Bellator Casts Stephan Bonnar in American Psycho 2

 

Bonner

American Psycho 2: Electric Bugaloo

In 2000, Lions Gate Films released a theatrical version of the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. Its modest $7 million dollar budget pulled in over $30 million dollars, and Lion’s Gate saw this success as reason enough to release a direct-to-video sequel American Psycho 2 starring a then unknown box office starlet named Mila Kunis.  Fans of the original film and the book saw the release of the sequel as odd (if not confusing), but Lions Gate simply saw an opportunity to make a quick buck off the surprise success of the original film.  In fact, a script for an American Psycho sequel didn’t even exist.  The production company found a script in its archives with a serial killer and worked in a scene with the main character from the original film (someone not named Christian Bale), and attempted to tie it together to the original by throwing the title “American Psycho” on it.  American Psycho 2 currently holds an 18% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, proving it’s difficult to follow up an original with a half-baked sequel, especially if it’s only released to be an ATM machine.

So when word broke this morning that UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar had signed a new contract to fight in Bellator, many MMA fans also cocked their heads sideways. No one outside of Forrest Griffin or Chuck Liddell has been as much of a UFC company man historically as Stephan Bonnar. In addition to fighting for the UFC, Bonnarwas a familiar voice to WEC broadcasts, calling the action cageside.  So to see him emerge from retirement and jump ship to rival promotion Bellator is as odd, at least as odd as seeing a sequel to a movie with a cult following and modest reviews.

The fact that Bonnar took his nickname The American Psycho from the title of the book & film of the same name is quaint, but when you consider the parallels in the movie’s sequel and Bonnar’s own follow-up to a post-UFC career, the nickname is suddenly more than apropos.  It’s uncanny.

Bonnar will always be linked to his showdown with Forrest Griffin, and that fight will outlive everyone involved in putting it together. Despite your feelings on the way they fought, there is no doubt it was a watershed moment in MMA. There is a pre-TUF/post-TUF demarcation in the history of MMA thanks in part to Stephan Bonnar.  Whatever your feelings are as to the rest of his in-cage bona fides, Bonnar can hang his hat on that, an accomplishment to which few can lay claim.

In the last fight of his UFC career, Bonnar lost to then-middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva in violent fashion.  To add insult to injury, Bonnar later tested positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone in said match with Silva.  Bonnar, quietly, retired shortly after the loss.  Still, Bonnar’s fight with Griffin in 2005 gave the UFC its identity and a huge audience, and Dana White announced that he was inducting both Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013, a huge feather in the cap for someone who never fought in a championship fight let alone won a belt for the promotion.

No one asked for a Stephan Bonnar sequel.  I’m not even sure Scott Coker sought out Bonnar specifically. This seems more of a move by Spike TV who remembers what Bonnar did for the channel back in 2005 when he and Griffin put on the fight that put the UFC (and Spike TV) on the map.  If Bellator plans to build its brand using former UFC fighters as the basis for its future, I doubt it has a long-term strategy in mind.  Having Ortiz, Rampage, Kongo, Couture, and now Bonnar as part of its smells more like a tactical solution than a strategic one. However, what most people may fail to realize is a tactical solution was exactly what the first season of The Ultimate Fighter was.  Tactical solutions can put a plateaued product on the right track as long as there is follow through, as long as there is an evolution into something more strategic. If nothing else, Bonnar’s signing begs the question what will Bellator’s follow through be?  That’s what makes his signing intriguing.

Sure, bemoan the matchups of Bonnar/Ortiz, Bonnar/Rampage, or Bonnar/King-Mo all you’d like. Bonnar himself has already started the promotion digs Tito’s direction in a Bellator press release.  Ready yourself for Tito bringing up Bonnar’s past steroid abuse and for Bonnar lambasting Ortiz’s chronic injury-prone body.  Much like American Psycho 2, Bonnar/Ortiz, Bonnar/Lawal, and BonnarRampage aren’t matchups anyone is clamoring for.  However, sometimes, those things that have the least demand end up delivering the most.  I’m not saying a potential Bonnar/Ortiz matchup will deliver more than a rematch between Will Brooks and Michael Chandler.  I don’t know if Bonnar has enough left to make a run at Bellator’s 205-pound title.  Bellator’s light-heavyweight roster is thin enough that a couple of wins may just find him on the path to title contention.

Bonnar should use Huey Lewis as walkout music.

What I am saying is that I’ve seen American Psycho 2, and it’s not bad.  If you watch it as a movie onto itself outside of the shadow of the first film, it’s a fun flick. If MMA fans can get out from under the shadow Bonnar cast in his UFC run, if they can make room for the possibility that Bonnar is at the very least an entertaining fighter, maybe they can make room for the possibility that Bonnar has a fun fight or two he can contribute under the Bellator banner.  Bonnar/Griffin 1 & The Ultimate Fighter was the avenue by which a whole generation of MMA fans entered the sport.  Stephan Bonnar’s follow-up to his UFC run may not garner the same attention, but it definitely will not go unnoticed. There are many reasons to produce a sequel. Here’s hoping that Stephan Bonnar and Bellator find the right audience.

Game of Thrones – Bjorn Rebney Out As Bellator CEO

 

The scuttlebutt around the MMA landscape for the last few months was that Viacom was unhappy with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.  Today, it becomes official.  Rebney is out as CEO of Bellator.  Rebney, Bellator’s founder and CEO, helped to make the Bellator the number 2 MMA promotion in the states in a deal with Viacom in 2011, but after a tumultuous three year period under his watch, he is out.

In a press release, Rebney said:

“This has been a wonderful eight plus years of creation, development and success. I will miss the courageous, strong and dedicated fighters I have had the pleasure of promoting, and equally, I will miss the incredibly hard working, remarkable team that has become a family for me over the years. Viacom and Tim and I differed in our views of the right strategic direction for Bellator, but Tim and I both wish them well.”

Don’t expect anything other than this kind of PR boilerplate language.  Viacom is likely sending Rebney on his way with a plum severance deal, which in addition to having a non-compete clause likely contains language that prevents him from lambasting the company on the way out.  At least, don’t expect him to get vocal until the terms of that deal have expired.   After all, Rebney isn’t shy about the airing of grievances.

Bellator certainly isn’t underperforming, but it also isn’t firing on all cylinders either.  And nothing gets corporations nervy like a plateauing product.  So what or who could be to blame?  Rebney’s public comments about former welterweight champion Ben Askren, his feud and litigious conflict with lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez, and his perceived bias toward Rampage Jackson did him few favors in the court of public perception. Further, he did himself no favors from the fans and fighters alike by altering the tournament “win to get in” format and allowing Pat Curran to avoid the tournament route and challenge Daniel Straus for the featherweight title instead of tournament winner Patricio Pitbull Freire.  It may have been a culmination of these things.  It could have been that the heir apparent Scott Coker was finally available after riding out his own Zuffa-imposed non-compete clause.  It’s all speculative.  And since I’m no journalist, let’s continue to speculate.

Every time an MMA promotion tried to take the UFC on directly, it folded because it couldn’t keep up pace.  Or Zuffa simply bought them out.  The Zuffa mountain is a tough one to scale.  Bellator distinguished itself from the UFC brand with its tournament approach to title fights and a crop of blue chip MMA prospects like Ben Askren, Eddie Alvarez, Daniel Straus, Joe Warren, the brothers Pitbull, and Michael Chandler. They were even able to hang their hats on some quality matches including the first two Alvarez/Chandler matches.  The company was carving out a niche and finding an audience.

Two things continued to hamstring Bellator though. The first was the injury bug.  The injury bug forced them to scrap their first foray into PPV, which featured a main event of former UFC champions Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson.  From a tactical standpoint, having two known names headline the company’s first PPV may have seemed like a no-brainer, but from a strategic standpoint, how you could throw all of your marketing budget behind a man notorious for injuries is baffling. Sure enough, when Tito pulled out, the PPV had to be postponed.   When Alvarez/Chandler III was booked for the second swing at a first PPV event, an injured Eddie Alvarez almost caused a second delay as well.  Ultimately, the inaugural Bellator PPV went down as a success, but not before it showed some significant cracks behind the scenes, and the majority of those fissures sprung from promoter Bjorn Rebney. In fact, King Mo Lawal, clearly unhappy with the way Rebney promoted the main event for the PPV, vented as much during the actual PPV broadcast when he called Rebney a “d*ck rider” for Lawal’s perceived bias that Rebney had toward Rampage Jackson.

In short, Rebeny couldn’t get out of the way.  Much in the way other MMA promotions tried to go head-to-head with Zuffa with aping the company’s efforts, Rebney did his best at every turn to emulate the most well-known MMA promoter on the planet, Dana White, right down to the blustering bravado and bald head.

Rebney would deride his champions, as he did with Bellator’s unstoppable welterweight champion Ben Askren, offering a backhanded compliment regarding Askren’s style of fighting and his release from Bellator when he said, “I’ve said it many times, Ben’s a completely one-dimensional fighter who is utterly dominant in that dimension… he presents a weird conundrum from the MMA promoter’s perspective.  I hope he makes a fortune wrestling people to death.”

Rebney would also constantly reference the UFC in an attempt to deride Zuffa’s efforts, as he did when Dana White and the UFC responded to Georges St-Pierre’s sabbatical from the cage. Rebney just had to chime in saying, “The UFC has set the bar pretty high in terms of tasteless comments. The recent comments on Georges St-Pierre are some of the most tasteless comments they’ve made in some time.”

And much like the man he desperately tried to imitate, Rebney would trip over his own hypocrisy.  As recently as May of 2014, Rebney went on record with MMA Junkie saying, “I used to watch the UFC years ago, and I used to buy pay-per-views when they were significant and every pay-per-view had big fights on it, but that’s not the case anymore…  They do one every three weeks, and some of them, I’m like, ‘I wouldn’t watch that if it was on (FOX Sports 1).’” Of course that stands in contrast to when in April of 2014, Rebney was quick to vocalize his displeasure at the UFC’s marketing of Ronda Rousey as the biggest star in MMA. “…to characterize [Rousey] as the biggest star is a bit disingenuous. I think there are a lot of huge stars in MMA.”  Could it be that in the end, Rebney was answering more questions about the UFC than he was his own product?  Was he was talking more about the competition than he was his own stable of fighters?

I don’t know Bjorn Rebney from a ham sandwich, and from the outpouring of goodwill and tidings of comfort and joy tweeted by the fighters in Bellator, he seems to have done right by many of them, which is what makes the news of his ousting challenging (though rumor of a Scott Coker takeover comes as a most welcome salve given Coker’s reputation and history with MMA) for Bellator’s future.

In the end, perhaps Rebney should have taken his own advice; advice he issued in an interview to mmafighting.com in February of this year. Said Rebney at the time, “The fighters are the ones fueling pay-per-view buys or fueling cable television ratings. You’re not fueling ratings by promoting Bjorn or Bellator. Promoting the fighters should be first and foremost.”

And that is how Bjorn Rebney should be judged.  Did any of his bombast of rival promotions or needling of fighters in the public result in a wider public knowledge of the names Ben Askren, Eddie Alvarez, Daniel Straus, Joe Warren, the brothers Pitbull, and Michael Chandler? If so, then, he should ride off into the sunset with the knowledge that he left the company better than when he found it. If not, I’m uncertain whether it will keep him up at night, but he’ll, at the very least, be left shaking his head.

WAR OF THE WORDS: BEST MMA QUOTES – DAY 7

“I’m right here in this octagon fighting for the freedom of mixed martial arts.” – Tito Ortiz

You just knew Tito had to make an appearance on this list.  The question is which of Ortiz’s many notable quotables would find its way onto the list. I thought about including the gem he uttered during his stint on Donald Trump’s on The Apprentice when he said of his Punishment Athletics clothing line, “I run a multi-billion dollar company.” Of course, any of his quotes from his work as a commentator for Affliction could also be memorable, like when he interviewed Renato Babalu Sobral in a post-fight interview, saying:

Here we are with Seraldo Babalu, you did an awesome job, saw why you’re a black belt in jiu-jitsu, getting an awesome submission there, I want to tell me what you see, let’s go ahead and see by the fight, what you saw, in the ring.

Honestly, I could likely fill up a top-ten list of ridiculous Tito Ortiz quotes and a list of top-twenty if I included the many excuses for losses. One, however, sticks out among most of Tito’s words of wisdom. In a UFC 51 post fight speech that included call-outs to both Chuck Liddell and Ken Shamrock, Tito started out by thanking the troops… and then comparing their fight to his own, saying, “…I was like fighting for one reason: I was fighting for our United States troops…they are fighting for our freedom… I’m right here in this octagon fighting for the freedom of mixed martial arts.” To prove it, Tito’s camp all wore camouflage Punishment Athletic shirts, and Tito ran into the audience waving a two-sided flag with Mexico on one side and the United States on the other. ‘Merica!

In retrospect, it’s easy to poke fun at Tito for not being the most articulate person on a microphone, and to compare a sports fight to that of a service person in active combat is a real stretch. However, Tito was a part of that original silver-aged MMA vanguard, and he was, to use his own metaphor, on the front-lines for a great deal of it. I respect him for that, but that’s what also makes it difficult to watch Tito the Showman cast a shadow over Tito the Fighter.

However, I think no one can sum up Tito Ortiz better than Tito Ortiz. Just this past Saturday in Bellator’s inaugural PPV event, and after a rare win, Tito added another infamous quote to the gospel of Tito Ortiz when he said in the post-fight press conference, “God put me on this earth to be a tool.”

We should all allow Tito Ortiz the last word regarding himself.

What is the Value of Bellator’s Belts?

The urban legend for years in MMA’s silver age was that Frank Shamrock had carved his initials into the back of the UFC’s middleweight championship belt. Shamrock was so dominant in the then 205-pound middleweight division that he felt confident enough to claim it with his own initials so that as the belt passed from champion to champion each new champion would know that the alpha point of that belt began with FJS—Frank Juarez Shamrock.

Whether or not it’s true, it instantly gives an already heavy UFC belt a nice shot of mystique to add to its prestige.

The UFC belts are of course the more well-known, but it doesn’t mean they are the best even if they represent the best. From an aesthetic point of view, the grand prix tournament belts from Pride FC are pretty much the gold standard for most MMA fans. However, whatever the strap from whatever the promotion, the belt itself symbolizes, at least it should symbolize, the zenith.  So, what does it say that two of Bellator’s most well-known fighters seem a little disenfranchised with Bellator’s titles?

 

While appearing on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Hour on Monday, Eddie Alvarez, who had to withdraw from Bellator’s inaugural PPV due to a concussion said of his opponent Michael Chandler, “He’s angry because I beat him and I’m the champion, and he has to fight for a sh—y belt that adds up to nothing. He can say whatever he wants to say.” The shifty belt Alvarez is referring to is the interim title that Bellator is creating while Alvarez recovers from his injury. However, out of context, one could read that as an indictment on Bellator’s belts in general.

Of course, the backstory involving Alvarez, his free agency status, and this being his last fight on his Bellator contract makes it less surprising that there is some bitterness on Alvarez’s part.  Still, to go public about his feelings on the eve of his promotion’s first outing into the PPV model seems like bad timing.  In fact, Alvarez came out today and apologized for the comments.

Of course, Alvarez isn’t the only fighter on the Bellator roster who seems to have an aversion to Bellator’s belts.  Rampage Jackson, who now headlines Bellator’s inaugural PPV card with King Mo Lawal, went on record recently as saying he, too, isn’t looking forward to fighting for a Bellator belt. “I really don’t care for the belt,” Rampage said.  Granted, his disinterest may be guided by the fact that he is training partners with the Emanuel Newton, Bellator’s light-heavyweight champion, but it’s still odd that a top name like Rampage isn’t keen on fighting for the championship.

It seems to me that the amount of work a fighter puts in, regardless of promotion, should be rewarded, but what does it say about Bellator if the fighters themselves don’t find any value in the ultimate reward—the belt?

It’s been widely speculated that Bellator pays its fighters well, and considering the deep pockets from its Viacom umbrella, it’s a wonder why more fighters aren’t flocking to Bellator or even considering it once they part ways with the UFC.  However, if the issues Zoila Frausto Gurgel or Patricio Freire have with Bellator are any indication, perhaps it’s no surprise that the very fighters under the Bellator banner would rather stay away from belts they feel stand for very little.

Saying Goodbye to the Janitor: How the MMA News Cycle Denied Vladimir Matyushenko His Due

Maybe the camo was too effective?

Maybe the camo was too effective? photo via legendashow

After a 17-year mma career, Vladimir Matyushenko still can’t get any respect.

The Janitor concluded his mma tenure by tapping out to Joey Beltran and ceremoniously leaving his gloves in the Bellator ring.  As a pioneer who has fought in the UFC, Bellator, the IFL and Affliction, Matushenko is well-respected by his peers, training partners, and former opponents.  While he may not have been a legend in the game, Matyushenko was a measuring stick for competition, whose resume boasts wins against Yuki Kondo, Antônio Rogério Nogueira, and Pedro Rizzo. Unfortunately for the Janitor, Mayushenko’s swan song and career retrospectives were sandwiched in between the calls for Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira’s retirement and the announcement of Ronda Rousey’s next opponent at UFC 175 late Friday evening.

Pundits spent the last three weeks contemplating the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of a Rousey/Carano match.  On April 9th, Rousey made a surprise cameo to the UFC 173 press conference and fielded Gina Carano questions. Gina Carano made the late night talk show circuit commenting on her fighting career. Even last week, the chatter about Carano’s meeting with Dana White left many mma gurus resigned to the fact that Rousey/Carano would be happening.  All the build-up was there.  Then on Friday, in the shadow of Fight Night 39 and in the wake of a Friday night Bellator card, the UFC announced Alexis Davis as Rousey’s next opponent.  Not to a bang, but to a whimper. Insert sad trombone music.  Davis may not have been the sexy pick, but she was the right pick. If only the announcement of Alex Davis had warranted as much coverage as Gina Carano.

The timing of the announcement was perfect from a PR perspective.  After all, Fridays are a great day to deliver bad news.  Someone needs to be fired?  Friday is the day to do it. Negative company news to release that could affect investing?  Friday is your day.  People are out and starting the weekend and less likely to be aware of the news anyway. It’s garbage day.  In the case of the Rousey/Davis announcement, the UFC hit the trifecta: fight analysts writing and filing their Fight Night 39 stories, the broadcast for the Bellator card, and the media prep for Bradley/Pacquiao.

The effect was just what the UFC hoped for. The announcement bridges the gap of coverage between UFC Fight Night 39 and the Ultimate Fighter: Nations finale, it kills the Carano story (thereby cutting off the “contender illegitimacy” talk) after generating a lot of buzz for all parties involved, and it takes the air out of the competition’s fight night.  Poor Bellator.  It couldn’t even keep its PR machine going past its own broadcast time despite the ridiculous announcement of Alexander Shlemenko challenging Tito Ortiz, proving that even in his own promotional backyard, Valddy can’t catch a break.

Three days removed from his last fight, and the Janitor is buried beneath the fallout from UFC Fight Night 39, Alexander Shlemenko calling out Tito Ortiz, Alex Davis named as Ronda Rousey’s next opponent, Manny Pacqiauo’s mother conjuring voodoo hexes, Chael Sonnen and Wnaderlei Silva’s onset fight on TUF, Chael Sonnen calling out Rich Franklin, and the press for this Wednesday’s Ultimate Fighter: Nations premier.  And just like that, Vladimir Matyushenko is once again the last one in the building.