With Bellator entering Season 4 of their existence they were making plenty of changes in their production areas. MTV 2 was their pick for a 3 year deal to broadcast their shows and seemed like a great choice for the company. The next question many have asked was about the broadcasting crew of Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith.
The only confirmation from Bellator was that Sean Wheelock would be back for the upcoming season and Jimmy Smith was still in negotiations to return. Jimmy then proceeded to announce on his twitter that a deal couldn't be worked out and he would not return to the company for the upcoming season. It seemed like a normal business type scenario were numbers couldn't be met and both went on their ways. I contacted Jimmy and Bellator regarding the contract discussion and this is what they had to say about the situation.
First from Jimmy Smith:
"The story is that I was offered a 3-year contract extension by Bellator that was considerably worse than the deal we already had through 2011. All we (we meaning myself and my representation) responded with was an email stating that we were happier with the deal we already had and that if they wanted to amend it to include the extra shows they wanted to do in 2011, then we would be happy to do that. That was the end of the negotiation.
What is important to keep in mind is the fact that they send the new contract to my manager on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and our last email was sent on the 30th. This entire process took less than a week (with a 4-day holiday weekend). Considering the kind of year Sean and I had in 2010 and what we added to the production value of the show, it's surprising that there was no real effort on Bellator's part to negotiate a deal that was even remotely acceptable. I have no idea what motivated Bjorn and Tim to approach the deal the way they did, you'd have to talk to them yourself.
I was never informed by Bjorn Rebney and Co. that I was out. Another thing that is important to keep in mind is that fact that the guy I replaced (Jason Chambers, the commentator from Season one) thought he had a job until about a week before the first show of Season 2. I already had a deal signed, but no one bothered to tell him that. Other people have been fired from Bellator and only knew because they didn't get a ticket to the next show, I knew my case wouldn't be any different. Bjorn didn't announce that I was out until a Sherdog radio interview about a week ago, and I believe that the only reason he did that is because word had gotten out that I wasn't coming back and he was directly asked about me. He never called me and I'm quite certain he never will."
So it seems that Bellator dropped the "ball" and did a very horrible job about contacting former employers and letting them know that their services are no longer needed. With the company still being fairly new it doesn't seem wise that it would do this to former employers and not to contact them, they are moving in another direction. I asked for some words from Bjorn Rebney and all I received was this one line quote.
"Jimmy is a tremendous talent and did a great job for Bellator during Seasons 2 and 3. Wherever he ends up, I'm sure he will do great work."
With color commentators' being very hard to find in the MMA industry it still strikes me kind of odd that Bellator would not honor the remaining year on his current contract and then renegotiate next season. The chemistry that Wheelock and Smith had was very good and seemed to be building after each event.
It's a very frustrating situation not only for Smith and Wheelock but for the current and future viewers. It will be very tough first of all to find a person as of the caliber of Smith to take over his role and give the expertise of MMA he possesses. Bellator is still one of the companies that the MMA fans haven't fully adopted into their viewing schedule and with this move in the production area could be one that can hurt the upcoming seasons.
Jimmy Smith is an excellent commentator and MMA mind and wherever he ends up is a huge positive for that company. With the outpouring of support Jimmy has received not only on twitter but in person really lets others know what an asset he is. With Smith not returning next season it will be interesting what direction Bellator will go with in filling their color commentator slot.
In the end all Smith wanted was a fair shake in terms of a contract and when he said he wasn't something that wasn't feasible not only for him but for many others in the industry. On top of that, not getting a call about the situation and having to find out through a MMA radio show is very un-business like. Hopefully Bellator comes to their senses and irons things out with Smith for Season 5 and beyond because they are losing somebody who is a proven commodity and would bring numerous viewers.
The new season of Bellator hasn't even begun yet and they are already starting off on the wrong side of the coin.