IRVINE, Calif. – Bellator MMA kicked off its run on Spike TV with a highly technical and entertaining title fight, but given the depth of the featherweight division, Bellator Chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney ruled out the possibility of an immediate rematch.
In Thursday's Season 8 opener, Bellator 85, Pat Curran (18-4 MMA, 8-1 BFC) successfully defended his featherweight title with a narrow split-decision victory over Patricio "Pitbull" Freire. The bout, which took place at Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif., came down to the final round, where Curran finished strong to win the striking-heavy bout via 48-47, 47-48 and 48-47 scores.
This past year, Bellator announced a new championship-rematch clause that went into affect with the organization's move from MTV2 to Spike TV. When "called for," Rebney has the option to book immediate rematched rather than waiting for a defeated fighter to win another tournament to get a second title shot.
However, Freire won't get to benefit from the clause. Rebney told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) he simply doesn't want to hold up the division.
After all, Season 6 tournament winner Daniel Straus (21-4 MMA, 7-1 BFC) is already queued up for the next shot at Curran. Additionally, after a delay, finalists Rad Martinez (14-2 MMA, 4-0 BFC) and Shahbulat Shamhalaev (11-1-1 MMA, 2-0 BFC) are set to conclude their Season 7 tournament on Feb. 21 at Bellator 90, and the winner also will be in line for a title shot.
"At the end of the day, I think Daniel deserves his shot now without any type of delay," Rebney said. "Straus is that unknown commodity. Not that many people talk about Straus, but I literally think belongs in most people's Top 7 or 8 in the world. He's a really talented fighter and one of the biggest featherweights I've ever seen."
Then there's either Martinez or Shamhalaev after that, so the title is pretty much tied up through 2013.
But if there weren't a logjam in the division, would Rebney have considered Curran vs. Freire II?
"Absolutely," he said. "(Matchmaker) Sam (Caplan) and I and the team would sit down and consider it. Pat won the fight, but it would be one we'd look at and consider."
Curran also understands that challengers are stacking up, and he doesn't want to leave them waiting.
"I plan on getting back there as soon as possible," Curran said. "I don't want to to take too much time off because 2013 is going to be a busy year for me, and I plan on keeping the belt the whole time."
Rebney, though, said it's simply a good problem to have. After all, just a few years ago, top-level featherweights were few and far between in the organization.
"There was a time when 145 wasn't that strong of a division for us, and now look at it," he said.