Scott Coker has high expectations for Bellator MMA. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
In June, Bellator MMA and Spike TV announced that Scott Coker had replaced Bjorn Rebney as the promotion’s president. Other than a conference call to officially announce his hiring, Coker has been relatively quiet since then.
With Bellator 123 on the horizon, the former Strikeforce CEO spoke to Sherdog.com at length about a number of topics, including the upcoming Sept. 5 event, the Eddie Alvarez situation, Bellator’s pay-per-view plans and women’s MMA.
While Coker’s “Bellator 2.0” still needs time to be fully realized, there is clearly a plan in place -- and it is one that the new promotion head is excited about fulfilling.
Sherdog.com: After a whirlwind beginning, you’ve now had about two months to settle into your new position at Bellator. What has the transition been like?
Scott Coker: I don’t think settling in is probably the best way to describe it. It’s more like jumping on a train that’s going 500 miles per hour. These guys are working me hard over here; they’re cracking the whip. The difference between how we built Strikeforce and Bellator was: Strikeforce we kind of built it as we went, and we grew as we needed to. Whereas here, you know you’re jumping on a moving train that’s doing fights 30 days after I got here. And another 10-week series back-to-back-to-back starting Sept. 5, which is the opening week of Season 11. That’s the biggest difference I think. It’s been a whirlwind experience, that’s for sure.
Sherdog.com: You had a lot of success in the past working with Showtime to produce a quality MMA broadcast in Strikeforce. In terms of presentation and production, what changes can people expect to see when they turn on a Bellator broadcast as time progresses?
Coker: When you look at the Bellator product before they had the deal with Viacom, it looked much different than it is today. And I think if you look at the production today, it’s some of the best produced MMA material in the world. This is all by the quality and control of Kevin Kay, the president of the network. They have some good production. Will we add some production elements starting in 2015? Yes, I would say for the bigger shows we will do that. That’s something that we’ll announce as we get closer to the end of the year.
Sherdog.com: When you took over, what aspects from the previous regime did you feel needed to be changed the most?
Coker: I would say that there’s probably a good five or six issues out there. One of them is the producer and the talent conversation. You know that the producer and the talent usually have issues whether it’s in athletics, the film business or anybody trying to run a business. I would say managing the 150 athletes that we have on board is something that came right out of the gate that we had to get a grip on. I think understanding the staff and seeing everything that the staff does here, and how I can add value to the staff that’s already currently in place. I think those are probably the two things that really I need to focus on, get a grip on. Give us another couple months. I think we’ll be fine.
Sherdog.com: How important is Bellator 123, which runs opposite the UFC on Sept. 5, in terms of making a statement? Was competing with the UFC even part of the thought process when the card was put together?
Coker: I think Bellator from my understanding had booked an event before the UFC announced their date. I still have friends over at Zuffa, and when I talked to them about it, they said, “Look, those were already dates set and we’ve had those deals.” Basically both companies were vying for the same area -- just different casinos -- and it just happened to be on that date. Everybody has their own businesses to run. We’re going to do the best job we can do to promote it, and to drive as many viewerships [as we can]. Ticket sales are fantastic. The press did a really good job promoting that fight. I think we’re going to have a great hit show on Sept. 5.
Sherdog.com: Why was the start time for Bellator 123 moved from 9 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET?
Coker: That’s something that Spike wanted to do, that’s really a television answer, but I think they wanted to do that so that the MMA fan could watch both fights. And it’s a victory for everybody.
Sherdog.com: Is becoming a strong competitor to the UFC important?
Coker: I would ask the managers and the fighters that question. I think you’ll probably get the true answer. In any industry there has to be multiple players, otherwise the industry grows stale. I think that fighters and managers are looking forward to working with Bellator now.
Sherdog.com: How much financial freedom has Viacom given you when it comes to signing and pursuing free agents and other talent?
Coker: Within reason, we have the autonomy to make moves and do what we want to do in running this company. I would say that among the top one percent of our athlete management, they will be heavily involved.
Sherdog.com: What can you say about Eddie Alvarez’s contract situation? Coker: Boy, that’s something that I real feel bad for Eddie. When I sat down with him and he told me how the relationship was going with the past regime and the things that were said to him over the phone and how he was treated, I just felt really bad for him. So we’re trying to figure all this out. I know the lawyers are talking. I just don’t have anything other to report than there could be an update as soon as maybe the end of the week.
Editor's note: Bellator MMA on Tuesday released Alvarez; the former promotional champion was promptly signed to the UFC and will face Donald Cerrone at UFC 178.
Sherdog.com: Are there any specific plans for Bellator’s next pay-per-view event or pay-per-view in general?
Coker: For right now we’re going to focus on driving everything to Spike TV. I believe the Bellator pay-per-per view was a success. They did some solid numbers. I was impressed. I was just a buyer of the pay-per-view. I wasn’t even thinking about coming aboard at that time. So I bought it as a fan; I thought they did a great job. The numbers were strong. But I sat down with Kevin Kay from Spike TV and we talked about: Let’s put these guys and these new fighters and the legend fighters that we have and let’s put them in front of a potential 100 million households -- instead of 250,000, or 150,000 or 100,000 households when you’re doing the pay-per-view business. It just made a lot more sense to me to get as many eyeballs on this product as we can.
Sherdog.com: With the promotion moving away from the tournament format, how many Bellator events can we expect to see on a monthly and yearly basis?
Coker: In 2015 we’re going to get away from the tournament format, but we’re not going to commit to leaving it out completely. If you look at the past history of my promotions, we’ve done tournaments in the past, and I like tournaments, I just think the timing has to be right. We’re going to take a step back, put on shows once a month. And four times we’ll do these big events in the bigger stadiums with all of our big, big stars. And all those fights are scheduled to be on Spike TV. It’s going to be 16 fights. We’re gonna go from 26 to 16, but you’ll see a lot more shoulder programming, a lot of creative stuff from Spike and a lot of features and things like that. As far as doing 26 fights and going on the road 10 weeks in a row, I just don’t think you can be an effective promoter.
Sherdog.com: Can you elaborate more on the four bigger shows you mentioned?
Coker: In the past Bellator has done fights at different venues around the country. You look at the Mohegan Sun event [Bellator 123] and the Memphis show [Bellator 120] -- I would mention both of those as a larger show than what they usually do week in and week out. It’s along the lines of those shows – a bigger pay-per-view but it will be on Spike TV.
Sherdog.com: Bjorn Rebney’s release seemed to hit Quinton Jackson harder than most athletes on the Bellator roster. What have your discussions with “Rampage” been like since you took over? Is he happy with the direction of the company?
Coker: I’m getting to know Rampage and I think he’s a super smart guy. He’s got a lot of businesses going that I had no idea. The guy is operating five or six different companies that he’s trying to develop and grow. He just reopened his gym. He’s got a night club and bar thing going; he’s got an app that he’s developing. He’s extremely busy. I don’t think he knew me very well. Like he said, he “street-Googled” me. He found out that I was actually a good guy and not a sleazeball promoter. Some people think that all promoters are just kept in this one little bag. We can work together and create a win-win situation for everybody.
What fighter is completely happy, that’s what I want to know? It’s like the producer and the actor. The actor always wants to have more control and make more money, and the producer’s job is to keep the budget to where it’s fiscally responsible. Whether it’s with athletes or actors or any other industry, you’re going to have a lot of that push and pull.
Sherdog.com: Bobby Lashley, who also competes for TNA Wrestling, will make his Bellator debut on Sept. 5. How much cross-promotion do you expect to do with TNA, if any?
Coker: We talked to [TNA President Dixie Carter] a couple times. Bobby was somebody that fought for Strikeforce years ago. I think he really wants to take another shot at this. He’s at Dan Lambert’s gym in Florida [American Top Team]. It’s one of the top gyms in the world, so he’s with the right people. He’s gonna train his butt off, and he’s going to try to go win this fight. As far as doing promotion with TNA, I think we still haven’t really talked about really finalizing any kind of deal for that. We would definitely be open to it.
Sherdog.com: Longtime Bellator matchmaker Sam Caplan recently announced that he will be leaving Bellator after the promotion elected not to renew his contract. What was the reasoning behind this decision?
Coker: Rich [Chou] has been with me for many years. We brought Rich in. Sam had done a great job taking the company to this point. It comes to, do we need to have three people? Because Zac White is very involved in the matchmaking as is myself. We do it by committee. Do we need four people or can we get by with three people – which would include me. The answer was, we could get by with just the three of us. That’s why that worked out that way.
Sherdog.com: What can people expect in terms of overall matchmaking philosophy with Bellator going forward?
Coker: I think the matchmakers in the past have had their hands handcuffed, because you’re kind of bound by this tournament format. The tournament was driving the company and everything was based on the tournament. We’re gonna see a situation for we’re going to be in the star fighting business or star cultivating business. We’re going to go out there into the fight community and develop our next set of talent -- and then integrate that talent into the current talent that’s here already. Then we’re going to put on some big fights; I think that’s the difference. I always thought that [the tournament format] was a little bit unfair to the champion, because sometimes the champion has to wait for tournament to finish and it could be eight, nine months to a year, and he’s just sitting on the sideline. We’ll put together the fights that the fans want to see. One of the great things about working with Spike is they have a research department that I can call after every event. They can get me the ratings per minute on the show, and we can determine who really moved the needle. Maybe the second fight ranked higher than the main event, or maybe the third fight ranked higher than the first fight. But we’ll have all this great information, and we’ll be able to determine how liked or how important these fighters are to the company.
Sherdog.com: You played a big role in bringing women’s MMA to the forefront during your Strikeforce tenure, and you recently made a splash again with the announcement that Marloes Coenen and Julia Budd are joining the Bellator roster. What are you plans for the women going forward; will you only promote 145-pound fights, or will other divisions introduced?
Coker: Before the UFC was driving the female division, we were already doing it for years. We’re going to introduce one more division in a lighter weight. We’re not ready to announce it, but we will shortly. We’re still working out some fighter contracts and things like that.
Sherdog.com: Have you had any discussions with Gina Carano? Is signing her a viable option for Bellator?
Coker: We had a conversation with her management, and she wants to fight at 135. And that was it, because we’re not going to be in the 135-pound weight class business. We’re going to be in the 145 and the other weight class that we’re going to announce shortly. We had a conversation, but it was pretty clear at that point that it was not going to work out. We’re just not going to have a weight class that would work for here.
Sherdog.com: How important was it for the promotion to act swiftly in regards to the War Machine situation?
Coker: I think it was really important. It was something that I really felt bad about. I probably got those pictures before everybody else did. We saw what happened, and it really made it very clear that we didn’t have to wait anymore. We didn’t have to wait for the police report. We knew what happened, and we could see it. The pictures that were sent to the media probably four days later, I received them hours after she [Christy Mack] went to the hospital. I think he’s got a lot of other issues to worry about other than fighting.
Sherdog.com: Was there any truth to the Kimbo Slice to Bellator rumors?
Coker: We had another agent call us and say, “Are you interested?” We said, “Well, what does that mean. Does he really want to fight?” At the end of the day, I don’t think he really wants to fight anymore. So that was pretty much a dead issue at that point.
Sherdog.com: If Slice was interested in MMA again, was bringing him to Bellator something you would have considered?
Coker: I think that if you look at our [card] that we’re doing on Sept. 5, we’re going to do some fun fights. Why not bring him in? What about Kimbo Slice vs. Bobby Lashley? When it became very clear that he really was not into it, the agent that we were talking to just stopped calling.
Sherdog.com: In closing, is there anything else special that fans can expect from Bellator in the coming months?
Coker: I think the future looks bright. With Viacom and Spike TV supporting it, [with] the commitment level on all the different fronts, we’re gonna have a lot of great days and a lot of power behind this company. When you think about the skill set that myself and my team bring to the table as far as live events, building stars, building fighters... and then you have Spike TV, which happens to be owned by the company that owns Bellator, it will always have a TV deal. To me that was very attractive in this process. They will never not have a TV deal as long as they want it. I think we’re going to create some really amazing events, and it’s going to be a fun time for MMA.