Bellator 2.0: 5 Things Fans Can Look Forward to in Scott Coker Era
A new day has dawned for Bellator. Bjorn Rebney, its founder and CEO, is out. Scott Coker, former Strikeforce head honcho, is in.
With Coker comes a complete overhaul of Bellator's schedule and show structure. Tournaments, more or less, are a thing of the past. While the idea of a pure sport format applied to mixed martial arts was an excellent concept, the unwieldiness came at the expense of both the promotion's fighters and the fans' enjoyment. Now, though, fans can look forward Bellator's top talent like Michael Chandler, Eddie Alvarez, Vitaly Minakov and Eduardo Dantas facing new challenges in an environment that will allow them to better grow with fans.
So what can fans look forward to in Bellator's Scott Coker Era? Find out right here!
More Ridiculous(ly Entertaining) Semi-Freakshow Fights
That guy on the right helping Donald Trump shave Vince McMahon's head is Bobby Lashley. For a long time, he was the poor man's Brock Lesnar, transitioning from the WWE to MMA with decent success. However, while Lesnar would retire from MMA in order to become the one in 21-1, Lashley has been there right along, fighting in both real and fake fights.
While Lashley was previously linked to World Series of Fighting and the shady-as-hell Super Fight League, he has recently made his way back stateside and is booked to return to high-level MMA at Bellator 123. In a vacuum, that isn't particularly noteworthy. Lashley is wrasslin' for TNA Impact Wrestling these days, and TNA-Bellator crossover is just a part of the promotion at this point.
With last month's reports of a negotiation between Bellator and crazy-popular YouTube brawler Kimbo Slice, though? That suggests there might be a trend. While Scott Coker's Strikeforce was a legitimate MMA organization that featured some elite-level talent, as Herschel Walker (oh, and Lashley) will tell you, they were not above cashing in on freakshow fights.
So could we see Jason David Frank, aka Tommy the Green Power Ranger, lay a smackdown on some poor jobber? Maybe another pro wrestler like CM Punk makes good on the rumored move to MMA? Maybe, just maybe, Hong-Man Choi could come stateside for the first time?
I don't know about you, but I would definitely tune in for any of those.
More High(ish)-Profile Free-Agent Signings
One of MMA's running jokes over the last couple of years has been Bellator scrambling to scoop up seemingly every fighter the UFC releases. There's a good bit of truth there, of course, as we've seen Lavar Johnson, Matt Riddle, Diego Nunes and many others hastily snatched after hitting the free-agent market.
Over the last few weeks, however, Bellator has changed gears. Rather than scooping up random former UFC mid-carders, they are scooping up random European headliners (who may or may not have been former UFC fighters) such as Melvin Manhoef and Paul Daley.
That is a big deal, folks.
Bellator has long scrounged up talent from Europe and Russia. Fighters like Attila Vegh, Marcin Held, Andrey Koreshkov and many more have been picked from smaller European promotions and made an immediate impact through tournaments. None of them, however, are the sort of plug-and-play attractions Manhoef and Daley are.
So who else might we see come over? Could we see Japanese MMA staple Joachim Hansen fight stateside for the first time since Pride 33? Will the now-trim Paul Buentello return to Bellator in a more permanent role? How about a legitimate top talent like Mamed Khalidov?
More Active Champions
Hey, remember back when Bellator hastily slapped together lame non-title "super fights" for their champions because their tournament format wasn't affording them the opportunity to fight three times a year at the time? Oh...you weren't watching Bellator back then? Well it sucked super-hard.
But seriously, in large part because of their tournament format, Bellator has always had trouble keeping their champions active. While Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva were typically content in fighting twice a year, Bellator champions are still in a position where they would prefer to fight as frequently as possible.
The best-case scenario for them even after the move to Spike, however, was three fights in a year. When that didn't cut it, either due to injury or simply a lack of planning, fighters like Eduardo Dantas and Alexander Shlemenko would take a fight or two in outside promotions, not always yielding positive results.
With tournaments now seemingly a thing of the past, that opens the door for their champions to steadily fight three times a year, and possibly more. For Will Brooks and Douglas Lima, who reign over particularly strong divisions, that's a godsend, and would let them quickly and effectively cement themselves as legitimate elite-level talents.
More Bidding Wars
At one point, Bellator was no different from any other regional-level promotion. Once they moved to Spike TV, however, they became a legitimate presence at MMA bargaining tables, besting the UFC for French heavyweight Cheick Kongo, and nearly doing the same with Roy Nelson.
It didn't work out for Bellator, of course—the UFC would outbid them and set Melendez up with a big, fat contract and immediate title shot—but that exchange was a game-changer for all of mixed martial arts, and showed that the days of the UFC telling fighters what they are worth are officially done.
By pursuing Melendez, a fighter the UFC has big plans for, Viacom made it abundantly clear that nobody on the UFC's payroll is safe. And it's no coincidence that Melendez's friend and training partner Nick Diaz was recently given a big, fat contract after a lengthy holdout as well.
It's unlikely that things will go back to where they were in 2004, when welterweight champion BJ Penn left the UFC, welterweight title in-hand, for K-1 and Chuck Liddell was sent to Japan to fight in Pride. Nevertheless, fans should buckle in for more stories where Dana White says "this fighter is great but their manager is crazy," because the UFC is going to have many, many tense negotiation sessions with Bellator, WSOF and possibly foreign promotions like One FC and KSW all sniffing around their talent.
Less Crappy Events
Bellator has put on some great fights over the years. Unfortunately, no matter how exciting a main event may be, the majority of bouts on any given card will either be a blatant squash match or a "showcase of local talent."
Some of that is to scout for new challengers. Perry Filkins, for example, beat German import Jonas Billstein in what seemed to be a showcase fight at Bellator 81. From there, he was promoted to a tournament spot and remains one of the more interesting prospects on Bellator's middleweight roster.
Some of it is to pad records for their bigger names. When Bellator picked up Michael Page, who had the internet ablaze with his wild spinning-kick knockouts on the British circuit, they had him debut against Ryan Sanders, a fighter who compiled a paltry 4-3 record in smaller New England promotions and was actually coming off back-to-back losses.
Some of it, though, is just an offshoot of amateur MMA's pay-to-play format. A random fighter from a local gym can bring along 10 or 20 of his friends, training partners, coworkers and family members. Multiply that by 10 to 13 and that can actually translate to a double-digit percentage of Bellator's oft-dinky crowds.
Fewer events should lead to an overall higher level of talent and, as such, fewer generally horrible fighters. No promotion completely washes its hands of squash matches, not even the UFC. Still, fans can look forward to watching more fighters work their way from the preliminary cards to the main cards to main events to title shots, rather than seeing random anonymous one-and-done jobbers show up to get smacked around by established talent.