Coker talks Strikeforce past, present and future
Scott Coker is proud of what he has accomplished.
He began with an upstart MMA promotion in San Jose and has been the driving factor behind Strikeforce’s rise through the sport. Saturday night the road runs through Chicago, where Strikeforce will deliver two legendary names in mixed martial arts going toe to toe. Coker couldn’t be happier.
“Fedor vs. Henderson. That’s crazy, right? To me this is a legends fight like a “Jordan vs. Bird” for MMA. Top to bottom I feel this is arguably the best fight card we’ve ever put together. I’m going to be a fan on Saturday night and be like, ‘wow this is actually happening. Here we go.’ I’m still a fan of this sport and love watching the fights, so for me it is going to be a fun night.”
Coker is responsible for growing the Strikeforce brand to where it stands today and while the road hasn’t always been easy, he appreciates the journey.
“The one thing about starting a mixed martial arts promotion in the Bay Area is that we had a tremendous talent base. The second event we ever held featured Alistair Overeem vs. Vitor Belfort and we had no television and no sponsorships. Not bad, right? Then we discovered Gilbert Melendez, and Josh Thompson came over because at that time the UFC had cut their lightweight division. We started to develop a little bit of momentum from there.”
“I mean the first show we did 18,265 people and had a million dollar gate. It was big and here I am going, ‘This thing is crazy. People love MMA.’ Who knew? It was the first show in California and I’ve had a promoter’s license for 26 years. They gave us the first fight in the state and to be honest, that first time out we were set up for 7,000 people.”
“That first year was crazy because we had no television or sponsorships but we had great fights. We had these amazing fights that people began to take notice of. Fast forward to 2007, we had a small television deal where we were on NBC in kind of the late night slot. But life really changed when we were able to get the Showtime contract. We bought Pro Elite out of their assets and took over their fighter contracts and their library. Next we cut our own deal with Showtime and CBS and man…we’ve been on the road ever since.”
It has been a busy year for the organization with the Zuffa purchase and the launching of the heavyweight Grand Prix. While there hasn’t been much visible difference in the business operations, the Grand Prix has been at the opposite end of the spectrum. What had the potential to be a great heavyweight showcase has now limped into the semi-finals with its biggest names either eliminated or injured with the latest incident involving current champion Alistair Overeem.
“I can tell you this. The thing with Alistair is very simple. We had a TV date, he couldn’t fight on that date so we have to move on. I think with Alistair we were very patient. We waited a year for him to come back and fight Brett Rogers at the time because he wanted to fight in Japan. We have a great relationship with his camp and were very patient but this is a different situation. Now our television partner factors in and let’s face it…between October and November, with all of the boxing matches and MMA fights that Zuffa has had on the books for awhile now. The World Series is going on in October, Manny Pacquiao is fighting in November and we couldn’t put anything together. There just wasn’t a date available and Showtime said we are going on Sept 10th so that’s the date. He’s hurt, can’t fight so to me, it’s just that simple.”
Many MMA fans have attempted to draw a connection between the unique dealings of former welterweight champion Nick Diaz and Overeem’s current situation but Coker pays it no mind.
“The conspiracy theory aspect is a bit farfetched. I like Alistair and we’ve been very good to Golden Glory and their entire camp but we had a TV date and we had to go.”
While the GP may not have the buzz it had initially, Coker urged fans to keep an eye on how it all plays out.
“I took so much heat from the fans and the media about how I set the tournament brackets up. People were saying, ‘after Fedor beats Silva he’s going to be fighting Alistair and he should really be fighting Alistair in the finals.’ I knew people were getting ahead of themselves and were assuming he was going to go through Silva, but Antonio Silva is no joke. Here’s a big, big, big athletic guy and I think he could compete with anybody on any given day. His hands are like a bear and if he gets on top of you it’s trouble. Daniel Cormier is a real threat to Silva. Then again if he gets on top of Cormier…I don’t know. I think that would be a long night for D.C. “
“Working for a company like K-1 that just did tournaments all year long taught me that new stars evolve out of tournaments. Fans are going to see new stars come up and then another and another and we have to continue growing these great superstars.”
Growing talent organically has long been one of the organization’s strengths. The recent emergence of Jorge Masvidal as the number one contender to Gilbert Melendez’s lightweight crown is a prime example.
“Here’s the thing…the fighter’s fight and they are looking to improve their stock and position. When you have the Challengers Series and the Championship Series on Showtime it gives these guys a platform to shine.
Masvidal is a guy that took a great opportunity and made it even better when he fought K.J. Noons. I’ve known Jorge since 2007 when he fought for us so I knew he was talented and all my guys around me were sure he was going to beat K.J. I wasn’t how it was going to go but when it came to the fight K.J. took a beating. So now people don’t question the idea of Melendez vs. Masvidal because they’ve seen what Jorge can do.”
Another big chapter for the company came when welterweight champion Nick Diaz vacated his title and negotiated a contract with the UFC. Diaz will face long reigning champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 137. While losing Nick Diaz takes away one of Strikeforce’s flagship stars, Scott Coker isn’t shy about who he will be cheering for in October.
“Go Nick Diaz! Go Nick Diaz! I think it’s going to be an amazing fight and I hope Nick is working with Jake Shields on his takedown defense. I think that fight is going to be one of the biggest fights of the last two or three years. I’m really looking forward to it because I think it is could be a toss-up fight. GSP could win. Nick could win but I will tell you this…if GSP stands with Nick Diaz he will get knocked out. I think Georges is going to be looking for the takedown and not wanting to get hit.”
Saturday night Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson will go to war in the cage and Strikeforce will pack up the show and head on to the next stop. Coker is excited to see what comes down the road but says it’s his overall passion that makes the difference.
“It goes far beyond MMA for me. I’ve seen martial arts evolve. In the 70’s and 80’s when I was coming up through martial arts it was very segregated. The karate guy hated the kung fu guy and the judo guy hated the wrestler. No one worked together. I think the thing the UFC proved – and Strikeforce became a part of this – is that you do need to be a great striker, wrestler and jiu-jitsu guy. The eclectic style of martial arts that has formed out of this is going to be the future of MMA. It is proven and effective.”
“When I think about Bruce Lee it’s right there. In the opening scene of “Enter the Dragon” he’s wearing open fingered boxing gloves so he could grapple. In the scene he struck, took the guy down and threw on an armbar. He had open fingered gloves and that was in the 70’s so he was way ahead of things. He was also ridiculed for thinking that his style would be an eclectic style but when I think about today’s martial arts, that’s what it is. I walk into the martial arts school where I work out and where it was once a traditional Tae Kwon Do school there is now a cage in the middle. “