The Bellator MMA president believes Bellator 138, featuring a main event between Kimbo Slice and Ken Shamrock, could eclipse Bellator 131 as the highest rated card in organization history, he told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
"Tito Ortiz set the benchmark with the Bonnar fight and we'd like to beat that record," Coker said. "That's a milestone."
Ortiz-Bonnar averaged 1.8 million viewers and peaked at 2 million. Not only was it the highest rated fight in Bellator history, but also the biggest drawing fight in MMA on cable in 2014. In the key male 18-34 and 18-49 demographics, Ortiz-Bonnar bear every MMA fight in 2014 other than Benson Henderson vs. Josh Thomson, which took place on big FOX, according to MMAFighting.com's Dave Meltzer.
The buildup to that fight was slammed by the hardcore MMA audience, because it featured Bonnar cutting a WWE-style promo on Ortiz in the Bellator cage accompanied by a masked man that turned out to be Ortiz's former training partner Justin McCully. The whole thing was silly, but the big names of Ortiz and Bonnar -- both UFC Hall of Famers -- and their hatred of each other moved the needle.
Slice-Shamrock, which takes place Friday in St. Louis, is similar. Both are massive names, for better or worse. Slice is still one of the best ratings draws in MMA history from his days in EliteXC and The Ultimate Fighter, even though he's never beaten anyone of substance in the sport. The YouTube streetfighting sensation just has that "it" factor that gets casual fans to respond.
Meanwhile, Shamrock is one of the biggest names in the history of MMA even though he hasn't had a major win in more than a decade. He's also a UFC Hall of Famer and one of the pioneers of MMA, fighting at UFC 1 and once holding the Pancrase championship.
Shamrock is 51 years old and Slice is 41. Neither man has fought in MMA since 2010. There's no way it will be a high-level fight, but it will surely be a ratings draw based on past history.
Coker said the entire thing came together last November when Shamrock was at a promotional event for Bellator 131. He told Coker at the time that he wanted to settle the score with old rival Royce Gracie, who works as an ambassador for Bellator. Coker knew that wasn't going to happen, but stored that information away.
When Bellator signed Slice earlier this year, he called Shamrock and that was also a fight he wanted badly. The two were supposed to fight at EliteXC: Heat in 2008 before Shamrock suffered a cut and had to pull out the day of the fight.
"[Shamrock] said, 'I would love to fight that guy,'" Coker said. "'I've been waiting.' I could just tell it's been wearing on him all these years."
Slice wanted the fight, too, and it was on. The two men do not like each other and have promoted the fight and their rivalry well over the last few months.
When Shamrock couldn't go back in 2008, his protégé Seth Petruzelli stepped in and knocked Slice out. That led to the demise of EliteXC, which had banked on Slice being a huge star. Strikeforce, run by Coker, ended up buying up the assets of that company and now it has come somewhat full circle.
"Here we are back so many years later putting that fight together," Coker said. "There's a circle of life here to this fight. And I'm excited to watch it. I'm telling you right now, there's some heat between these guys. These guys do not like each other. I've been around a lot of fighters in my career. Usually they can talk the talk, they can have the little publicity scuffle or whatever. This is real. There was times where I was like these guys are gonna fight right now."
They'll wait until Friday, though. Coker doesn't foresee any odd stuff happening like last time. He expects it to go down -- and possibly set a new Bellator ratings record.
"I think it could do it," he said.