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Scott Coker on UFC antitrust lawsuit: Bellator is not a 'minor league'

Esther Lin, Showtime Sports

One of the major points of the antitrust lawsuit filed against the UFC last week was the standing of other mixed martial arts organizations in the United States. In order to argue the UFC is a monopoly, the complaint asserts that every other MMA promotion is lesser.

In particular, the lawsuit calls Bellator, regarded as the No. 2 MMA company in the world, "a minor league."

Bellator president Scott Coker told MMA Fighting this week that he disagreed with that claim.

"Do I think Bellator is a minor league?" Coker said. "The answer is no."

Coker would not say whether or not he believed the UFC was a monopoly or what he thought of the lawsuit filed against his chief competitor. But he did defend Bellator, where the former founder and CEO of Strikeforce has acted as boss since June.

"I would say four years ago, people would say that about Strikeforce," Coker said of the "minor league" distinction. "They'd say, 'Oh, UFC has the best fighters, the best champs.' That can be debated. Look at Luke Rockhold, what he's done. Look at Daniel Cormier, what he's done. Look at Tyron Woodley, OSP. The names go on and on and on of all the great Strikeforce fighters that have done really well over there."

Current UFC fighter Cung Le and two former UFC competitors Jon Fitch and Nate Quarry are the names listed as plaintiffs and there are reportedly other athletes involved. Two other former UFC fighters, Dennis Hallman and Javier Vazquez, filed an identical suit against the UFC, according to Bloody Elbow, and Brandon Vera and Pablo Garza, another pair of former UFC veterans, did the same this week.

The main points are that the UFC has used anticompetitive methods (for instance, killing off competitors) to maintain an illegal monopoly and that fighters are treated -- and paid -- poorly because the UFC has eliminated other options. The other promotions in the U.S., including Bellator, are painted as second tier.

"Bellator athletes lack significant public notoriety, in part because it is a ‘minor league,'" the filing states. "Bellator's bout purses, gate revenues, attendance figures, merchandise sales, television licensing fees and ad rates are minimal compared to those obtained by the UFC."

Coker said he did not read the complaint and didn't watch the press conference, so he could not comment on anything specific. He did want to make it clear that Bellator MMA and parent company Viacom have nothing to do with the antitrust suit despite the filing occurring in Coker's hometown of San Jose, where Strikeforce was formerly headquartered. The involvement of Le, a friend of Coker and former Strikeforce star, is purely a coincidence, Coker said.

"I think they run a great business," Coker said. "It'll be interesting to see what happens with this class-action lawsuit, which by the way we are not a part of. People thought that because it was San Jose and Cung is involved we're behind it, that's not true."

While Coker would not give an opinion about the litigation, he did staunchly defend Bellator from the "minor league" description.

"Labeling a league based on the past can be misleading, because the fighters that are here today fighting for us are gonna be the next Luke Rockholds, the next Daniel Cormiers," Coker said. "They're going to be the next stars of MMA."

Bellator 131 on Spike TV, which went head-to-head with UFC 180 on pay-per-view, peaked at more than two million viewers, beating its competition. The main event between Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar was the most watched MMA fight of the year on cable. Coker admits the ratings were "above expectations."

Furthermore, Coker vows Bellator will be in the running for any major MMA free agent, including former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and current Hollywood starlet Gina Carano, if they become available.

"In today's marketplace, it sure is a lot better to have two leagues that can afford you and pay for you," Coker said. "Now you have a second bidder in the marketplace. Before, I think after Strikeforce was bought out, it kind of became a one-promotion bidding opportunity. Now that there's two, it's going to make the fighters much happier and the managers much happier."

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