It has now been confirmed by any number of sources, but Josh Gross broke the news:
Josh Gross @yay_yee
•Heard big rumblings all day re: @BellatorMMA. I'm told @cokersf has joined the promotion. Multiple sources say announcement is imminent.
•Haven't been able to confirm what Coker hiring means for Bjorn Rebney, though a source said he's out. Led to believe we'll hear news Wed.
In Aug of 2011 the UFC signed a wildly lucrative seven-year deal with FOX Sports. The sport's dominant, even defining league had previously been on Viacom's Spike, which was determined to stay in the MMA business. So late that year Viacom bought a controlling interest in rival Bellator, which had been promoting shows since early in 2009.
In March of 2011, the UFC bought rival Strikeforce; as part of the agreement, founder Scott Coker signed a three year non compete clause. That clause expired in March of this year, leaving Coker free to return to the MMA space.
Ariel Helwani had reported that Viacom executives told Rebney that they intended to relieve him of his duties and bring in Coker to run the organization, but the league's founder was resisting the move, reportedly threatening to take key executives with him.
The struggle was short lived. In an official announcement, Rebney is out.
“It is with bittersweet emotions that I announce that I am leaving the company I founded,” said Rebney. “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.”
Bellator Bellator lightweight Champion Edward Alvarez offered characteristically classy words for Rebney, with whom he feuded famously both verbally and legally.
"Regardless of what went on, it was fun building this company with you," tweeted Alvarez. "Good luck in Your future endeavors brother!"
A perhaps more typical response was voiced by former Bellator fighter Ben Saunders.
"This is a Fantastic Day for Bellator, Viacom, but above all every fighter currently signed with the promotion!" wrote Ben Saunders on the UG, adding "Not to mention the whole MMA Community.
"Bjorn is the reason #1 reason I left Bellator. I had a horrible traumatizing experience working for that man. I damn near retired. (Almost) Every single fighter on their roster just woke up Happy! +1 for the Good Guys! :D"
World Series of Fighting matchmaker Ali Abdelaziz spoke frankly to MMAJunkie about Rebney's contributions, and what he perceived as his failures.
“Today is victory for all of MMA – for me, for you, for all the fighters,” said Abdelaziz. “Today should be MMA Independence Day. Freedom from slavery, freedom from abuse, freedom from shadiness – this guy left. I don’t want to say his name – just MMA fans should be happy, and I’m very sure a lot of people are.”
“I want to say something to be a decent human being. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due, and this individual created a promotion. He gave fighters an opportunity to fight. They didn’t get treated well, but you have to give the guy credit for starting a promotion like that and having (121) shows. That’s not easy to do; it’s hard. But it’s even harder the way you do it and the way you treat others, and this is my issue.
“But I do respect that this guy put on that many shows, and now, a new guy can come on the block. We don’t know if the damage can be fixed, but I like Scott Coker. I think he’s a great guy, and I wish him the best of luck.”
The ouster had reportedly been contemplated for many months. While Rebney has proven to be a polarizing figure, Coker enjoys nearly universal respect in the MMA space, even from UFC president Dana White. Coker is expected to bring several key personnel with him.
Going forward, expect tournaments to be largely sidelined, and more smiles.
"We are excited to have Scott Coker lead us in a new direction," said Spike president Kevin Kay. "As we evolve the league format from a tournament-based organization to a more traditional model with big fights."
And Pat Miletich had a suggestion that has been voiced previously on the UG.
Pat Miletich @patmiletich
Viacom/Spike/Bellator bringing Scott Coker on to run things would be the wisest choice they could make. Now lose the Bellator name.
Lastly of course, the hard now part starts - making money at the highest levels of MMA in the North American market, something that has thus far proven to be impossible for anyone but the UFC. While Rebney was not by most accounts the warmest and fuzziest of people, that is not a deciding factor for Viacom. If he was making them plenty of money, he'd still be there.
UFC co-founder Campbell McLaren, who now runs the Hispanic-focuses Combate Americas, offered pointed, sobering remarks, via Twitter.
Campbell McLaren @campbellcombate
Scott Coker is back! Maybe he can put Bellator $40 million in the hole like he did StrikeForce.