During Friday's Bellator 79 broadcast the promotion announced a "Vote For The Fight" campaign. The web series will follow the training camps of Paul Daley, Ben Saunders, Douglas Lima and Jon "War Machine" Koppenhaver. Based on fan voting, two of the four will appear on Bellator's debut on Spike.
However, part of the campaign's marketing effort was a commercial showing the recently released Koppenhaver making statements like “I am fueled by hate" from behind prison glass.
There are countless examples of controversial marketing materials hurting mixed martial arts. During the sport's infancy then parent company SEG sent out marketing materials saying "anything can happen, even death." That was a centerpiece of John McCain's successul effort to keep the sport off PPV, nearly ending it. In Boston several years ago a promoter's flyers said "There are no rules." The mayor promptly banned the sport.
While MMA is legal everywhere but NY, it is still a sport that to the uninitiated looks barbaric; over the top marketing serves no one.
At the post-fight press con, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney explained the reasoning.
“I think it would be disingenuous on my part to look at Jon and say ‘well there’s a lot of controversy around you now, so we’re not going to take you back,’” said Rebney.
“We perhaps should have done a better job explaining ourselves. The series that is going to happen on the web is going to be a look behind the scenes. The Saunder’s story is all about being at ATT, and the love of his dog and his family relationship, and how is trying to come back and be a success. Lima’s story is different. Daley’s is done in the UK. And John’s story is a bit in prison, so that’s subsequently part of the story like you are 24/7 behind the scenes.”
“If you track his story, tthe first time when he was out, for about a nine month run before he got back in jail, he did nothing wrong. Knowing Jon he is going to say dumb things on a consistent basis but he didn’t break any laws, he didn’t punch anybody on the street, he was as good as Jon has ever been on an extended period but the judge had put him back in jail for something he had done prior to his last incarceration. So he told me, ‘Look, I need the direction, I don’t want to not know when a fight is going to be, I want total direction’, so that is what we gave him.”
“He won’t be in commercials in that vein in any way shape or form. This is really a behind the scenes web series and you will get a thirty minute piece on Jon to deal with his time in prison, some of it will deal with where he is now, where he is training, what he is doing, what he’s eating and what he is doing to stay out of trouble. Obviously for Sauders and Daley, it will be a different tack, but I hope people didn’t interpret it for being an ad for ‘come watch Jon in jail’. It is just part of his story and a very compelling story as well. “
“I think people might have viewed it as an advertising book but it is much more - look you are not going to just see guys training, you are going to get to see where they are and who they are and what’s going on and Jon’s story is deeply rooted in the problems he has had so you are going to see some of that and some of it is him being in prison and talking to the cameras through prison glass. When Jon is not doing the wrong thing, he is a very talented and very aggressive fighter, brings the fight and makes for great TV. We had him sign originally when we were on ESPN Deportes over three and a half years ago and he said some incredibly stupid things and we cut him and then he went and had a run in different places and then got in trouble again and got out and begged us for a shot.”
“He was training the day after he got released and throwing up all over the gym because he hadn’t had much training. He’s back and he’s got literally 11 weeks to get ready before the fight.”
“He is an interesting character but my biggest concern is if eleven weeks is enough time for anybody to get ready, having been away for nine months, against this level of competition. We will see. “
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