Spike TV today announced that Bellator MMA’s top two executives have parted ways with the company.
Bjorn Rebney, Bellator’s founder, chairman and CEO, as well as company president and COO Tim Danaher, have the left company, effective immediately.
A reason for their departures wasn’t given, though a statement from Rebney mentioned a difference “in our views on the right strategic direction.”
Although recent reports, including one from veteran MMA journalist Josh Gross, have suggested former Strikefoce president and ex-UFC executive Scott Coker could take over Rebney’s position, today’s announcement stated no replacements have been named at this time.
bjorn-rebney-bellator-116“It is with bittersweet emotions that I announce that I am leaving the company I founded,” Rebney stated in today’s release. “I have great pride in having turned my vision into reality, a thriving business with television distribution to over 140 countries around the world, a partnership with one of the world’s largest entertainment giants and wide array of sponsors, partners and strategic allies all over the globe.
“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.”
Rebney, a former boxing executive, launched Bellator (then known as Bellator Fighting Championships but later rebranded as Bellator MMA) in April 2009. While initially focused on Latin talent, the organization soon expanded its roster to include worldwide talent while promoting its tournament-based format.
Following a series of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies from other fight promotions around the globe, Bellator became the de facto No. 2 MMA organization behind the industry-leading UFC. In 2013, USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie named Rebney the seventh most powerful person in MMA.
With Rebney and Danaher at the helm, the company moved from ESPN Deportes to MTV2 after striking a deal with Viacom in late 2010. The media giant ultimately bought a controlling interest in the fight company in October 2011, and events then moved to Spike TV after the cable channel’s previous deal with the UFC ended.
muhammed-lawal-quinton-jackson-bjorn-rebneyThe company’s headquarters then moved from Chicago to Newport Beach, Calif., and executives expanded its presence on the West Coast. Additionally, a series of international TV deals gave the organization a global footprint.
To date, Bellator has hosted 121 event, including its pay-per-view debut with Bellator 120 this past month.
While the organization has developed many top prospects, in the past few years, Bellator shifted much of its focus to signing big-show vets, including the likes of Tito Ortiz, Quinton Jackson and Muhammed Lawal.
Currently, 76 percent of the fighters in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA Power Rankings are signed to the UFC, and 12 percent are on the Bellator roster.
“I feel very privileged and honored to have been one of the guiding forces for developing Bellator into the largest MMA tournament based organization in the world,” Danaher stated. “I’ve made tremendous life-long friends and feel blessed to have worked with such talented and dedicated people.”
Spike TV President Kevin Kay offered his appreciation to both executives in a prepared statement.
“I would like to thank Bjorn and Tim on behalf of Spike and Viacom for their dedication and hard work building Bellator from the ground up,” Kay said. “They worked tirelessly in getting Bellator to where it is today. They were great partners to work with and we wish them all the best.”
The executives’ replacements are expected to be announced in the coming days.