CHICAGO – If a major promotion is willing and the broadcast deal makes sense, Bellator president Scott Coker is willing to cross-promote.
History has shown major MMA promotions generally don’t go head-to-head with one another, but Bellator has been an outlier. Since Coker took over the reigns in 2014, Coker has put on events with Glory Kickboxing and RIZIN.
Bellator-RIZIN cross-promotion cards have turned into an annual year-end event, but this year’s is a little different. Rather than one promotion lending the other a few fighters, the entire main card is head-to-head matchups between some of the promotion’s biggest and most talented stars.
“I’m like in my head, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?'” Coker told MMA Junkie and other reporters Thursday ahead of Bellator 288, as he spoke about his conversation with RIZIN boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s the bushido way. It’s the warrior way.’ I said, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘ I’m going to bring A.J. (McKee). I’m going to bring ‘Pitbull.’ I’m going to bring a bunch of killers, you know. Get ready.’ He’s like, ‘Bring it, bring it.’ The more I started learning about their fighters, I said, ‘Oh. This guy is pretty good. You better not underestimate him.’ I want to go 5-0 with Sakakibara – 5-0.”
A.J. McKee, Patricio Freire, Juan Archuleta, Kyoji Horiguchi, and Gadzhi Rabadanov will represent Bellator, while Roberto de Souza, Kleber Koike Erbst, Soo Chul Kim, Hiromasa Ougikubo, and Koji Takeda will serve as their RIZIN opponents.
“If my guys take it lightly, I think they are going to have their hands full,” Coker said. “I think if they take it seriously and they really get down there (it’ll be different). I’m telling my guys, ‘Hey, we’ll pay for you to get there early. We’ll pay for your hotels to get there early. Don’t fly into this four days before the fight, like (when) they bring RIZIN fighters over right now. You’re going to be there 10 days early (or) 14. Whatever you need, we’re going to support you because I want to go win these fights. This is like league vs. league. It’s never been done before.”
The show, which takes place Dec. 31 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, marks the first of a two-show agreement between the promotions. The second leg will take place in 2023, potentially at a neutral location.
“Next year, it’ll be a Bellator fight,” Coker said. “It doesn’t have to be on New Year’s Eve. It can be any time. It’ll be a Bellator fight, fighting their top guys, their top two or three guys, maybe the top guys who are available. Then, they’ll fight in a cage. They’ll find under Bellator rules, not the Japanese rules. Then, we can bring our own undercard and that sort of thing.
“… I think Hawaii might be a good spot to do that. Meet halfway. We just haven’t talked about the logistics or timing. We wanted to get through our schedule and the year and then next year we can sit down and talk about that.”
Bellator returns Friday with Bellator 288, which takes place at Wintrust Arena with the main card on Showtime after prelims on MMA Junkie. For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Bellator 288.