Strikeforce CEO Talks ProElite, Showtime, Fighter Acquisitions

By Lutfi Sariahmed Feb 9, 2009
The fight game can change in the blink of an eye. In ProElite’s case, 14 seconds -- the time it took Seth Petruzelli to knock out Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson -- marked the unofficial end to the company’s top promotion, EliteXC.

In the months that followed, negotiations were fast and furious, as a number of rival promoters looked to swoop in on ProElite’s assets. News broke late last week that Strikeforce had won the lottery while also landing a deal with Showtime.

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker discussed the intricacies of the deal during a recent installment of “Beatdown” on the Sherdog Radio Network.

“It was a complicated deal in the sense that we needed to come out and hammer the deal out with ProElite and make sure they were happy and make sure CBS and Showtime were happy,” Coker said. “Then CBS and Showtime had to have some type of business resolution with ProElite. So it was a triangle, not just doing business with one-on-one entities.”

Coker expects ProElite to continue conducting business with smaller promotions.

“At the end of the day for Pro Elite, they’re going to continue doing business, it sounds like, with King of the Cage,” Coker said. “I think we only took 42 of the fighters, so they’ll have about 100 fighters that will still be able to fight for King of the Cage or Icon Sport or Cage Rage or Rumble on the Rock.”

Maintaining a strong relationship with CBS and Showtime seems vitally important to the Strikeforce CEO.

“[As for] CBS and Showtime, we’re going to do our best to provide them with the best fights we can put together and do the matchups with the assets we took from ProElite and the roster we currently have,” Coker said. “I think we’re going to have some compelling matchups.”

The deal Strikeforce struck with CBS and Showtime includes promoting up to 16 live fight cards, with four of those airing on CBS. Strikeforce could double its output from 2008, when it only put on eight shows. The 42 fighter contracts acquired include some of the bigger names available, many of which will be on display at Strikeforce’s scheduled April 11 show.

“You can imagine the top 10 -- the Frank Shamrocks, the Robbie Lawlers, the Gina Caranos and the Kimbo Slices of the world, all the way down to some of the guys we thought were the up-and-coming stars of the future,” Coker said. “We went down the roster with a couple of my teammates, and we said, ‘What do you think about this guy? What about this guy?’ Not just the top tier guys … we took some of the fighters we thought would be helpful in continuing to grow Strikeforce.”

Showtime representatives also had input.

“Some of the fighters were people you’ve already seen on Showtime, and they wanted to have a certain continuity with their fans and the fighters that fought on Showtime,” Coker said. “That was also a factor.”

Strikeforce already announced one matchup for the April 11 show -- a middleweight bout pairing knockout artists Scott Smith and Benji Radach. Shamrock, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, has also been booked, although an opponent has not been named.

Coker admits the fighter contracts have the potential to become problematic. Similar to the deal in which the UFC bought Pride Fighting Championships in 2007, questions remain as to whether or not the ProElite contracts are transferable.

“I talked to -- before we did the deal -- the attorneys, and the attorneys feel we have a strong position to have the contracts transferable,” Coker said. “To me, it’s very simple; there could be a legal remedy or there could be a business remedy. I’m all about creating a business remedy. If you guys know anyone I’ve done business with, it’s never with a hammer over the head. I want to be in business with people that want to be in business with me, and I think that we just increased our brand and ability to grow the sport with this distribution deal we obtained. That’s really my opinion.”

The increased workload for the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion will require some changes to the way it does business, but Coker does not see the need for any drastic moves.

“We’ll hire a few more key employees,” Coker said, “but I’m not going to hire 100 people just to have this guy or that guy. There will be a certain amount of people we’ll need to strategically employ to execute this plan, but promoting eight fights a year with the team we had was very doable. We probably could’ve done one a month. We just didn’t need to do one a month last year. Going to 12 or 16, we could hire a couple of people and get it done.”

Coker has learned from the mistakes of others.

“You’ve seen what happened with some of these companies that have blown up and hired a zillion people and two years later are out of business,” he said. “We have to be smart with what we’re doing. All these decisions will be based on sound business decisions based on how we’re doing and how we’re able to produce these events and profit-and-loss statements. Those will all be a determining factor of how fast we’ll expand.”

Will Strikeforce promote more events outside its home base in San Jose?

“That’s a good question,” Coker said. “We’re going to be meeting with everyone in New York at the end of this month and lay out the whole year. I think that we will do fights on the West Coast, probably in the Seattle region. We’ll probably go back to the [Playboy] Mansion because the Mansion fight is a lot of fun. I understand, with the amount of shows we’re going to need to do, we’re going to have to go on the road. We’ve had offers from different casinos around the country to do fights, and I think we’re going to take up those offers at this point.”

With the acquisition of 42 fighter contracts and the television deal with CBS and Showtime, Strikeforce has set itself up as the strongest competitor to date for the UFC. Unlike some of his predecessors, Coker does not expect his relationship with UFC President Dana White to change much. The two remain cordial.

“He’s always been very nice to me,” Coker said. “We’ve always had a good relationship. There’s never been any bad talk. I think the issue was with companies before that came out and called UFC out saying our fighters were better than your fighters or saying this is better. You’re not going to hear that from us. That’s not what we’re about.”

Coker has a deep respect for what White and Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta have done for the sport of mixed martial arts.

“They built the industry here in America,” Coker said. “Would we be talking right now if they didn’t do that deal and UFC didn’t spend the money to build it? Probably not. I’m very respectful of that, and I know where they’re at in the marketplace today. We just want to run our business and do what we do and be a profitable company and do amazing fights and do our part. That’s really the goal.”
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