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VCURamFan 05-11-2013 05:43 PM

Bjorn Rebney fires back at Eddie Alvarez, calls statements 'completely false'


From a public relations standpoint, it's been a rough week for the world's number two mixed martial arts organization and its CEO Bjorn Rebney. Former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez made a series of explosive claims in an interview with Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. Among others, Alvarez contended Rebney had little say in the dispute, that Bellator had changed his contractual language without his knowledge or consent, and much more.

On Twitter in the days leading up to the interview, Alvarez further asserted on Twitter Bellator malfeasance caused Cosmo Alexandre to be financially destitute and former Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky to be paid less than what was contractually agreed upon with Bellator.

Last, but certainly not least, former UFC featherweight Leonard Garcia claimed he was offered a deal by Bellator after being released by the UFC this week, but wasn't interested in accepting it based on what he'd heard from the plights of the aforementioned fighters.

To Rebney, these contentions come as something of a shock. More importantly, Rebney argues they're a series of claims that aren't just untrue by word, but demonstrably false.

In this interview with MMA Fighting, Rebney outright challenges the truth of Alvarez's statements about Viacom and Bellator, reasserts his role as the organization's decision maker, and much more.

Full audio (mp3 is available) and a partial transcript below:

Bjorn, a bit of an interesting time for your organization - there's so much to get to, so let's see what we can unpack with this Eddie Alvarez situation. I'm assuming you saw his recent comments, which we'll get to piece by piece, but your general take on going public with some of the things he's suggesting are true? What's your general take on what's happening?
Well, the general take about what's happening is that Ed's made a series of statements about Bellator and Spike over the last few weeks that are completely untrue. You know, it bothers me - for as hard as this company works, and as much as Spike has meant to mixed martial arts and mixed martial artists, and providing the revenue, the ability and the platform for so many fighters to earn a great living in this space - for Ed to make the kind of statements he's been making about Bellator, Spike, and Viacom, is offensive. And they're untrue statements.

It had been my intent to maintain the high ground and not engage in a public back-and-forth. And we don't have any intent to engage in a public back-and-forth. This isn't going to be an ongoing public feud, but it just reached a boiling point where we had to come forward and point out the fact that many of the things he was saying are completely untrue. They weren't opinion, they were just false.

He's characterized this "battle" as one where he's a pawn between Viacom and, let's say, Zuffa, and that it's not really about what Bellator is; it's just about these larger parent companies. What is your response to his assessment of this battle?
I don't know that that's Ed's assessment. I'd be willing to guess that outside sources have put that quote-unquote 'assessment' into his head. But I will tell you this: every single decision, with regard to Ed matching the contract, the steps we've taken and the legal steps that have been taken, have been made directly from this office, from this CEO at Bellator. The decisions have not been made by Spike and they have not been made by Viacom. I'm sure you can imagine or conjecture a thousand different reasons why various parties would want to paint Viacom and/or Spike into this picture.

What Viacom and Spike have done is they've done an amazing, amazing job of contributing hundreds of millions of dollars into this great sport. And they've helped take it from a sport that nobody had heard of, and nobody had seen on television, and nobody was aware of to a sport where I believe that the world's greatest athletes can earn a great living in this sport, can support their families and can become crossover stars in this sport.

That's what Spike and Viacom have brought to the table, so to try to drag them in because Ed's getting information from other sources as to who he should try to paint with what kind of brush. If Ed wants to paint anybody with a brush, he should be painting me - as the CEO and chairman of Bellator - and Bellator, the company he signed with in 2008, took a six-figure check from, and signed an agreement with. That's who he should be painting. Anything else is completely disingenuous and positioning - it has nothing to do with where this real fight exists.

One of the things he said that caught my attention was that he said he wasn't even sure to what extent your role, as yay or nay, was involved here. You're directly challenging that - you're saying this idea that Viacom is pulling the strings and you're sort of just getting the news later on is false?
It's completely false. And I've sat down with Ed face to face and made it completely and utterly clear to him that the decisions, the movements, the steps we were taking and the position we were taking was a decision that I was making, and it was a decision I was making based on the contract he signed, based on the commitment we had made to him financially, based on the agreement he had executed, and there was no other party involved. There was no other party voicing an opinion, there was no other party saying "do this" or "do that." The decisions of this company on this matter have been made 120% by me and by Bellator. That's it - not by any other group or party.

Fans say, "Listen, Bellator might have a case, Viacom might have a case, whoever is on that side ... maybe they're right. Maybe the contract language is what they say it is and Eddie Alvarez agreed to that, and that's all fine. But as long as Eddie's out there just trashing everybody, and maybe he believes what he's saying, maybe he's not even intentionally being disingenuous, but he's believing it and other fighters are hearing it. Is it really worth it to Bellator to just go white-knuckle with him and get their name dragged in the mud?"
Yes, it is, and I'll tell you why it is. And this is a question I've been asked by a bunch of people but it's time we answered it. When you sign a contract with an organization like ours, or any of the other top organizations, of which there is only one, the UFC - the expectation is that you're going to honor that contract. We didn't get into this industry nor are we in this industry to be a developmental program for anybody. We didn't get into it to be a stepping stone. We got into it to be the #1 mixed martial arts organization in the world. And in 4 years, we've gone from being #6 to #2. The intent was never to be #2.

So, to allow a fighter that we've put on television multiple times, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to and given a $150,000 bonus to to sign a contract, to blatantly violate that contract and to not live up to its obligations is something that a 2nd-tier promotion or a feeder-system promotion might do ... but it's not something that we're going to do. We're going to support our fighters, we're going to build them into stars, we're going to have relationships like the relationships we have with Joe Warren, King Mo, and Pat Curran, the list goes on and on, we're going to do everything we can to make them the biggest possible stars we can. We're going to put the focus and the focal point on them - not on the promoter, not on the person wearing the suit, but ultimately on the guys who have the courage and guts to step in the cage.

We're going to do all the things we do differently from the UFC. But we're surely never going to be a feeder system, and we're surely never going to be a stepping stone. So, if there's an agreement in place ... look, it's the fight industry, and this is a fight that we feel very vested in. And for Ed to be making the kind of false statements that he's making, it does not make this situation any more likely that we're going to settle it. We were interested in settling it when Ed was simply saying 'Hey, I just have a disagreement with Bellator' but now that I'm sure that he's come to the realization that we're contractually in the right.

Maybe that tone is changing, but until Ed stops spreading complete falsehoods about this company and about the incredibly good people at Spike and Viacom, who've given fighters like Ed the opportunity to make a $250,000 bonus; to make huge signing bonus money, to make six-figures per fight. That's because of Spike and Viacom. So until those attacks stop, filled with untruths, we're going to keep right on in the middle of this fight.

If you can, to the extent you can elaborate on it, please do, he has said the same thing: that there was a moment there where you guys were going to potentially renegotiate. Or at least there was some kind of back and forth about achieving a reconciliation before it went to trial. That all fell apart. Can you tell us why?
I have absolutely no idea. I can't tell you the specifics because there was an agreement signed that any of the terms of the settlement we'd proposed to Ed wouldn't be shared, and any of the discussions we had wouldn't be shared by us. But what I can tell you is that we met in Albuquerque about 2 months ago, we had a very fruitful series of discussions and it looked like it was a settled matter. And, literally, we got done with the meeting, Ed stood up, shook my hand and said, "I'm not going to apologize for anything and I don't think you should either, but I'm glad we've been able to get this worked out."

We had one attorney there, he had one attorney there, and it was just Ed and I in the room, sitting and talking through things. When it got done, I thought it was done. I thought it was settled. We didn't get exactly what we wanted and I don't think Ed got exactly what he wanted, but that's how settlements work. Ultimately, by the time Ed got home on the flight, it was off the table. We hadn't changed any terms or looked to alter anything we agreed to, but it was off the table. So, I don't know. You'd have to ask Ed, but I thought we had it settled as well. That's why, for a long period of time, I kept saying 'Hey, I hope this can be settled. I hope this thing can be worked out. I'm hopeful it can and I believe it can.'

Ed, for some reason, either through his own accord or at the direction of third parties, has literally started making false statement after false statement after false statement about Bellator. So, at this point, we're not going to be in a position to settle until such time as Ed stops making false statements and admits those statements were false, we're not going to sit down and discuss a settlement with him. It's just not going to happen.

Let's get to some of the data points that he's brought up recently so I can get your take on it. One is he had said that Bellator was initially, contractually in language, required to meet all the terms, and then that was letter changed to the material terms. So that would be, sure they can match the show/win money or the signing bonus, and then somehow the language on the contract got changed ...
Let me interrupt you, because this is one of the more infuriating aspects of this entire situation. It's one of the aspects that's been so disconcerting. If you go to the court filings, every single document is there. There was never a change of a single word. What Ed is talking about - and this is what is completely and totally untrue, this is false, this is a statement that's completely untrue - Ed's attorney and our attorneys were communicating consistently when that early release document was drafted. The 2008 contract that Ed signed with this company has the exact same wording in it. The exact same wording that the early release document has in it.

Ed's claims that somehow he was tricked into material terms being in that letter is absolutely, completely 100% false. The documents are available in the courthouse and I can forward the documents over to you. That is a completely false statement.

Ed was not misled, Ed was not in the communications. Ed's attorneys were talking to our attorneys. Ed came to us and literally said to us, "Hey, is there any reason for us to wait out this amount of time with the exclusive negotiation period?" And, literally, as a favor to Ed Alvarez, because of how I felt about him at the time - a feeling that no longer stands - but how I felt about him at the time, I said, "Of course. Let's just let you go get the offer. If we're going to match it, we'll match it, and if not, there's no reason to sit you out for 3 months. Let's just let you go get the offer." The wording in our contract that Ed signed and the wording in that early release document are exactly the same. There is no mention of material terms in the release letter. It's completely false, and it's in the court documents.

I'm just sort of left confused, and I'm sure people who listen to this and read are going to be confused ... if this is so clear, and I guess we're just speculating, but why is he saying what he's saying then?
Here would be my suggestion. My suggestion would be, even if you don't trust what I'm telling you, just go to the court and pull a copy of the document, which anyone is allowed to do. You'll see the early release letter signed by Ed's council and by ours, and you'll see the contract, and you'll see that the language is exactly the same and there was no misleading, there was no lying, there was no switch of the cards underneath the deck - it is exactly what we were claiming it is. So for Ed to claim that, and for Ed to stand up and imply that somehow we switched the deal on him, or we tried to do something tricky or conned him into something, it is completely and totally false and the documents back it up.

I don't have any idea why he'd say it, but part of the reason that, instead of just continuing to stay silent and just allow this thing to play itself out, when statements like that are made, that we can show without any questions are completely untrue, it just reaches a certain point where you say wait a minute: in 2007, I put every single dollar I had in the world into building this company, I took it from an idea in my head into something that's the 2nd-largest mixed martial arts organization on Earth, it's seen in 120 countries around the world and it's got a partnership with Spike, et cetera. At some point you just reach a boiling point where you say "time out." You can't, no matter who you are, you can't attack something that was built from literally nothing to something of this level by just sweat, blood and tears and not expect somebody to come back and say, "You're lying."

Zach Makovsky had actually spoken about it only after Alvarez brought it up. He'd been silent about it after he'd moved on from Bellator and signed elsewhere, or whatever was the case. As Makovsky explained it, he had a certain baseline, and if he'd won the Dantas fight it would've gone up and if he'd lost it would've stayed the same. But he'd won two other fights that were supposed to raise his level of pay - $2000 to show and $2000 to win - the extra fight he asked for after the Dantas fight, you guys didn't want to pay him. That's his claim, so I'll now ask you for yours: what's your claim about that situation?
Again, I've got a copy of Zach Makovsky's promotional agreement and I've also got a copy of the actual bout agreement in terms of what Zach was paid. Zach was paid exactly what he was owed under the promotional agreement for his loss in the world title fight to Dantas and he was paid exactly what he was owed under the promotional agreement for his 2nd loss to Anthony Leone. Exactly what he was owed underneath the promotional agreement. There was no lessening of the purse, he wasn't cheated out of a penny, he was paid exactly what he was owed. And I've got the promotional agreement as well as the two bout agreements to back that up.

So I have no idea why Ed would make that statement and I don't know why Zach would make that statement. For a short period of time Zach was a champion with us and he always seemed like a good kid. I don't know why he'd make that statement, but I've got the promotional agreement plus the two bout agreements and he was paid precisely what he was owed under his promotional agreement for both of those fights.

He claimed that he wanted 3 fights I believe, in 14 months, and that ultimately you guys let him go. He'd lost 2 in a row, but you guys let him go because, you know, you liked him at the time - I don't know how you feel about him now - but he wanted 3 in 14 and you just couldn't give him 3 in 14 and that's why he was released. Is that true?
Not only is it untrue, but it's inaccurate. We actually gave him the 14 for the world title fight. We gave him the 14 for the world title fight. It had nothing to do with how many fights we could or couldn't give him, it simply had to do with the fact that he'd lost to Dantas, and then we set him up with a fight that he was supposed to win to get himself back on track against Anthony Leone, and he lost that fight. And at that point, we just felt we had some unbelievably talented 135-pounders that deserve an opportunity, and we put Zach into a fight that he was supposed to win and he didn't, so we figured after back-to-back losses that we'd just part ways with him. That's why we released him.

The last one deals with Cosmo Alexandre. It got the point with him where he was literally tweeting how much money he was putting into his car - $4 worth of gas and, I think, even with a hash tag that said "Thanks Bjorn." So the last time he fought was November 9th of 2012. Has he come to you and said, similar to what Makovsky is claiming, "Hey I'd like to be active," or where is the dissatisfaction, insofar as you're able to tell, with Alexandre coming from?
I know exactly where it's coming from. Cosmo signed with us 18 months ago. He's been provided 6 fights over an 18-month period. That's a fight every 3 months on average. Cosmo, after going 5-1 and after his 6th fight with us in a year-and-a-half, literally more frequency of fights than almost any fighter in mixed martial arts, was offered a spot in our 155-pound tournament in Season 8. He turned that fight down because he said he couldn't make 155. Now, his promotional agreement mandates that he fights at 155. 4 days later - and this is in writing, all of which I can send you as well, because this is why I'm coming forth now and having these conversations. 6 fights over 18 months, built him up from a world renowned kickboxer who nobody in MMA had ever heard of to a guy on the cusp of being ready to participate in the tournament. We had 6 developmental bouts with him, the idea being is we would build him up through 6 fights and then put him in the tournament, which he agreed to.

In his agreement, there's a 6 developmental bout deal. We offered him a spot at 155 on Season 8, he turned it down on paper. Four days later we came back to him and said, OK, if you can't make 155 any longer we'll offer you a spot in the 170-pound tournament; a $100,000 tournament with the compensation starting at 10/10 in the fist round. He turned down the spot in Season 8 170-pound tournament. As a follow-up to that, we have now offered him a spot in the Season 9 170-pound tournament because he's told us that he can't make 155.

This is the third offer we've made to