Add one more lawsuit to the pile for the Zuffa legal team. Following a complaint the UFC filed against Bellator FC for “trade secret theft” a couple weeks ago, Bellator has fired back with a lawsuit of their own, albeit in a entirely unrelated matter, or so it appears at least.
According to a report on MMA Junkie, Bellator is suing the UFC and Jonathan Brookins for signing Brookins to the season 12 cast of The Ultimate Fighter while he was still under exclusive contract with them.
MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) has learned that Bellator Sport Worldwide, LLC today filed suit against Zuffa in a New Jersey court and alleges that “The Ultimate Fighter 12″ cast member Jonathan Brookins (11-3 MMA, 1-0 BFC) joined the Spike TV reality series while still under an exclusive contract for Bellator.
Brookins and his manager Mickey Dubberley were also named as defendants in the suit.
A WEC veteran, Brookins is perhaps best known for a November 2008 loss to Jose Aldo, the current WEC featherweight champion. According to the suit, Brookins signed an “exclusive promotional contract” with Bellator in March 2009.
Brookins debuted with Bellator in April 2009 with a submission win over Stephen Ledbetter in a non-tournament affair. Brookins followed up those fights with a pair of wins under the G-Force Fights banner. Bellator’s suit contends they signed off on each of the two fights outside of their promotion.
However, Bellator contends when it came to an appearance on “The Ultimate Fighter,” Brookins did not seek permission. In fact, the complaint states that Brookins manager actually lied to Bellator about his client’s status.
“We’ve been offering the fighter fights, and hindsight being 20-20, we were lied to by his management saying he was injured and couldn’t accept fights,” Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney today told MMAjunkie.com. “We find out afterward he was filming and fighting on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ – that he made the show and was in the house.”
While the UFC has yet to comment on the suit, Brookins manager Mickey Dubberley claims Bellator matchmaker Sam Caplan verbally released Brookins from his deal, and therefore did nothing wrong. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney called Dubberley’s explanation “a total fabrication.”
“That is a complete and total fabrication that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Rebney said. “Sam has been repeatedly trying to get Jonathan to accept fights. We’ve been told he was injured. We were lied to.
“We wouldn’t release Jonathan. We count ourselves fortunate to have signed him. … At Bellator, we function as a professional organization. If and when we release fighters, we do so on paper. We don’t do so verbally. We follow a pretty standard form of practice in this industry. That is a ridiculous comment at it’s most basic level.”
While it seems highly doubtful that Zuffa would knowingly interfere with someone else’s contract, especially for a TUF contestant, Rebney said the whole situation struck him as odd. He claims when they discovered Brookins was involved with TUF 12 they put in calls to the Zuffa legal department, but never received a response, not even a call in return.
I’m certainly not a lawyer and haven’t seen the court documents, but this suit sounds very similar to the Square Ring Promotions/Roy Nelson/Zuffa lawsuit except a little more serious. While both parties are alleging contract interference, Bellator claims Brookins still had fights remaining on an exclusive contract while SRI alleges that Nelson didn’t honor their exclusive negotiating period or give them the right to match the UFC’s offer following the conclusion of his contract. In the SRI case, Zuffa took steps to ensure Nelson would be held responsible for any losses they incurred from the suit. It remains to be seen if that’s how Zuffa responds here and how the suit might affect the show.
Update: Jonathan Brookins’ manager Mickey Dubberley is refuting Bjorn Rebney’s claims.
Rebney told MMAjunkie.com that he and matchmaker Sam Caplan had been hard at work trying to arrange bouts for Brookins, but Dubberly disagrees.
“That is a lie,” Dubberly said flatly. “Jonathan hasn’t fought for Bellator since April 3, 3009, so obviously Sam hasn’t been trying too hard to get Jonathan fights.
“One fight in 13 months doesn’t seem trying much for a fighter that you seem so fortunate to have. I got one call for Jonathan to fight from Bellator, and that was in May 2010 and on two-weeks’ notice.”
“Jonathan was injured training in Iowa in May when I received the call from Bellator,” Dubberly said. “He just had stitches taken out and also had a hurt foot, so Bjorn should get his facts straight, and this can be backed up with hospital records. Bjorn should do a little more due diligence on his part before making false statements.”
Dubberley also insists they released his client without providing any official release forms.
“When I asked Sam about a fight for Jonathan Brookins and Joey Gorczynski back at the end of January – and both had open contracts under Bellator – Sam stated, ‘Oh, we released both those guys, but maybe in the future they could fight for us again.”
“Joey Gorczynski, who signed a five-fight deal, never got release forms,” Dubberly said. “But Sam told me that Bellator released him, and he has fought for several different organizations since he fought for Bellator.
“Joey didn’t even know he was released until I told him that Bellator released him. He never received any documents, and neither has my company.”
“Bellator never signed off on Jonathan’s two fights outside of Bellator,” Dubberly said. “That’s a lie because they already released him. Jonathan was released from Bellator, so that is why they did not care that he fought two other fights outside of the organization. If Bellator ‘counts themselves fortunate’ to have Jonathan signed to an ‘exclsuive’ deal, why would they let him fight twice in another organization and keep him inactive for over a year and have their matchmaker tell me he is released?
“We believe the only reason why Bellator is pursuing anything is because Jonathan is on the ‘TUF 12′ show, and they want to capitalize for their own profit.”