Bellator boss Scott Coker is in France this week to attend the big event this Friday night in Bercy with Cheick Kongo against Ryan Bader for the heavyweight title. The American leader gave an interview to RMC Sport to discuss the development of his organization in our country and the prospects for the future.
Scott Coker, Bellator returned to Paris a year and a half after his first stint. How happy are you to make this comeback with full audience capacity compared to October 2020?
When we arrived in 2020, we were very happy to do it because it was the first big MMA event in France. We thought we would fill the room in half due to restrictions at Covid but when the event took place, we only allowed 1000 people. But by that time, we had already done a lot of fighting in front of empty rooms and having these 1000 spectators made a lot of noise made me wonder if this wasn’t the model of the future because Covid was already there. almost a year. We’re back now, Covid seems to be behind us, we’re still hoping, and having this room makes us very excited. Mainly by bringing in Cheick Kongo for a title fight against Ryan Bader, who has been champion for several years and a well -known American fighter facing the greatest fight of his career. This is the second match of the two we’ve tried to put together in three years, so there’s so much excitement for this return to Paris.
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In your mind, does this rematch really need to take place in Paris?
Of course! When we received the green light from the French government for our first event here, in 2020, we thought of doing something with Bader but it didn’t become possible because the time was not right. And when we decided to come back and we thought about the menu, we told ourselves that was all we could do. This is the fight to do because the first is controversial: Cheick said Ryan put a finger in his eye, Ryan said it was an uppercut … We will finally close this debate on this second fight . Whoever wins is the winner.
What do you expect in terms of the environment with such a conflict in the program?
I think it’s going to be crazy. One thing people should remember about France: this country has a long and great history in martial arts. I remember watching games with Bercy from the United States, on ESPN, during the time of Rick Roufus or Peter Cunningham. There were a lot of great kickboxing fights being held there during that time. Martial arts is embedded in the culture of the country, people like it and society accepts it. When I think of the people in front of us, I know they will be on fire for Cheick but I think, they will also respect Ryan for everything he did. But Cheick is at home, of course, and the hearts of the fans are on him.
Challenging for a world title from an organization like Bellator at age 46 and at home, where his discipline has long been discarded, is a very good icing on the cake of Congo’s long career…
Cheick has a huge task but here’s a fighter who shouldn’t be judged by his age. I believe he has won nine of his last ten fights if we remove the ‘no-contest’ from the first fight against Bader (nine out of eleven exactly, which also included a loss against Timothy Johnson at the first Bellator in Paris in 2020). , editor’s note). And have you seen it? He is in good shape. He could fight back. If you look at history, George Foreman and other boxers his age did it. This is the first time he’s done it in MMA, and it’s a big challenge, but if he can do it at home, in front of French MMA fans and community, it’s going to be incredible. But fight is fight and you never know what will happen. In MMA, things can change in a second.
If the health situation remains good, how often do you plan to return to Paris, and even to France in general, in the future?
We want to go back to Paris at least once a year for a big show. But we also mentioned the possibility of arranging matches in another city, for example Marseille or elsewhere, for slightly less important shows. There are many great French and European fighters. We are building business in Europe and France will definitely be part of the rotation. If we look at the event on Friday night, we have eleven French fighters on the card. Let’s watch them, be given a chance, keep working and sign other fighters that we think we can develop. We are not here to go and leave. We want to build business but also fighters in France.
At 46, Congo’s career is more behind than in front of him. Are you looking for a new French star to replace him as Bellator’s headliner in our country?
Of course. Combat sports transcend boundaries. If you are a good fighter, no matter where you come from, people will respect you and want to see you fight. In Paris, we are also looking for the next French athletes to sign. We do the same when in London, Tel-Aviv, Dublin, Tokyo, Milan, Rome, etc. Friday night’s event was not only broadcast in France and the United States but in 158 countries around the world. We have already arranged about fifty cards in different territories around the planet. We will continue our expansion to the various countries we are thinking of for next year, such as the Nordic countries for example. The mission is simple: we are looking for the best fighter in the world for Bellator.
The development of MMA in France has been very strong since its legalization in 2020. In your opinion, can this country become one of the most important in the world in this discipline in the coming years?
I believe, yes. This country has had one of the best cultures for martial arts in the last thirty years and I think it will be a great country for MMA. This discipline is the continuation of the growth of martial arts and their evolution. Previously, everything was separate, judo, karate, etc., but MMA has proven that you have to be good at everything to succeed. It brings it all together and that’s why people love MMA. There is nothing better for self -defense.
Compared to your first show here in 2020, do you feel that MMA culture has developed more in France?
Really. People are excited that you are here. They see that we are interested in their community, that we have signed some of their warriors … And it won’t stop here. The great fighters that we discover here, we will fight them all over the world, in the United States, in Europe, in Asia. People are excited to see it. Not so far away, at the beginning of the discipline, MMA was not accepted on television channels. It was forbidden then, too. But now, almost every channel has it in the United States. Here, in France, it is already on TV and I have the impression that it is well received. People better understand what is going on in the cage. Now, for people between 18 and 25 … When I grew up their age, in combat sports, it was all about boxing. There are still boxers but many of today’s youth are training in MMA.
You often mention the idea of fights between organizations, for example in the UFC. Will you be open to doing this with local organizations in France?
Of course. I will be open to such a thing. One of the things I talked to my team about was the fact that we can’t be everywhere at once, but we can work with local organizations, for example funding an eight-fighter tournament in a particular category and the winner. can face one of our warriors or sign with us. We can think of a form of cooperation in this direction. We are already doing this in some countries. We haven’t talked to anyone yet but it’s something we don’t object to.
If Kongo beat Bader and announced his retirement by putting his gloves in the middle of Bercy’s cage, would you be glad for him or be disappointed that he couldn’t see to defend his belt?
It will be a fantastic way to end his career. It’s really amazing. But I know the fighters. When they became kings, they did not want to abdicate so easily. It would be fantastic but it’s really up to him. It is a private choice, for each individual, and only he or she can answer that.
Will your door stay open as long as he wants to fight you?
He’s been in our squad for almost twenty games. And his battles are always great. He’s always in good shape, he puts on a show. And when you start to think he’s going down and it’s time to hang up, he comes back with a big win, like against Sergei Kharitonov in August 2021. Action ‘on you, on me’ and I thought he’d lose but in time I said that, boom, the fight was in his favor. That’s the thing with the overweight. They’re so big, so powerful, they can end you with one hit. It will be his decision really.
“Fighters have to have a choice”
How can you compete with the other big global organization, the UFC, which is getting a lot of MMA media attention?
Bellator is growing. Worldwide, we are proving that we can have great battles, fill rooms, sign TV and sponsorship contracts, be a profitable organization and be owned by a major media conglomerate, without it being the UFC. And if you are combative, hopefully we can continue to thrive and be successful because Coke needs Pepsi. If there was only one organization that controlled all the wallets and all the warriors, the salary of the latter would go down. Fighters have to have a choice and we bring it to them.
Some in the industry believe the UFC is beyond its highest level and things will re -balance with other organizations in the future. Do you agree?
Some statistics show that, in fact. They have a great organization that has done a lot of great things for this sport. In fact, they give others a chance to grow. They will continue to do their thing and I am just focused on our growth. When a company like Paramount Global, formerly Viacom, is behind us and MMA, we know it’s a very good thing for our brand. Our goal is to continue to grow but we are really on the right path because our growth has been great in two or three years.