Scott Coker was in Israel for Bellator 164, an event inspired initially by Royce Gracie’s annual seminar for the Israeli SEALS, a service for which the legend does not take a dollar. Coker was interviewed by Ram Gilboa for BE, who asked the Bellator MMA CEO frankly about promoting popular fighters with questionable cage readiness. Gilboa specifically referenced the Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000 contest which nearly killed the latter fighter.
Dada has since fully recovered, but his hospitalization remains one of th sport’s low marks. However, it was far from a typical Bellator fight.
“I always said this – we’re going to do fights that the hardcore fight fans want to see,” said Coker. “Look at last week we had Liam versus Phil Davis. Amazing fight card. This week we have the fight here with Koreshkov versus Lima. Next week in San Jose we have Chandler versus Benson Henderson. So three weeks in a row world title fights at the highest level, all respectable, top fighters in the world. And I would say 90% of our fights, are like that.
“So over a period of a year, we’ve done 24, 25 events, something like that. But we had one event when we said we’re going to make it a legends fight between Ken and Royce, which was really interesting to watch, and then we had the Dada 5000.
“But here’s the thing, Kimbo Slice is the largest drawing audience for MMA in the history of the United States. When he fought on CBS he did 7.9 million viewers. No one else is even close, believe me. Those numbers are massive. When we did a CBS show one time with Fedor Emelianenko, he only did 6 or 5.5. So Kimbo is the biggest draw on TV in the history of the sport. … It tells you that the sport is not just about the hardcore fight fans.”
“You’re talking about a guy that was a street fighter against a guy that had two fights, and was fighting in his own shows, or whatever. We get criticisms for that because of what happened, and he went to the hospital. But at the end of the day was that an even match up?
“I think it was. I think it was evenly matched, it wasn’t like one guy was an extremely skilled martial artist, and the other guy was just some new guy. They both had combat experience and they weren’t world class fighters, so we thought that was a fun fight to put together. We had 3.2 million people. Now, listen, health and safety always
“Now, listen, health and safety always comes first, that’s something we thrive on, trying to keep a clean health and safety record. It was unfortunate that Dada had to go to a hospital, you know. It was a scary moment for me, I went to the hospital it doesn’t feel good to be there and he’s hurt.”
“When Kimbo fought Ken Shamrock, I think it did like two and a half million views. It was the watercooler talk, so people in mainstream America were hearing about it and tuning in. Because I’ll tell you, before 2016 when I think MMA made a little bit of resurgence, it was kind of down in 14.”
“It lost some of the fun of it, so we had to cast a bigger net. So what can we do to bring the casual fight fan back? And that’s where the fun fights come in, people love Royce, people love Tito, people love Chael. Are Tito and Chael two of the top prospects in the world today? Should they be fighting 21-year-old killers from Brazil? Probably not. But I can tell you there’ll be a tremendous amount of eyeballs on those two fighters when they fight, worldwide, and I think that people still want to see them.