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.

Foot-In-Mouth Award: World Series of Fighting’s Ali Abdel-Aziz

With the news of Bjorn Rebney’s de-throning from atop the Bellator chair and the call-up of Scott Coker to take the reins of the promotion, the response from the MMA community has been fairly positive (both in wishing Rebney well and in praise of his replacement in Coker).

For some, however, Rebney’s departure is a call for celebration.  One such fit of joy comes from Ali Abdel-Aziz, matchmaker of the World Series of Fighting and general off-the-cuff speaker.

Abdel-Aziz is no stranger to letting loose his feelings on Twitter. He got into a heated back and forth with Vinny Magalhaes earlier this year, a fighter not even under the WSOF roster.   He took a very passive aggressive dig at Rousimar Palhares when Palhares had to drop out of a fight with Jon Fitch due to Palhares’ mother’s failing health.

So, it should come as no surprise that Abdel-Aziz had an opinion about Bellator’s changing of the guard.  Unfortunately, Abdel-Aziz continues to talk first and think second.  In an interview with MMA Junkie late yesterday, Abdel-Aziz said of Bjorn Rebney’s ousting:

Today is victory for all of MMA – for me, for you, for all the fighters. Today should be (named) MMA Independence Day. Freedom from slavery, freedom from abuse, freedom from shadiness—this guy left. I don’t want to say his name—just MMA fans should be happy, and I’m very sure a lot of people are.

I’m certain Abdel-Aziz isn’t insensitive enough to actually believe that a fighter being paid to fight on a national stage is akin to someone treated as property to be bought and sold and worked without compensation.  It’s a bad metaphor. Unfortunately, his hyperbolic comparison is also ill-timed considering it was issued on the on eve of Juneteenth.

Obviously, the coincidence and timing couldn’t be worse. Luckily for Abdel-Aziz, the World Cup is on, and MMA isn’t covered in nearly the all-encompassing manner as other major league sports, so all he has to worry about is getting a dumb, fake award for putting his foot in his mouth.

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 5

“Sometimes these things happen in MMA.”—Gus Johnson

Being an MMA commentator is an utterly thankless job.  For every fight fan who praises Michael Schiavello’s enthusiasm during a fight or Joe Rogan’s rapport with fighters in post-fight interviews, there are droves of critics who decry Mike Goldberg’s responsibility to plug the next UFC event mid-fight or Mauro Ranallo’s attempts to give a live fight more context and illustration.

And fighters-turned commentators don’t get any latitude either. Guys like Pat Militech, Brian Stann, Kenny Florian, and Bas Rutten offer a unique perspective but get lambasted by fight fans who perceive their insights as attacks on and personal biases against the viewer’s favorite fighter. Even the fighters sometimes fail to give the commentators the credit they deserve.  From Josh Barnett taking offense at Kenny Florian or Rampage Jackson coming down on Rich Franklin for stating the obvious, MMA commentators seem to bear the brunt of criticism from all directions. and this is likely before they even get production notes from producers.  It’s a lose-lose situation, but it does speak volumes that the number of commentators, especially in the UFC, is so few.  It’s a challenging job that not just anyone can fill.

A good commentator is one that complements the action so the audience barely notices the contribution as being a part of the broadcast. So when a commentator draws attention to himself or herself in spite of the action, it makes the commentating task that much harder. It’s also a trap that every commentator falls into, at one time or another, directly or indirectly.  But when veteran sports commentator Gus Johnson jumped into the bear trap during the CBS broadcast of Strikeforce: Nashville, MMA fan reactions were vitriolic.

In the main event, Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields dominated Dan Henderson with a gutty performance after Shields was rocked early.  Looking back, Johnson teed-up Shields perfectly. Johnson set the scene, talking about how the perception was that Strikeforce had expected Shields to lose by bringing in Henderson, and Shields was more than ready to respond with his thoughts.

Then, the wheels came off.

Self-promotion machine Jason Mayhem Miller had just interrupted Jake Shields’s victory interview with Johnson when the extras from Shields’s camp, including Gilbert Melendez and Nate and Nick Diaz, took umbrage and began to throw punches at Miller. The production cut to a shot of an empty arena from the prelims, briefly, to distract the audience. However, when the live broadcast returned, the melee intensified, and Johnson, wisely, exited the swarm like a thief in the night.  The disgust from the crowd and Mauro Renallo was audible. And then Johnson added to the ridiculousness in the cage saying, “Sometimes these things happen in MMA.”

Fight pundits and critics took aim at Gus Johnson for his response.  These things happen in MMA? Thanks a lot Gus! We’re trying to get on national TV here!

The dirty little secret that no one likes to mention is that yes, these things do happen. Maybe not as frequently in MMA as the connotation suggests  (though even recently Johnny Bedford and Rani Yaha engaged in a post-fight kerfuffle). They happen in MMA (and they seem to happen with frequency when the Diaz brothers are in the cage). They happen in the NBA. Hell, they happen in the NFL after practically every play where there’s a holding penalty. Johnson just happened to acknowledge this on a live mic instead of trying to spin out of it.  But the connotation was out there, and fight fans to this day still cry foul.

The criticisms about Johnson’s calls that night and his knowledge of the sport aside, the simple fact is there was really no way for Gus Johnson to steer the brawl in Memphis into an acceptable landing. It wasn’t Johnson’s fault the fight took place to begin with. And to his credit, he attempted to right the ship and interview Jake Shields once the cage had cleared. Still, Johnson’s quote lives on in infamy partly because of the time and place and the infancy of the sport.  In a piece by SI’s Loretta Hunt, Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker says of the brawl in Nashville, “It’s was a national event and letting that situation happen was an embarrassment.” At the end of the day, the brawl was embarrassing. Gus Johnson’s call simply ended up complementing that embarrassment.