Thousands of MMA fans will enter the Maverick Center Friday, March 28 to see MMA icon Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, the middleweight title fight with Alexander Shlemenko versus Brennan Ward and Rad Martinez’s final professional fight against Edson Berto, along with several other promising match-ups. Fight cards have been finalized, the cage and crew are in place and the weigh-in begins. It’s a major event with many players, some of which have to be asking, “How did I get here?” Welcome to Bellator 114!
You work your way up, fighting your way to the top, using all your mind, body and training can offer, you’re the undisputed champion, the best in your class. Knowing that you worked your way up and no one can take that experience away from you is almost as rewarding as the purse—almost.
Most athletes would say the experiences and early competitions along the road lent to their success. Begging the question, why would you skip that important part of the journey? That’s exactly what Bjorn Rebney, who had spent much of his life competing and working in the sporting world contemplated before starting the Bellator MMA Tournaments in April of 2009. With every major sport using this format, why wasn’t one of his favorites, the growing MMA community? “I didn’t like that agents and promoters decided fight cards,” Rebney explains. “I wanted to see fighters compete based off their skills not based off a popularity contest. The format offers legitimacy to the sport and the fighters.”
The Bellator Tournament season consists of 12 events. The series consists of multiple fights for each weight class from Bantom to Heavyweight. Multiple seasons can happen over one year, so while Bellator as a tournament has been around for five years, we are currently in its 10th season. The fighting pool currently contains over 175 signed fighters, ranging from 18–42. Fighters hail from all over the world. With the rise in popularity of the sport and of the Bellator brand, what once would be considered recruiting is now more of collecting the talent. “Now people email, text message and send tweets with video links,” Rebney says. “People from every corner of the globe send in clips and we go through every piece of information, and sometimes we find magic in a bottle. Guys you never would of heard of in a million years can go from fighting in the jungles of Brazil to fighting for $1,000,000 on Spike TV.”
Following a fighter through the ranks builds a loyal fan base, which I saw firsthand at last year’s Featherweight Tournament Finals held in Salt Lake City, pairing West Jordan resident and Orem’s Pit Elevated crew member Rad Martinez against Russian Shahbulat Shamhalaev. Being in the arena that night was an emotional experience. Thousands of people cheering Rad, and then sharing the frustration and disappointment of his loss with an entire arena. Friday night, Rad will conclude his career with Bellator to focus on his family. “A lot has happened in a year, since the fight with Shamhalaev,” Rad says. “I got married and had a new baby, and now I think it’s time to devote my energy and effort to being a good son, husband and father.” I asked Rad what advice he could give to young fighters looking to advance their careers as parting words from someone leaving the scene: “Finding the right gym and a training partner is important—I travel 45 minutes for my gym. Don’t take the easy way out. I wanted the toughest guys around who would beat me up and teach me,” he says. Rad plans to continue to support his Pit Elevated Crew and help those in training after he retires. “I want to support them the way they have supported me, and give back,” he says. Win or lose, Rad plans to celebrate when it’s all over. “I think I’ll wake up Saturday morning and take my wife and daughter to the park and just enjoy a day off,” he says.
Rad’s fighting career will end Friday, but Bellator will charge on. Once wrapped, they pack up and head straight to another event. Bellator 115 will take place in Reno, Nevada on April 4 for the Heavyweight World Championship fight with Vitaly Minakov versus Cheick Kongo, broadcast live on Spike TV in over a 100 million homes and 140 countries around the world. Bellator continues to gear up for their debut on pay-per-view May 17, featuring Ed Alverez fighting Michael Chandler II and Quinten Rampage Jackson versus King Mo in Memphis, Tennessee. Along with international expansion into markets including Latin America and Eastern Europe, Rebney says the main goal is to improve the experience for fans and each fighter.