Scott Coker to Bellator is What's Best for Business

Yesterday, Viacom announced that Scott Coker would be stepping in to serve as President of Bellator MMA, replacing the recently let go Bjorn Rebney. While the consensus among the press has been that this decision was a long time coming, it was generally considered a surprise among the fanbase.

Scott Coker to Bellator is What’s Best for Business

For those unfamiliar with Coker, he originally made his mark on the martial arts landscape as the owner of Strikeforce in 1985, then a kickboxing league. He steadily built up the promotion over the years, but it truly came to prominence when he turned Strikeforce into an MMA promotion in 2006. Coker grew the promotion into the greatest threat to the UFC since Pride FC closed up shop, forcing Zuffa, Inc. (the parent company of the UFC) to purchase the company in March 2011.

While Rebney was the founder of the company, and served as its Chairman and CEO since its inception in 2008, the company could only go so far under his leadership. He was simply too married to the concepts that Bellator was founded on, mainly the tournament structure, and his souring relationships with a continuously growing number of fighters only made matters worse.

It was time for him to go, and Coker is an excellent choice to replace him. This was, for Viacom, for Bellator, for the fighters, and for the entire mixed martial arts landscape, a move in the right direction.

An Eye for Talent

From a purely competitive perspective, Coker has everything Viacom could want in terms of a proven track record. As mentioned above, Strikeforce was poised to become major opposition to the UFC before they were purchased. Coker was able to do something Bellator has yet to be able to: acquire talent comparable and/or superior to their UFC counterparts.

Ben Askren aside, the closest thing Bellator has had to UFC-level talent is their lightweight division with Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler, and Will Brooks all considered top ten fighters. Strikeforce, on the other hand, was able to assemble a remarkable roster of talent.

At one time, their heavyweight division was widely considered better than the UFC’s. Members of that roster included Fedor Emelianenko, at that time considered the best heavyweight fighter in the world, Alistair Overeem, current UFC heavyweight number one contender Fabricio Werdum, and current top UFC light heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier.

The UFC’s middleweight division has also experienced a Strikeforce invasion as the contenders ranked #4-#7 all made their mark in Coker’s promotion. He was also able to assemble other top talent who’ve made their mark in other divisions, including Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thompson, Robbie Lawler, and the inimitable Nick Diaz.

This shows that, unsurprisingly, when given options fighters will ultimately pursue what they believe is best for them. Though Rebney was known for rubbing certain talents the wrong way, or rubbing certain ones the right away depending on who you ask, Coker stands out in the fight game in terms of his lack of acrimonious relationships with fighters. The fact that he was able to accumulate such talent when the UFC was much closer to their peak bodes very well for Bellator in an age where many fans are growing tired of the UFC product.

A Knack for Innovation

Coker is also known for his forward thinking. The UFC can thank Strikeforce and their support of women’s MMA for the biggest star in their company, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. Rousey got her start in the San Jose-based promotion, taking the title off of another top female star in Miesha Tate. This can all be traced back to Coker and his belief in the women’s division, dating back to the early pioneers of the sport like Gina Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos.

Another differentiating factor is Coker’s belief in using traditional matchmaking to cultivate that oft-longed for “big fight feel” instead of focusing on a rigid tournament structure like the one Bellator has in place; a point he made sure to reiterate in last evening’s press conference . He also knows how to utilize the tournament when it’s advantageous. The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix was one of Coker’s crowning achievements, and likely gained more publicity for his promotion than anything Bellator has ever done.

The Fighters and the Fans

All of this explains why Coker is good for Bellator, but the more important note to take away is that this is better for fighters and ultimately us, the fans. One need only look at the Eddie Alvarez and Gilbert Melendez situations to see the benefits competition has on fighter pay.

Furthermore, as the old saying goes, competition breeds innovation. If Coker can elevate Bellator to a level where they are considered viable competition, it will prevent the UFC from resting on their laurels  and force them to do their best to remain the dominant MMA promotion.  And that is best for business.

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