The rumors and the damage done for Bellator MMA


eddie-alvarez-11.jpgIn a twist so weird it could only happen in MMA, it turns out that Leonard Garcia wasn’t offered a Bellator contract after all. Or, who knows, maybe he was.

Garcia certainly seemed to think so. But that voice on the other end of the phone? The one offering him a Bellator contract so soon after his UFC release? That was a Bellator impersonator, according to Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney.

That explanation sounds a little too convenient to Garcia’s management team, which has essentially accused the Viacom-owned entity of being the awkward boy who asks a girl out on a date and then quickly adds, “Just kidding!” immediately after she says no.

The situation is just murky enough to make it difficult to tell exactly what happened here, except for one detail that has yet to be called into question: Garcia, thinking he was hearing a legitimate offer from Bellator, turned it down.

That’s right, the guy coming off five straight losses, the guy who’d just been released from the UFC at age 33, told the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world thanks, but no thanks. Or, at least, he thought he did. According to comments Garcia made to MMA Fighting, he wasn’t even interested in hearing what Bellator had to say. He’d heard “some stories,” he explained. Stories about Bellator short-changing fighters, locking them down, doing them dirty. If those stories turned out to be untrue, he might consider a future with Bellator, he said. But now?

“At the moment those are the stories that I’m hearing, and you can’t fight for a company like that,” Garcia said. “You just can’t do it.”

There’s a lesson in here somewhere, and it’s one that ought to be a wakeup call for Bellator.

Before we go any further, we should note that there is some reason to think Rebney is telling the truth about the Bellator impersonator. About a month ago Bellator emailed some media members warning of just such a fraud. Unless that was part of an elaborate setup just to get out of a minor embarrassment later on, it seems the “Bellator Phantom” might be a real thing (which is to say, a real fake thing).

More importantly, nothing about Bellator’s track record suggests that it would go after a UFC castoff with an 0-5 record in his past five fights. While I still don’t get why you’d pass on Jon Fitch just to sign Vladimir Matyushenko, I can understand why Bellator would stay away from Garcia. That would be consistent with what we know of Bellator’s general strategy, which is why it’s easy to believe that that’s what happened. Of course, that logic also works the same way in the other direction, which is what Bellator should be worried about right now.

If you’ve heard anything about Bellator in the past week or so, chances are it wasn’t positive. The MMA blogosphere has been filled with all manner of accusations from former Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez, who’s currently engaged in an increasingly bitter legal battle with the promotion, as well as rumors of mistreatment and discontent surrounding fighters like Cosmo Alexandre and Zach Makovsky.

Rebney insists that it’s all lies, damn lies. He has detailed explanations to counter all these claims. What he doesn’t have is a good explanation for why Bellator seems to find itself on the receiving end of so many baseless accusations from disgruntled employees. At a certain point it starts to seem like there’s either some kernel of truth at the heart of it all, or else there’s something about Bellator that makes fighters more likely to spread vicious lies about it. Neither would be particularly good for Bellator’s image.

It’s a similar story with the Alvarez lawsuit. By engaging in a prolonged legal battle with one of its own fighters, Bellator has backed itself into a peculiar corner. If it wins the case, it will have spent a lot of money, time and energy to retain the services of a former champ who would clearly rather be elsewhere. Then, after a judge has essentially ordered Alvarez back into the Bellator fold, you’re telling me that’s when it will try to promote a pay-per-view event featuring Alvarez as the most reluctant co-star in MMA history? It’s hard to see how all this negative attention could possibly be worth it to achieve that result.

And what if Bellator loses the case? Then it will have gone through all this trouble just to have it declared by a court of law that it cannot offer a fighter the same things that the UFC can. That’s like paying for a billboard advertising your chief competitor’s overall superiority. Remind me again how the positives for Bellator outweigh these potential negatives.

So why go through with it? Maybe Bellator feels its gone too far to turn back now. Maybe it genuinely wants Alvarez, or maybe it just wants to match its contract up against the UFC’s in court to see what happens.

What Bellator and Viacom seem to be forgetting, however, is that these battles don’t stay in the courtroom. They have a way of expanding, of bleeding out into the larger narrative. They change the way fans think of a fight promotion and the way fighters talk about it among themselves. That’s why the perception surrounding everything from a legal battle that is to a contract offer that maybe isn’t matters so much. Whether positive or negative, right or wrong, that perception is always hanging over your head, threatening to become your reality.

(Pictured: Eddie Alvarez)

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