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Wanderlei Silva joins the rogue’s ball at Bellator

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Illustration by Mindenhall Inc.

Update: Wanderlei Silva has been removed from this Bellator promotional appearance.

Bellator is having one hell of a shindig this Friday night when it hosts a fan fest at the Dave & Buster's in San Diego, featuring such MMA icons as Royce Gracie, Frank Shamrock, Randy Couture and Wanderlei Silva. If the UFC were smart, it would stream the festivities live on Fight Pass. The only thing better than this kind of exclusivity is that kind of accessibility.

Because you know what we’re talking about? We’re talking about gamesmanship.

Bellator put out a press release on Monday announcing that "‘The Axe Murderer’ joins Bellator 131 pre-party kick off," which of course felt like a post-Halloween discount sale on costumes. This was Scott Coker’s latest f*ck-all-y’all move. Not only is he countering the UFC’s Saturday night pay-per-view with a FREE show headlined by former UFC stars, now his promotion is becoming a refuge center for the wayward. The idea goes like this: If the bear is there, you might as well go ahead and poke it.

And let’s give back to the fans in the process. Not bad.

Yet wasn’t it just last week that Wandy was talking about fighting Chael Sonnen in Brazil, and -- when politely reminded that he was still under contract with Zuffa and currently/indefinitely banned by the Nevada Athletic Commission for bolting on a random drug test in May -- accused the UFC of "slavery?" It feels like it was. Now here he is popping up at the official beer arcade of Bellator for the express purpose of hoisting a middle finger at the feudal lords across the way.

Only in MMA, baby! Only with Coker 2.0, who expresses so much with that half-smile he wears.

Bellator -- which Dana White will remind you is backed by Viacom and a "40 billion dollar market cap" -- is gaming right now. Associating with Wanderlei Silva after the year he’s had and embracing him as a legend instead of a pariah is some back alley sleight-of-hand. It’s too soon to trumpet Wandy, of course, especially with him running his mouth. The man does have his mythological qualities, but it’s too soon because…it’s too damn soon.

But then again, Wandy fits right in with this new Bellator ideology that basically doesn’t give a damn about your timing, your grievances, or anything to do with your high roads. Bellator is rising from the pile of ash that Bjorn Rebney left behind and doing things differently. Differently in this case means audacity, which trumps dormancy nine times out of ten.

Start with the fact that Tito Ortiz is fighting Stephan Bonnar in the main event on Saturday night at the Valley View Casino Center. Ortiz preceded Coker to Bellator, and to this day feels like he was placed on this earth to antagonize Dana White. The UFC Hall of Famer Bonnar came over to Bellator to "kick Tito’s ass," which would seem to be a White errand. If so, Coker snuffed it by putting the fight together on the same night as UFC 180, Zuffa’s foray into Mexico.

Then there’s this Dave & Buster's pre-party kickoff extravaganza, featuring other UFC Hall-of-Famers, misfits, aperitifs, malcontents, game tokens, castoffs, affordable pitchers, martyrs and icons. The new Bellator is just that fascinating.

Royce Gracie, whose family helped launch the UFC and propel jiu-jitsu into pop culture, marches to the beat of his own drum (and money). Bellator smartly brought him in as a brand identity, because who doesn’t love some Royce Gracie? Frank Shamrock and White get along like betta splendens, yet him and Coker have formed a rich history together going back to the old days in San Jose. Obviously Frank will be there. And Randy Couture has become a sort of Lord Voldemort to Zuffaists. He’s a name you don’t mention.

I’m not in San Diego, but I’d love to get behind the velvet rope with that crew. Imagine Wandy’s loud (barely understandable) tales of the shackles. Imagine Couture, Coker and Royce all playing Mach Storm together, accidentally spilling beer on Frank as they laugh. What a crew. It’s like the old Strikeforce with Fedor Emelianenko and his traveling priests running around in the proximity of Nick Diaz. So many great incongruities in a single room. So many second (and third) chances running through the taps.

The inclination is to sort of brush a finger at Coker for embracing Wandy at a moment where he’s clearly off the hook. Right now Wanderlei is a rogue figure in the game who was essentially banished by the government from fighting again for acting up. But damn, man. MMA began as a wrecking ball to the expanding PC world, and Coker has that old familiar half-smile right now. 

That smile says a lot.