It’s no secret Bellator MMA has had its fair share of head-scratching moments in its relatively short run in the fight game. However, the second largest MMA promotion has really hit its stride lately.
The Viacom-owned organization parlayed a successful Bellator 199 card straight into its landmark 200th event last weekend in London. Both shows lived up to the anticipation and delivered on excitement. Bellator 199 provided the league’s light heavyweight champion, Ryan Bader, with a chance to flash his power in a quick knockout finish of Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in heavyweight grand prix action. Four of the other five main-card fights ended in exciting finishes. Meanwhile, Bellator 200 also checked in with stoppages in all but one main-card outing and crowned a new middleweight champion in former UFC fighter Gegard Mousasi.
So, can the Scott Coker run promotion continue to capitalize on this recent wave of success? History says yes.
Whether he is building an MMA promotion from the ground up, as he did with Strikeforce, or taking over someone else’s mess, as he did when he replaced Bjorn Rebney as the head of Bellator, Coker in many ways is the antithesis of what we think a promoter should be. He’s kind and companionate, and he’s an advocate for his fighters.
Coker really does seem to have his finger on the pulse of the MMA community. Often, he gives the fans what they want before they know they want it. Case in point, the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. Yes, the tournament hasn’t been all sunshine, but Fedor Emelianenko is still alive in the bracket. You have to believe the Russian is the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
Once upon a time, Bellator MMA was known for its tournaments. “The toughest tournament in sports” was their tagline. However, the unpredictability of the tournament format, coupled with the inability of the aforementioned Rebney to manage a combat-sport promotion, was the eventual downfall of that model.
So, in steps Coker,. He didn’t waste too much time putting his people in place and leaving his mark on the promotion. Coker’s fingerprints can be found all over the rebranding of Bellator, whether it’s in the high-end production value the promotion now implements or the way the athletes are treated. Coker has quickly spun Bellator 180 degrees in the right direction.
Moving forward, Bellator’s programming may give you a feeling of déjà vu. Coker has hinted on several occasions that the promotion still holds a soft spot for the tournament format. As far as what division or divisions may get the tournament treatment, your guess is as good as mine. However, there’s a good possibility that the welterweight and middleweight divisions may be next in line.
History has shown us that when it comes to a Coker promotion, we should expect the unexpected. The second half of 2018 could get really interesting for Bellator MMA.