An Improved Bellator is Good for the Sport and the UFC
In one of the crazier months for UFC buzz and MMA-related news, Scott Coker is back.
It’s been just a little over three years since the sale of Strikeforce to Zuffa, and for the most part, Coker’s been off the grid—probably spending and investing his multi-million dollar UFC payout check. But now that Bellator’s ousted former CEO Bjorn Rebney for a new president in Coker, business in the MMA world may change for the better.
So far, the reaction to this news has been pretty divided, with some MMA writers saying this will only hasten Bellator’s eventual death. Others are more optimistic. But for the most part, just about everyone’s been interested in the potential changes.
If Scott Coker joins Bellator, I would not be at all surprised if he brought female fighters back to the promotion. He’s a big supporter.
— Robert Sargent (@MMARising) June 18, 2014
Bjorn is out. Bellator should be interesting going forward. I’ll say this: they do away with tournament format and they’ll dig their grave.
— Michael Stets (@Michael_Stets) June 18, 2014
I would like to see Coker use the Bellator prelims as if they were a SF Challengers card. No silly mismatches to sell tickets locally
— Ian Bain (@TheIanBain) June 18, 2014
And make no mistake—despite all the bad press and PR that Bellator’s sewn over the years, MMA fans should be hoping that Coker can drastically improve Bellator.
If the UFC is the highest level of mixed martial arts as far as being the best promotion (an undeniable fact), then that level has sharply been dropping in the last few years.
Several major stars have departed, leaving a hole in overall PPV buys that even Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones can’t fill. Even the last UFC card has apparently found a new PPV floor buyrate of just 100,000 buys (H/T CagePotato and MMA Fighting). Meanwhile, the heavy Fox Sports-induced schedule has drastically watered down UFC card quality overall.
It’s not a coincidence that this is happening in a time period where the UFC has virtually no strong competition.
But if Scott Coker can somehow elevate Bellator into the product that Strikeforce was before its demise, all those negative UFC trends just might change.
Think about it—the UFC as a product was on fire when it had to compete with Strikeforce.
Aside from counter-programming on a semi-regular basis, the two companies made a solid market for competitive talent signings: Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Jake Shields, Dan Henderson, Nick Diaz, and practically the entire MMA heavyweight division.
This was actually really good for the UFC, and from 2009 to 2011, Dana White and Joe Silva were putting together mega-event PPVs to pad their (drastic) advantage.
If you want the UFC to promote fighters, make PPV stars, and raise the overall quality of their product, you have to give the company a reason to do so. And in today’s MMA climate, the best, most-readily available option to do that is by having a successful, compelling Bellator. It’s that simple.
On the other hand, there’s also the question of whether or not Scott Coker has the ability to do that.
At a glance, the assumption would have to be “yes” for a few reasons.
First off, Coker has the advantage of already running a promotion that was widely considered the world’s #2 MMA product. Secondly, Coker may have some Zuffa-related connections and business ideas that he can implement via Bellator. And thirdly, Coker just has far better management and fighter relations than Rebney ever did.
As long as Coker can maintain a budget with good return-on-investment, MMA fans can hopefully expect good things here.
(And although we don’t readily know how much money was devoted to running Strikeforce, the overall spending power between Viacom/Spike TV and CBS/Showtime seems essentially the same.)
Summing it up, change can good for Bellator, good for the sport, and good for the UFC.
Let’s all just hope it’s positive change that yields a smarter, better, most-competitive MMA product across the board.
McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist. His work has appeared in PC World, Macworld, GamePro, 1UP, GamesBeat, Cox Sports, Bleacher Report, CNN, and The Los Angeles Times. Follow him at @KenTheGreat1 on Twitter.
[Image via Esther Lin/STRIKEFORCE]