The Bellator MMA roster right now is the healthiest it has ever been, company president Scott Coker says

The Bellator MMA roster right now is the healthiest it has ever been, company president Scott Coker says
Scott Coker.Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images
  • Bellator MMA returns Friday with its second event of the year.
  • The company's president Scott Coker recently told Insider about its April shows.
  • He told us that his firm is in the healthiest position its ever been in.

The Bellator MMA roster is in the healthiest state it has ever been in, company boss Scott Coker said, as he marveled over recent signings including Khabib Nurmagomedov's cousin Usman.

The Hollywood-headquartered combat sports promotion restarted its live events business April 2 with a thumping performance from its GOAT fighter Patricio "Pitbull" Freire.

Pitbull advanced to the fight firm's featherweight final and will meet A.J. McKee in the coming months for a $1 million fight likely to be one of the biggest in the company's history.
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Bellator, meanwhile, has another event Friday as a light heavyweight grand prix gets underway.

Ahead of this, Coker told Insider about the four-month pause in its live event schedule, the ever-growing roster of athletes, and scoring premium broadcaster partners like Showtime in the US and BBC iPlayer in the UK.

Regarding the reasoning behind the hiatus, Coker said: "It was really scheduling with TV on the Bellator side."
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"We needed time to get our companies [Bellator and Showtime] in the same alignment and the same page. We were on Fite TV, CBS, Paramount, and having Viacom as the ownership group is a great thing because they have many different platforms they can offer you."

Coker has been on Showtime before with his previous firm Strikeforce, which was sold in 2011 to Zuffa - the parent company of the UFC. Strikeforce fighters then became UFC fighters. "I felt really good about the conversation when they [Viacom] said: 'You're going to Showtime,' because that's where I built Strikeforce.
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"The same people who were there in 2009, 2010, 2011, are still there today. Senior executive producer, the SVP of marketing, communications department … I don't think anybody's ever left Showtime.

"So this is the second opportunity for myself to be back with a company like Showtime that really know how to promote MMA, and the quality fights they've put on in the past.

"In 1986, I was watching Mike Tyson on Showtime. Recently, Floyd Mayweather - that whole run. When it comes to television, marketing, story-telling, what an amazing network to be with."
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Bellator's roster has improved drastically since Coker took over in 2014

The Bellator MMA roster right now is the healthiest it has ever been, company president Scott Coker says
Khabib Nurmagomedov with Usman.Photo by Sergei Savostyanov\TASS via Getty Images

Zuffa retained Coker for a contracted period of three years when it acquired Strikeforce in 2011.

Months after that period lapsed in 2014, Coker replaced Bjorn Rebney as the boss of Bellator and asked American Kickboxing Academy coach Bob Cook for his take on the quality of the roster at the time.

"When I came to Bellator, I'll never forget … I sat down with Bob Cook from AKA and I said: 'Here's our roster, what do you think?'
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"And he said: 'You don't have much here. It's kind of thin.' So I said: 'Okay. Let's go sign some new guys. Who do we sign?'

"He recommended Aaron Pico and gave us a load of athletes to go after with development deals. As we're doing that and nurturing him, we signed Phil Davis, Ryan Bader, Fedor Emelianenko - people that are the free agents."

The strategy of building fighters like Pico and McKee, while signing free agents, built the quality of Bellator's roster year on year.
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In 2020, Coker made further additions. Insider asked him who has gotten him most excited.

"I think Magomed Magomedov," he said. "That guy is a beast - a killer - and he'll give our guys a lot of headaches. "I'm really excited about Usman [Nurmagomedov]. There's also Pico who is a guy we've invested in, backed for a long time.
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"Joey Davis is another kid I'm confident about.

"Now, we've got the greatest roster in the history of this company. But this roster took six years to this point."

This was always the game plan, Coker told us.
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"One thing I learned from Strikeforce - you have to build from the bottom up. And you have to buy free agents from the top down.

"But free agents alone aren't going to make your business. They'll come and go. The health of your company is about the fighters you build.

"I knew that at Strikeforce with Tyron Woodley, Ronda Rousey, Daniel Cormier, and Luke Rockhold - the list goes on and on." All four athletes Coker named were champions in the UFC after it absorbed Strikeforce.
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"You have to have your base. And that's the part that stuck. Sometimes it takes five to six years to see fighters get to a world class level where they could fight anybody.

"This is the healthiest and greatest fight roster we've ever had in this company," he said.

Bellator has big broadcast partners

The Bellator MMA roster right now is the healthiest it has ever been, company president Scott Coker says
Ryan Bader and Vadim Nemkov.Photo by Bellator MMA
As well as the partnership with Showtime in the US, Bellator events are being broadcast on the BBC iPlayer in the UK. This, Coker said, is a testament to the mainstreaming of MMA.
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"Right now we're in the process of sealing a lot of international deals," Coker said. "But we're excited about the BBC iPlayer deal. To have the BBC put a stamp of approval on MMA is not only a victory for our company, but for the sport.

"It wasn't that long ago, 10 years ago, when there was no MMA on CBS, or Fox, or ESPN. It wasn't on major television like it is today. "Now, you've seen mixed martial artists become accepted in mainstream America.
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"The first show I did in 2006, a guy asked me if it was like human cockfighting. They have no idea what it is. So this is good for the industry as a whole, this BBC deal."

Bellator returns Friday with Bellator 256, an event broadcast on Showtime and BBC iPlayer from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

The main event features Ryan Bader against Lyoto Machida in a light heavyweight tournament quarterfinal. Further down the card, Liz Carmouche fights Vanessa Porto.
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