It’s time for Bellator 2.0.
Bjorn Rebney is out and Scott Coker is in at Bellator, but what does the leadership change really mean for MMA fans?
Coker, the former President and CEO of Strikeforce, revealed some details in a press conference on Wednesday:
- The tournament format, in its current form, is over
- Bellator will attempt to grow its roster
- The company is open to co-promotion with other non-UFC MMA companies.
The press conference represented typical Coker — low key and reserved. He was never one to seek the spotlight as president of Strikeforce. Coker, a 5th degree black belt in Taekwondo, prefers to let his actions speak louder than words.
Based on what he did in Strikeforce, fans can expect Coker to make full-fledged run at toppling the UFC.
Coker quietly grew Strikeforce from a kickboxing organization to the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world. He likes to compete and be recognized. Under Coker’s leadership, Strikeforce lured legends such as Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko, yet gave big breaks to future stars such as Daniel Cormier and Ronda Rousey.
Rousey’s rise can be traced directly back to Coker and Strikeforce. Coker took a risk on on women’s MMA, at a time when the UFC was not interested in WMMA, and helped grow it into the hottest thing going today in the sport. Coker believed in fighters such as Miesha Tate, Sarah Kaufman and Rousey, and it turned out that he was not the only one.
Cormier, a former Olympic wrestler, may have never found his way to the UFC, had Strikeforce not signed him. Coker was looking for athletes with solid credentials to help grow superstars to compete with the UFC. He hit the jackpot with Cormier.
Coker’s presence in Bellator is also significant simply because he knows so many fighters on the UFC roster who know they would have a home in Bellator if they wanted it. Coker will give many fighters competitive options.
Among the fighters on the UFC roster whom Coker knows and may be on good professional terms with include Nick Diaz, Cung Le, Gegard Mousasi, Cormier, Rousey, Tate, Luke Rockhold, Gilbert Melendez, Tim Kennedy, Henderson, Fabricio Werdum, KJ Noons, Ovince St. Preux and Ronaldo “Jacare Souza.
Many of them are under long-term UFC contracts, but Coker has a relationship with them that Rebney did not, should opportunities open up down the line.
Coker is widely respected among fighters largely because he was a straight-shooter, who put his own ego on the back burner and understood that the fighters were the most important part of the show.
Here’s what former MMA fighter Pat Miletich said about Coker:
Viacom/Spike/Bellator bringing Scott Coker on to run things would be the wisest choice they could make. Now lose the Bellator name.
— Pat Miletich (@patmiletich) June 18, 2014
Coker also brings a deep knowledge and understanding to the sport’s culture. Whether it’s in the form of business deals, or fight matchmaking, Coker brings a nuanced understanding to the sport.
Coker may also open the door for a guy like Frank Shamrock to play a greater role on Bellator television. Shamrock played a big role in helping launch Strikeforce in San Jose, California, and eventually grow it into an organization that UFC cared enough about that it purchased it. The deal might also mean that guys such as Ben Askren and Eddie Alvarez, fighters who didn’t get along great with Rebney, may feel like they have a home in the organization. Bellator passed on re-signing Askren. Alvarez is under Bellator contract, but famously tried to get out of it, and go to the UFC.
Coker also knew how to make great fights and put the focus on the fighters, not himself. It is unclear whether he will have as much say our clout in the Viacom-owned Bellator as he did in Strikeforce, but his presence in the company if nothing else will infuse a sense of energy and optimism in the company.
Before the UFC purchased Strikeforce, Coker appeared close to launching the company’s first PPV and making a big push to challenge the UFC. It never happened, but with Bellator and Viacom backing him, Coker may finally have the tools necessary to move Bellator closer to the UFC and possibly challenge its dominance.