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The rancor between Zuffa, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the Bellator Fighting Championship escalated significantly on Tuesday when Bellator filed suit in a federal court in New Jersey, alleging Zuffa used a fighter Bellator claims it has under exclusive promotional contract as part of the cast on "The Ultimate Fighter."
Bellator's suit also includes fighter Jonathan Brookins, who is part of the cast of the upcoming TUF 12, and Brookins' manager, Mickey Dubberly. It accuses all defendants of tortious interference in its promotional agreement with Brookins. It also accuses Zuffa of fraud, Brookins of fraud, breach of contract and misrepresentation and Dubberly of fraud and misrepresentation.
The suit comes less than two weeks after Zuffa sued Bellator and high-profile mixed martial arts fighter agent Ken Pavia in state court in Nevada, accusing them of theft of trade secrets.
As part of the suit, Bellator included its promotional agreement with Brookins, which was signed March 4, 2009. However, Dubberly said the signature "doesn't look like Jonathan's signature."
According to the suit, Bellator attempted to book Brookins for a fight and contacted Dubberly. However, the complaint alleges that "Dubberly misrepresented Brookins [sic] status, claiming that Brookins was injured and could not fight. He at no time disclosed that Brookins was fighting covertly for Zuffa."
Zuffa began filming Season 12 of "The Ultimate Fighter," the Spike TV reality series that helped catapult the company to success, in early June in Las Vegas. The series debuts on Spike on Sept. 15. The UFC and Spike did not make the names of the cast members public until Yahoo! Sports released them on Aug. 3.
Reached on his cellular telephone on Tuesday, UFC president Dana White declined to comment on the suit.
"I'm at Disneyland with my family, and I don't know a thing about it," White said.
Dubberly, though, said he had a conversation with Bellator matchmaker Sam Caplan in either late January or early February of this year to discuss a potential match between Josh Neer, a Dubberly client, and Bellator star Eddie Alvarez. That fight occurred on May 6. As part of the conversation with Caplan about the Neer-Alvarez match, Dubberly said he asked Caplan about getting fights for two of his other clients, Brookins and Joey Gorczynski.
"When I was talking to Sam about making a fight for Josh against Eddie Alvarez, I told him I had Joey and Jonathan and wanted to see if there was anything he could do for them, and he said to me, 'Oh, didn't you know? We released them?' " Dubberly said. "I hadn't heard of it and I called Joey and asked him, and he said, 'I didn't know I was released.' So there is an issue there."
Bellator attorney Patrick English said Caplan denied telling Dubberly that Bellator had released Gorczynski and Brookins. English said Caplan has been in contact with Dubberly, actively trying to make fights for Brookins, and claimed his suit had more merit than the UFC's.
"This seems like a fairly tight case," English said of Bellator's claim. "It's much more tight than Zuffa's, which was just much ado about very little. There is substance to this."
Brookins has fought three times since signing with Bellator, but only one of those fights was for Bellator. He defeated Stephen Ledbetter on a Bellator card on April 3, 2009, but fought twice for G-Force Fights, on Sept. 26, 2009, and Feb. 4, 2010. According to its complaint, Brookins fought for G-Force with its consent. Dubberly said he never spoke with Bellator about those fights.
Dubberly also questioned the authenticity of the contract that Bellator has.
"There are a few things with Bellator," said Dubberly, who said he thought Bellator was suing Zuffa as retribution for Zuffa's July 28 suit. "For one, I don't know what contract they have. When I asked Sam, their matchmaker, for Jonathan's contract, he sent me the last page, the signature page, the signature there doesn't look like Jonathan's signature.
"Number two, when I told him I needed the full contract, he emailed a 25-page contract from Bellator's attorney, Patrick English. It was a PDF and there were no initials on it and no [facsimile] marks on it. Jonathan signed the contract about 15 months ago, and Patrick English wasn't working for Bellator."
English said he wrote the original form Bellator uses for its promotional agreements in September 2008, but said he had nothing to do with any negotiations with Dubberly and/or Brookins.
"I just wrote a fill-in-the-blanks form for them," English said of Bellator.
According to the contract Bellator attached to its complaint, the promotional agreement it reached with Brookins was for four fights or 20 months. It grants Bellator "exclusive unrestricted worldwide rights" to any MMA, martial arts or unarmed combat matches that Brookins would have participated in.
Brookins is still listed in the fighters section on Bellator's website.