .gif appears to show Rebney shaking his head after the decision was read in Alvarez's favor. However, Rebney dismisses the entire mini-controversy as a misunderstanding.
"It's total nonsense. Total complete and utter nonsense," Rebney said. "I was sitting cageside, sitting next to (announcer) Michael C. Williams, and Michael was reading the decision. Look, I get that we were in southern California, and I get that Michael Chandler is an Alliance guy and he trains out of southern Cal, and I get that he had probably 1,000 or more fans in attendance, but when [Williams] read the decision, and the decision was ‘and the new,' and Ed was given the decision, a lot of fans started booing. I was shaking my head at that. I couldn't believe that fans were actually booing that decision. And some idiot took a picture of me shaking my head at fans booing and then put his own or her own caption on it, which had no basis in reality.
"When two guys give that much heart and soul, and two guys sacrifice that much, it's just inappropriate to boo. I thought it was out of line and I was shaking my head like, what? How do you justify booing something like that? These guys were just willing to die inside this cage to win this fight."
Widespread misunderstanding of the .gif contributed to the idea that despite the excitement of Alvarez-Chandler II and Bellator's subsequent record ratings success, the event may have been seen as a negative. After all, Chandler, Pat Curran, and Muhammed Lawal -- three fighters who Bellator heavily marketed as stars -- all lost on Saturday night, the latter two of which lost in somewhat lethargic fashion.
Rebney, though, vehemently disagrees with that notion.
"It's the absolute opposite. It's what makes us, us," Rebney said. "The reality in Bellator is that the only thing that matters is winning. I don't have a bunch of guys in Chinese suits on their own special floor with an access key sitting behind a big shiny desk with people serving them lunch on trays, deciding who fights who, for what and when. It's just not our policy. It's not how we work. Bellator is about the upset.
"We're not orchestrating it. We're not puppet masters. We're just the purveyors of an incredible sports tournament. Guys are going to lose, guys are going to win, but that's what makes Bellator, Bellator. I have no qualms about, in my mind, who won and who lost."