The I-X Center will be an indoor amusement park for combat fans when it plays host to the Bellator Fighting Championships on Friday. Five televised semifinal fights highlight a card that will include four-plus hours of professional mixed-martial arts action, with the winners advancing to the world championship fights.
Bellator Chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney said Cleveland has been on his radar for a long time, ever since he attended a lesser MMA event in the Flats.
There will be a local fan favorite at the event, as Brian “The Predator” Rogers will try to up his record to 10-3. The former Walsh linebacker will battle kickboxing specialist Andreas Spang for the right to fight for the middleweight title. Rogers has gained some mass appeal with some highlight reel-knockouts, this one has over 440,000 views. He’s widely regarded as one of the up-and-coming stars in the promotion. He’s also fought in Strikeforce, which is owned by Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of the UFC.
“He is a freak of an athlete that competes at a world-class level. He could legitimately be a top 10 or even top 5 fighter in the world at 185 pounds,” Rebney said. “He’s an explosive athlete that knocks things out, which is what people want to see.”
The perception of Bellator is that it operates as a minor league system for the UFC. In many ways the UFC is considered synonymous with MMA, with all the other promotions fighting for table scraps. That perception changed when Bellator was purchased by Viacom last year, giving a the company a major broadcast outlet for its events and making it a solid No. 2 in the MMA world. It’s now seen on roughly 90 million homes, airing on MTV2 and in HD on EPIX. The undercards can be streamed on Spike.com.
Rebney isn’t necessarily worried about the competition.
“We can both survive handsomely. We have Viacom on our side, which wrote the book on televised MMA,” he said. “It’s a nice position to co-exist, we have a tournament format where athletes have to win to move on, they’re not given anything by matchmakers.
Friday’s preliminary fights will also showcase Jessica Eye, who’s a rising female star on the MMA scene and also happens to be a native Clevelander. She will face Anita Rodriguez in the women’s feature fight.
The main event will feature Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and former DREAM lightweight title holder Shinya Aoki, a rematch of their 2008 fight which Aoki won by heel hook submission. Aoki has a 30-5 record as a pro.
The doors at the IX Center open up at 6:00 with preliminaries beginning shortly thereafter. Live streaming starts at 7 on Spike.com, while the main card begins at 8. As of Wednesday night, only about 300 tickets of the original 3,500 remain.
Click below for audio of the full interview with Bellator Chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney