Should Strikeforce Buy Bellator?
How Would It Benefit Both Promotions?
As I'm sure you have read, Strikeforce founder and CEO Scott Coker and Bellator Fighting Championships co-founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney are currently engaged in war of words brought on by the recent rumors concerning potential "super-fights" between the rival companies.
For some time now, Rebney has urged Coker to consider booking the co-promotional bouts. The Bellator CEO brought the idea to the attention of the general MMA public on October 28 following the conclusion of Bellator 34 claiming he had been in contact with Coker since October 21 relating to the possibility of a fight between his company's Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez and Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez.
While Rebney said he had sent Coker "a dozen different text messages and voicemail messages", the Strikeforce founder denied the claims telling Sherdog the following day, "Bjorn’s saying he’s texting me 11, 12 times an hour. I’m not sure if he’s trying to be a level-five clinger or anything like that, but I haven’t received one text from the guy. I’m not sure what the motivation is, but maybe it’s just his way of staying in the media, staying in the press.”
Around the same time it also became clear that Bjorn Rebney and Bellator officials were interested in two other potential cross-promotional contests- one between respective Middleweight Champions Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce) and Hector Lombard (Bellator) and the other featuring the companies' Welterweight Champions Nick Diaz (Strikeforce) and Ben Askren (Bellator.)
Coker's response remained consistent, telling Inside MMA, "It's something that Bjorn has chosen to take up publicly and come after us. Really, if he wants to put something together, he should call me direct." While it may seem that Bellator is the only interested party, Scott Coker wanted to make his position clear in his interview with Inside MMA. Saying, despite his dissatisfaction with the callouts, "You know what, we're not opposed to the fight, but the circumstances and the timing have to be right."
The concept of co-promoting isn't new to the Strikeforce founder, who opened up his company as a kickboxing promotion in 1985. In the past, the company has sanctioned collaborative bouts or made business arrangements with Dream, M-1 Global, and the now-extinct EliteXC. However, Coker, who obviously believes his promotion is superior and is the UFC’s strongest competition, does not appreciate the pressure currently being levied by Bellator.
While Bellator's roster is stacked with young, prodigal talents like Alvarez, Askren, Lombard, and Heavyweight Champion Cole Konrad, I believe any decision will ultimately be dictated by Strikeforce, who has invariably more well-known names such as Diaz, Souza, Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem, MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Fabricio Werdum, Renato Sobral, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, and Shinya Aoki.
So now that the survival of the proposal of Bellator Vs. Strikeforce "super-fights" is in the latter's hands, what is the right decision for Scott Coker and his brand?
I would go as far to say there is some truth in Coker's response relating to Bellator's motivation. As the Strikeforce decision-maker mentioned in calling Bellator a potential "level-five clinger", these fights would ensure Bellator major television exposure.
In his Inside MMA interview, Coker said of his rival's matchmaking, "There's a lot of business issues that people would not normally think about. I don't blame [Rebney] because who is Eddie [Alvarez] going to fight in Bellator now? Eddie beat Roger Huerta, and if you look at their roster, I'm not sure who he fights." As hinted at in the preceding statement, Bellator's stock of proven fighters and quality title challengers is becoming increasingly thin.
Other than generating interest from MMA insiders and more involved fans and a possible minor bump in revenue, any positive effect on Strikeforce remains unseen. Obviously, the proposed "super-fights" would benefit Bellator Fighting Championships greater than Strikeforce.
Despite the interest this story has garnered and possibilities that would emerge, this is not an agreement Scott Coker should be compelled to make. I believe an alternative exists for his California-based promotion.
If financially possible, Coker should not rule out a purchase of Bellator Fighting Championships. Not only would this positively impact Strikeforce but also the young Chicago-based promotion Bellator.
In the American MMA landscape, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is far and away and without a doubt the number one promotion. Strikeforce is unanimously considered the challenger to the throne, and with WEC's absorption into the UFC, Bellator is a distant third.
It is well-known and widely accepted that Strikeforce's primary goal is to amass and cultivate enough talent and attract enough attention to legitimately threaten the UFC's stronghold in the United States. On the other hand, besides survival, Bellator's long-term plans aren't all too clear. While they are currently generating enough cash to sustain their business, it could easily be assumed they have some intention of competing with the country's top two promotions somewhere down the line.
With the talent and funds the two runner-up companies have separately, the UFC will find no struggle in continuing to overshadow all competitors and grow their brand to a near monopoly in the States. However, if Strikeforce were to purchase Bellator, I believe the current advantage the Ferttita Brothers and Dana White boast would shrink to a great degree.
How would the new company actually be conceived, and what would their game plan for mainstream success be?
First off, anyone would be naive to think Bjorn Rebney would simply hand over his business to Scott Coker on the mere basis that Strikeforce is the bigger shark in the tank. At the moment, Bellator does not seem to be experiencing any financial distress, as a matter of fact, it is obvious they are more than satisfied with their performance. If Rebney was to be offered a high-level position in Strikeforce, guaranteed automatic unification bouts, and also given a large sum of money, the proposal might be to much for Rebney, along withe co-founder Brad Esptein to refuse.
If the deal is indeed secured, it would be imperative for the revamped Strikeforce to immediately begin the development of their strategy to unseat the UFC. The number one priority should be countrywide exposure, and there is no better outlet for advertising in America than television. Strikeforce already has a strong relationship with the premium channel Showtime, but for this new-mega power, the channel's 16 million subscribes is nowhere near a desirable amount.
A broadcast deal is most definitely required. Even though Strikeforce did have a deal for up to four events to be televised by CBS, after the infamous Nashville brawl on their second station broadcast in April, negotiations to continue the arrangement have stalled. Strikeforce's relationship with "America's Most Watched Network" must be repaired quickly before UFC is able to complete a rumored broadcast deal.
Along with a nation television contract, Strikeforce would have to produce pay-per-views on the regular basis such as the UFC has done for a decade in order to increase revenue.
Coker and Rebney would also need to consistently book intriguing and frequent title fights, which is the opposite of the current matchmaking. That would mean convincing Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion to commit to mixed martial arts, a must-do for Strikeforce in the present time and this fantasy. With the new influx of Bellator fighters and increased exposure of younger Strikeforce talent, the number of interesting title fights would be vast.
The last major priority would be to establish a recognizable brand. The UFC's success was greatly spiked with the success of the Ultimate Fighter, the show that helped invent the company's image. Strikeforce would need to produce its own unique representation. Opposed to the underground feel and hard-nosed approach of the UFC, Coker should look to develop a sleek, polished business model and add more of an athletic tone to his promotion. If Strikeforce is able to perpetrate itself as a true athletic competition, a new body of fans could potentially be attracted. The establishment of this brand would be the most difficult aspect of the purchase.
In closing, many eyes have been directed to Strikeforce and Bellator, who trail far behind the UFC, in the wake of recent "super-fight" rumors. Many believe these fights would be in the best interest for the two promotions. However, I believe a purchase of Bellator by Strikeforce or a merger of the two companies (a conversation for another day) is the best conceivable option for Scott Coker and Bjorn Rebney. Regardless of what actually occurs, for MMA fans, this could get real interesting, real fast.