The time has come for Bellator MMA

From left, Bellator MMA fighters Pat Curran, King From left, Bellator MMA fighters Pat Curran, King Mo Lawal and Michael Chandler arrive at the 2012 MTV Movie Awards held at Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif. (June 3, 2012) Photo Credit: getty

advertisement | advertise on newsday

For Bellator MMA president Bjorn Rebney, the time has come.

This month the promotion switches from MTV2 to fellow Viacom-owned and higher-profile Spike TV, the previous cable home of the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Season eight kicks off with a lightweight world championship between Rick Hawn and Michael Chandler on Jan. 17 in Irvine, Calif.

"The Bellator brand, which was an idea in my head in 2008 when I was out searching for financing, I see that coming to fruition," Rebney said. "I see it directly tied to ... Spike network, who I've watched for years and years in the MMA space.

To some extent, it's a bit surreal."

In addition to the network switch, Bellator -- which replaced rebranded itself from Bellator Fighting Championships to the more streamlined Bellator MMA -- will move from Friday nights to Thursdays, airing live at 10 p.m. EST/7p.m. PST.

Kevin Kay, the president of Spike, said he doesn't believe the time change from 8 to 10 p.m. will cut into Bellator's eastern audience.

"... One of the things about Spike is that guys tend to get the remote at 10 o'clock. That's proven to be very successful for us," Kay said. "And we've got an exciting night of fights. Especially with world title fights at the end or tournament championship fights at the end, I know guys are going to stay up and they're going to watch them."

The premiere card includes the Bellator debut of Renato "Babalu" Sobral. The first card will be capped with a second title fight when featherweight champion Pat Curran faces Patricio "Pitbull" Freire.

"It is just a completely stacked show top to bottom with two big world title fights (and) Babalu's premiere with our company," Rebney said. "We are just wickedly excited to kick off in our backyard with this type of a fight."

Several title fights will follow over the next four weeks. On Jan. 24, Ben Askren will defend his welterweight championship against Karl Amoussou. On Feb. 7, Alexander Shlemenko will face Maiquel Falcao for the vacant middleweight championship. The

next week, bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas will defend his title against Marcus Galvao.

This season will feature tournaments in five weight classes -- featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight. Prized light heavyweight addition Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal debuts on Jan. 24.

Rebney and his staff worked overtime for the last few months to prepare for the eighth season. Traditionally, Bellator's spring season began in March or April. For this season, however, the break will be just four weeks.

"There's really not any down period for us," Rebney said. "We (got) a little bit of time over Christmas, but there's no down period. It's full steam ahead until April, which will be cool. It's a good run."

You also may be interested in: