Earlier this week, Bellator MMA made the announcement which they would later boast “broke the internet”: the signing of former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Henderson, who had since moved up to welterweight and will fight for the Bellator 170 lb title in April, was making the unusual move of leaving the world’s number one MMA organization while still ranked among the world’s top fighters.
Why? Well, money, of course. And why not?
UFC commentator Joe Rogan made the point in an interview with Combat Nation published yesterday:
“The competition is good, it’s important,” Rogan said. “It helps everybody. There’s plenty to go around. I’m not anti-Bellator, I’m pro-MMA. I’m pro-MMA athletes. If an athlete can get paid more to fight in another organization, he should go there.”
Rogan also mentioned the UFC’s agreement with Reebok, which has been a source of contention with many of its athletes.
“The Reebok deal bothers a lot of fighters,” Rogan sighed. “They can’t take sponsors anymore, and those sponsors were responsible for a large percentage of the money they brought in. Benson took a huge financial hit with the Reebok deal; I spoke to him about it personally. He didn’t complain about it. He’s not a whiner. It’s just a money issue.”
It’s also the case of too much power in the hands of too few. The current UFC-dominated MMA climate, which UFC middleweight contender Tim Kennedy famously called “horrible, tragic, and pathetic,” is marked with frustration about the Reebok deal, and the fact that fighters can seemingly do nothing about it.
Last year, Henderson’s coach expressed his frustration in an interview with ESPN, following his charge’s controversial loss to Donald Cerrone:
“Ben was a world champion and he didn’t make real good money. He made good money, but not the kind of money you’d think he’d make for being the best in the world at what you do, in a business that’s making billions of dollars… Fighters have to take the Reebok deal, right? There’s no choice. That’s not fair. That kind of thing should go through a player’s representative. That doesn’t happen in our sport. If you don’t like it, then don’t fight in the UFC. Well, come on. Where are fighters supposed to go?”
Well, earlier this week, we received an answer. They can go to Bellator — and hopefully for the good of the sport, more follow suit.