Tyson Nam's stunning knockout of Bellator champ Eduardo Dantas has drawn interest from major promotions, according to his trainer.
But that interest could drag Nam into a legal fight – with Bellator Fighting Championships.
"I think it sucks that we have a situation where it's not really about anything other than controlling the public relations image of an organization that was damaged because of their own negligence," trainer Phil Claud told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
According to Claud, Bellator thought Nam would lose a fight with Dantas at a benefit for Brazil's special police force this past Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. When he instead knocked the Bellator champ out in the first round, the promotion moved in to protect its losses.
"There's no way they sent Tyson to fight up in Brazil … if they thought he was of value to their organization," Claud said. "Now he wins that fight, and now they're saying, 'We want you to play our game, or we're not going to help advance your career.'"
Nam, as it turns out, was a Bellator fighter long before he KOd Dantas. At issue is whether he still is.
"People just need to put a little bit of human morale back into their life to let bygones be bygones," Nam said. "I was pretty much a sacrificial lamb going up to Rio. After that happened, people want to take ownership of something they don't really even have."
Claud, who works with Nam at Portland, Ore.'s Sports Lab, said Bellator signed his fighter in March as short-notice replacement in the promotion's season 6 tournament and pulled the fighter when original participant Rodrigo Lima was instead able to compete. Bellator then promised Nam a spot in the season 7 tournament, according to Claud, but in June sent an email informing the fighter's reps that the competition had been canceled and he was released from his contract.
Now, the trainer said Bellator is threatening to sue as Nam fields offers from competing promotions. Bellator has offered Nam a spot in the promotion's next tournament, which is expected to take place in spring of 2013, but Claud is against signing onto another competition after two promised slots fell through.
And he said Bellator won't guarantee Nam regular fights on a standard multi-bout agreement, which would see him fight individual opponents at events.
"Bellator is basically saying that they want to sit on Tyson," Claud said. "They want him to go into the tournament, which would not be matching the other fight agreements. We don't want to go into the tournament. This is the third tournament that's been promised to Tyson. Basically, they were saying if you don't (sign the tournament contract), we'll give you an individual fight deal sitting on [him] for a year."
The dispute stems from a clause in Nam's contract that gives Bellator matching rights on offers from other promotions 18 months after its expiration. Now that the fighter is a hot commodity, Claud said, it gives Bellator undue leverage in controlling the fighter's future.
"The issue with Bellator is that they had no idea who they had," he said. "They hadn't seen him fight in a year. They knew he was a solid kid that wasn't going to embarrass them and be a total can, but they had no idea what this kid has been doing for the last year. That's my opinion."
Bellator officials declined comment on this story. During a media day this week, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney did say the practice of allowing champions to fight in outside organizations is being phased out as the promotion nears its crossover to Spike TV.
"We're going to have so many more tournaments per season that the necessity of having guys fight outside the organization won't be there anymore," he said.
Claud said some of the promotions interested in Nam have vowed to challenge any legal action against the fighter if he signs a new contract. But at the moment, Nam and Bellator apparently are at a standstill.
"A couple organizations are very interested and saying, 'Sign with us, and let Bellator make a legal move,'" Claud said. "We've asked very nicely and professionally for Bellator to do the right thing and let Tyson move on with his career.
"We're not necessarily opposed to fighting in Bellator, but we want to make sure that he has the ability to advance his career and make the best of his opportunity."
The trainer said the situation could have been avoided if Bellator had simply put Nam to work.
"If they would have fought us in the tournament, we'd have no problems. But they didn't. You can't sign a guy in April and not fight him for a year and expect him to pay his rent and keep motivated in this sport.
"The real issue here is, we have no problem with Bellator. We have a problem with the contract no enabling Tyson to grow in the sport. We want another big fight. We want to prove that wasn't a lucky shot. We want to prove that Tyson is a world-class fighter."