Bellator MMA will definitely have a different feel to it when the promotion returns to the airwaves next month. Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney is no longer a part of the organization after a journey that began in 2008 and featured 121 events. The promotion has come a long way from its 2009 debut on ESPN Deportes and is currently a fixture on Spike TV.
The promotion was known for its unique tournament format and finally entered the PPV era at Bellator 120 with an event headlined by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson against Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. Their initial foray into the pay-per-view realm did better than anticipated with 100,000 buys and their PPV model is very likely to continue.
In the end it was major differences over the strategic future direction for the promotion that led to the severing of ties between Rebney and Viacom. Viacom bought a majority stake in Bellator back in 2011 and clearly wanted to move away from the tournament format. That is something that will happen now that former Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has come on board as the new Bellator President.
Coker is a well-respected individual in the MMA community. He’s been around the fight game for many years and saw Strikeforce evolve into the sport’s No. 2 promotion under his watch. The San Jose-based promotion delivered exciting fights on a regular basis and produced numerous stars who have gone on to success with the UFC. Coker accomplished a major coup by signing legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko and also achieved success in landing a network deal with Showtime and CBS.
Zuffa, the parent entity of the UFC, purchased Strikeforce back in 2011 and the promotion officially ceased operations in 2013. A number of talented former Strikeforce fighters, including the likes of Ronda Rousey, Daniel Cormier, Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, have been able to make major impacts in the UFC. Coker begins this new chapter of his career after his previous contract with Zuffa expired.
It’s clear that the tournament and season formats will be no more as Bellator moves forward and charts a new direction. During a conference call to announce his appointment, Coker wouldn’t completely rule out Bellator doing another tournament. He did say the circumstances and timing would have to be right and it would have to feature the right fighters. Strikeforce held a Heavyweight Grand Prix that was eventually won by Cormier back in 2012. He defeated Josh Barnett in the final.
The organization’s future goal will now be about making the best fights possible and evolving away from the tournament structure. Bellator currently features a number of exciting fighters. Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler, Pat Curran, Patricio Freire and Douglas Lima are ones who immediately come to mind. Coker is aware that the roster will have to be beefed up, and the concept of cross-promotion could be a possibility. Perhaps a working arrangement with the World Series of Fighting organization could be something to consider.
Under Rebney’s watch, Bellator became the No. 2 promotion in the sport. It’ll be interesting to see whether Bellator will thrive under Coker’s watch or whether this major shakeup and change in ideals will mark the beginning of the end.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports