So what does Wednesday’s changing of the guard at Bellator MMA mean? It means that big changes are on the way.
What exactly those changes are, what form they will take, and when they will arrive has yet to be determined.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and president Tim Danaher left their positions at Bellator on Wednesday, effective immediately. Later in the day, Spike TV president Kevin Kay announced that Strikeforce founder Scott Coker would take over the day-to-day operations of Bellator MMA as the company’s new president.
The reason for Rebney and Danaher’s leaving was chalked up to a difference of opinion in what Bellator’s future should look like. Viacom, majority owner of the promotion, and Spike TV, the promotion’s television platform, wanted to take the promotion in a more traditional direction, moving away from the tournament format the company was founded on.
As soon as Scott Coker fulfilled the obligations of his Zuffa contract, which included a non-compete period, Kay went after Coker as the man to lead Bellator into the future.
“This is a discussion we’ve been having for a long time as far as tournament based vs. a different way of going,” Kay said on Wednesday. “And we felt when Scott became available it was the right time to do it.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for Coker either.
When Zuffa purchased Strikeforce and eventually folded the promotion into the UFC, Coker was left with a contract and non-compete clause, but no day-to-day duties.
He spent the past couple of years traveling the globe, visiting places that he’s always wanted to see… and played a lot of golf. Coker’s love, however, is martial arts, not aspirations of one day swinging clubs in a PGA tournament.
When Kay presented him with the option to get back into martial arts by heading up Bellator, Coker felt the opportunity was just the one he’d been waiting for.
“I really liked what they're trying to do. When I look at Bellator, already they have a great team in place, great fighters in place, great TV platform, and the commitment behind MMA at Viacom; they're all-in,” said Coker.
“This has been a martial arts journey for me. This is not about being a fight promoter and just promoting fights. I've spent my whole life to being dedicated to being involved in martial arts. I did miss it. My golf game improved, but retirement is overrated.”
Just what shape Bellator 2.0 will take is still very much open for discussion. Gone, however, will be the focus on being the “Toughest Tournament in Sports.”
Coker and Kay were both short on details on Wednesday, but were steadfastly committed to moving away from the tournament format the promotion was built on and into a more traditional fight promotion.
That is obviously going to involve an evolutionary process. There are a host of fighters with contracts focused on the tournament format, there are several events already scheduled, contracts with venues, and many other details that Coker and Kay will have to navigate in building Bellator 2.0.
Whatever form the promotion eventually takes, Coker was clear that his goal was to put together fights that “move the needle” both for fans and for Spike TV.