MMA: Things Scott Coker Should Address as Bellator's New Leader
Scott Coker already enjoyed great success while running Strikeforce, now the promoter has a new task ahead of him—transforming Bellator into a credible No. 2 promotion.
While it’s true the promotion has been thought of as a second-tier promotion, it was more or less handed that title by default with Strikeforce closing up shop. Bellator has struggled to find an identity for itself outside of hosting tournaments, and it has come under fire through MMA media and fans on numerous occasions.
The promotion held a news conference but did little to answer questions that fans and analysts had. There’s a certain level of uncertainty mixed with intrigue in Coker taking the reins in Bellator.
With Viacom backing Coker as its man, the new head honcho would be wise to quickly address these issues.
One of the items Bellator has come under scrutiny for in recent years is its contracts. The Eddie Alvarez situation in particular was a PR nightmare for the promotion. It shone a negative light on Bellator contracts, which were seemingly written in a way to prevent stars from leaving.
Regional promotions often give fighters a “UFC out-clause,” so those options have become far more enticing than having to enter a Bellator tournament. And the World Series of Fighting promotion has risen quickly to become “UFC-lite,” as they have a good relationship with the UFC.
Obviously, Scott Coker can’t afford to let guys go on a regular basis if the UFC comes calling. But if he can restructure the contracts to where the fighters aren’t chained to the promotion, it will be a big step forward.
Something that was clear from the Viacom/Bellator press conference is that they’re quickly attempting to move on from the Bjorn Rebney era.
Under Rebney, the tournament format became the promotion’s trademark. It was something that helped separate Bellator from other MMA promotions. Scott Coker and Viacom seemed to drift away from the idea of hosting tournaments as a main source of matchmaking.
Coker enjoyed success with his Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, but that magic likely won’t be created on a regular basis—something Coker was keen to point out.
Now, if Coker and his team are going to utilize a more typical matchmaking process, it will be interesting to see where they go. There are a few guys they could pair up that would generate interest from the average MMA fan, but those typically aren’t what’s best for the future of the promotion.
The tournament format was great at developing stars out of previously unknown fighters. A guy like Will Brooks was flying under the radar but now holds Bellator gold. Daniel Straus wasn’t a big name prior to winning a tournament and is now enjoying one of the most competitive rivalries in today’s MMA.
If the tournament format isn’t going to be used as much as it was during the Rebney era, Coker has a tough task ahead of him in building up marketable stars from unknown fighters.
But that hard work should pay off.
The promotion already did a rumored 100,000 pay-per-view buys without their biggest star on the card. Imagine what they could do if they were able to build up two or three more guys to round out a card with some firepower?
Building the Bellator Roster
Scott Coker said that he wants to improve the Bellator roster, but it remains uncertain how he plans on doing that. On one hand, if he is Viacom’s guy, one would assume Viacom would be more willing to open its checkbooks to him than to a guy (Bjorn Rebney) it didn’t believe in.
Does this mean Coker will go after the ex-UFC crowd that Rebney attempted to avoid? Will Coker continue to expand the roster by searching out prospects abroad like the man who ran the show before him?
I’m tempted to believe that if Rebney and Viacom were butting heads as rumored, Coker is going to go a different route than his predecessor.
While picking up the scraps from the UFC wasn’t as appealing in years past due to guys getting cut when their careers were nearing a close, the UFC chopping block in today’s MMA world is cutting guys who still have years ahead of them.
Guys like Yushin Okami and Jake Shields are far from done in MMA and would’ve been great additions to the company. Yes, their fighting styles aren’t what many would consider exciting, but they’re established, credible names that would validate Bellator’s status as the No. 2 promotion.
Getting fighters from across the globe gives North American fans a nice glimpse into the talent level of the world, but it also means the promotion has to spend extra time trying to get American fans to tune in for the international talent.
It will be interesting to see what kind of budget Coker has to work with. If given a bigger budget, I expect him to go after some established names to help draw additional fans in.
Eddie Alvarez vs. Will Brooks vs. Michael Chandler
The Eddie Alvarez-Michael Chandler-Will Brooks triangle is without a doubt the top concern for Scott Coker and his team. With the promotion creating an interim title when it clearly wasn’t necessary, it’s created a logjam at the top of the division.
Alvarez seemingly wants to face Brooks, next but he’s not the one in control of who the Bellator lightweight champ will defend his belt against.
An Alvarez-Chandler matchup is clearly the one fans have more of an interest in. However, Brooks has more than earned his chance at facing Alvarez by defeating Chandler at the Bellator pay-per-view.
The right path to travel down for Bellator would be to pair up Alvarez and Brooks. However, there’s no history there and Alvarez vs. Chandler provided us with two of the greatest fights in MMA history. But Alvarez and Brooks both have titles which would set up a “champion vs. champion” match that would look great as a pay-per-view headliner.
How Coker handles this murky situation will tell us a lot about how Bellator will be run in the future.