With no regrets, Scott Coker looks back on Strikeforce sale
Scott Coker had a busy weekend.
One Saturday morning a few weeks back, Coker and his partners at Silicon Valley Sports had struck a deal to sell Strikeforce to the rival promoters at the UFC. On Monday morning, Coker found himself sitting in Dana White‘s Las Vegas office, preparing to participate in a media conference call and discuss one of the biggest stories in the history of mixed martial arts.
He’d just taken his first tour of the Zuffa offices and was impressed by the scope of the organization. He built the Strikeforce brand into a national promotion using a bare-bones office staff, so the Zuffa machine with its multiple departments and large staff came as a bit of a shock.
“My first thought was ‘wow’. This was a big operation and it was impressive to see how many great staff they had running each department. They have an amazing staff with amazing backgrounds, and they have a machine there that is impressive. I think that was my first impression,” Coker says. “The deal had only happened on Saturday, and by Monday I’m sitting in Dana’s office doing a conference call. It was just surreal to me.”
Coker might be a little biased, but when the Strikeforce CEO says that the sale of his promotion to was one of the biggest moments in MMA history, it’s tough to blame him.
“On a business level, I think it’s significant. I think it might have merit as the biggest deal in history,” Coker says. “I would say PRIDE was a big deal, but at that time there was a lot of other leagues and a lot more MMA going on. It’s definitely going to be significant.”
You’ll find very few people arguing that the Strikeforce deal wasn’t a landmark moment in the history of mixed martial arts. The purchase, for all intents and purposes, consolidated 95% of the world’s top fighters under one roof. There need be no more talk of promotions working together when one organization effectively assumed control of the MMA world.
But did Zuffa overstep their bounds? Are they flirting with creating a monopoly in an industry still in its infancy? Coker doesn’t think so.
“No, not at all. Two years ago, Strikeforce was a regional show. I promoted the Frank Shamrock and Cung Le fight in 2007, but it took us awhile to get our TV contract. But from 2009, when we got our Showtime fights, it took us two years to this point,” Coker says. “It took a lot of hard work, but it can be recreated. Somebody out there has to step up and put the money behind it, and they can create the business just like I did and move from a regional promotion to a national promotion.”
One of the major reasons Coker was able to make a splash on the national scene was the signing of PRIDE legend Fedor Emelianenko. Dealing with Emelianenko’s handlers hasn’t been easy. It’s fair to say that the Russian hasn’t been worth the trouble, but Coker refuses to assign blame to Emelianenko’s enormous contract.
“It had nothing to do with it. It really had to do with my guys wanting to get back into developing their core business. They wanted to make the Sharks perform better,” he says. “They’re looking to bring an NBA basketball franchise into the Bay Area, and I can’t fault them for that. That would be a big item.”
Will Coker continue to work with M-1?
“Yeah, absolutely. We have fights we need to do with them, and we will. We’ll co-promote. It’ll be a Strikeforce cage and not the Octagon. We’ll have the same stage and co-branding. It’ll be the same.”
Coker never had the kind of adverse relationship with White that, say, EliteXC or Affliction did. Even after hitting the national scene and taking part of the UFC’s business – well, at least in theory – White’s laser focus remained on Coker’s partners at Showtime and M-1 Global. He never harbored any ill will towards the San Jose promoter, and Coker says the feeling is mutual.
“I’ve said all along that I’ve always respected what they’ve done. It’s incredible when you consider that in 2000 or 2001, this sport was about to die, and they saved it. If they hadn’t saved it, you and I might not even be talking right now. Strikeforce was able to benefit from that,” Coker says. “I’ve always had respect for them. I know how hard it is to do what we do, so I can only imagine how hard it is to do what they do. They operate all over the world and have all of these television deals. We’ve always been cordial. I’ve never had an issue with Dana, and I think he feels the same way. It’s a mutual respect. What he’s done is quite remarkable, and now we’re all on the same team and we’re working together.”