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Scott Coker explains why Bellator did not get a last-second replacement to fight Fedor Emelianenko

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Bellator 172 photos
Fedor Emelianenko addresses the fans during Bellator 172.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Chael Sonnen was in the building and ready to fight. Tito Ortiz was there, too, making overtures on Twitter to come out of a short retirement. Muhammed Lawal was down to scrap.

There were some options available to fight Fedor Emelianenko at Bellator 172 on Saturday night in San Jose, Calif. Ultimately, Bellator could not make anything work in a small window of time and the card’s main event had to be scrapped.

On Saturday morning, Matt Mitrione, Emelianenko’s scheduled foe, had to go to the hospital due to a case of kidney stones. Things were up in the air until 3 p.m. local time, just minutes before fights started at the SAP Center. At that point, Coker said Bellator had no choice but to postpone Emelianenko’s promotional debut. If the planned main event was canceled, Bellator had to give fans who bought tickets time to get a refund, per California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) rule.

Sonnen was perhaps the most legitimate potential late-notice replacement, especially since he already has a CSAC license since he fought just last month, falling to Ortiz. But it just didn’t fit what Bellator wanted to do.

“We have other plans for Chael and it would have interfered in that,” Coker said at the post-fight press conference. “It just got complicated and then the timeframe. I feel like we ran out of time. We set a deadline internally. … We had an obligation to the consumer to let the know this fight was going to be off.”

Coker added that Emelianenko was not privy to any discussions about a potential new opponent like a Sonnen or an Ortiz. The MMA legend didn’t see too enthusiastic about that prospect anyway.

“It’s not really right to change the opponent just a few hours before the fight at such a short notice,” Emelianenko said through a translator. “That’s why my decision and the decision of Bellator was to postpone the fight.”

Emelianenko said he would be ready to fight again in May or June. Coker said the Bellator team would have to get with him to determine exactly what — and who — will be next for the Russian icon. It’s unclear if it’ll be Mitrione.

“He’s looking forward to getting back in the cage,” Coker said. “And we’re looking forward to having him fight. So I think in the next couple months, Fedor will be in the cage for Bellator against an opponent.”

Coker said he spoke with Mitrione and his team Thursday and he was having some issues in his midsection, but the feeling was that it was just indigestion. Then Friday at weigh-ins, Coker said Mitrione told him he had a “twinge” in his side.

“I just thought he was nervous,” Coker said.

But around 10 a.m. on Saturday, Coker said he began to get text messages from Bellator personnel that something was amiss. Coker told his people to get Mitrione to a doctor. Emelianenko said he first heard something was wrong about 1 p.m. At 3 p.m., when tests did not come back in Mitrione’s favor, the bout was called.

“The first emotion was that it was a big surprise when Scott told me that Matt got to the hospital,” Emelianenko said. “But that’s the life and we have to accept it the way it is. That could happen with anybody at any moment.”

It was a crushing loss for Bellator on a night it was supposed to be celebrating one of its biggest events ever, riding a high off another success last month at Bellator 170 in Los Angeles when Ortiz defeated Sonnen and then confirmed his retirement. Coker admitted this one is going to smart a bit.

“The fans of San Jose came out to support us,” Coker said. “I feel really good about that and we’ll see on Monday or Tuesday how the ratings do. But let’s face it. This is a big, big fight for us and it didn’t happen. So, is Fedor happy about it? No. Are we happy about it? No.”