When Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney was first pitched by controversial heavyweight Brett Rogers' management on potentially signing with the Bellator Fighting Championships, he was skeptical.
"I had the same reaction as everyone else," Rebney said. "I didn't want anything to do with him."
And not without reason. The 6-foot-4 Rogers spent time in jail in Minnesota's Dakota County Jail after being convicted of one count of third-degree felony assault on his wife in a domestic violence incident.
But Rogers' management wouldn't take no for an answer, and eventually, the fighter known as "Da Grim" signed a Bellator contract. Rogers (11-4) makes his company debut on Friday night when he meets Kevin Asplund (15-1) at Bellator 71 in Chester, WV.
"His management tried to talk to me for three months, just kept knocking on the door," Rebney said.
The turning point, said Rebney, came when he decided to give the fighter a listen.
"Eventually, I told them I wanted to hear from Brett himself," he said. "I talked to Brett and he was near tears. He said he was delivering newspapers to make ends meet. He's deliberately going out of his way to avoid jobs like bouncing that would have paid him a lot more money but had the potential to get him in trouble.
"You could hear it in his voice. He's doing everything a person in his situation is supposed to do. I was raised to forgive and give people second chances in life."
Still, Rebney wouldn't have signed Rogers if he didn't see a fighter with potential. Rogers gained notoriety in Elite XC and Strikeforce for a series of quick finishes, including a flash knockout of former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski.
In his 11th pro fight, the Minneapolis native headlined a Strikeforce card against Fedor Emelianenko, who at the time had not lost a fight in nine years. Rogers rocked Emelianenko in the first round of what was a surprisingly competitive fight, right up until the moment he made a mistake and left himself open for a knockout punch.
From there, Rogers went into a professional tailspin, as the Emelianenko loss kicked off a stretch of four losses in five fights. But Rebney sees a fighter who still has the raw potential he displayed in the early days, not the one who was rushed into main events.
"His prior management threw him to the wolves," said Rebney. "If you saw his fight with Fedor in Chicago, I was there that night. You saw it. Brett had his moments in the fight. He was competitive. If he had more experience, who knows, maybe he would have won. But they threw him to the wolves and wrecked his confidence. There's still a talented fighter there."
Rogers, for his part, is grateful for the opportunity.
"Man, it feels great," Rogers told MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani. "I feel blessed. Bjorn (Rebney), he didn't have to sign me to Bellator Fighting Championships. He could have been like everybody else, and like, ‘screw you, Brett. It's just a little too much going on in your life.'"
It remains to be seen whether Rogers will make the most of this opportunity, but the bottom line is, he's being given the chance.
"I can't guarantee that Brett's going to be perfect and I don't know that this will work out, but he's earned a second chance and he's going to get it. It's up to him."