The interest in a potential mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor isn’t just limited to UFC and boxing circles.
Bellator president Scott Coker said this week on The MMA Hour that he is as intrigued in the cross-sport spectacle as anybody, and after watching months of chirping between the two prizefighters, he hopes Mayweather-McGregor ends up coming to fruition — even if it makes his biggest competitor, the UFC, millions of dollars.
“It’s been built up so much, I want to see it,” Coker said. “To me it’s like, I’m the first guy to buy tickets. I’d love to be there. Wouldn’t that be great? I would love to go, because, look, Conor is special. He’s done a lot of great things athletically, but man, he can just talk and talk and talk and talk. And I love that. I love characters.
“I love fighters who become characters, like Chael (Sonnen), or different guys. I love that, and to me, it goes back to my Japanese roots and being at Dynamite and seeing (Antonio Rodrigo) Nogueira fight Bob Sapp. Tell me that wasn’t the first fun fight, right? And to me, it’s like, these guys become characters, and Conor’s become this bigger than life guy. To me, why wouldn’t I want to see it?”
Not long ago, a Mayweather-McGregor match once seemed like a pipe dream. Now, though, it very much appears to be a possibility. When asked about the fight recently on Conan, UFC president Dana White admitted, “I just don't see how it doesn’t happen,” citing the financial windfall a contest between two of combat sports’ biggest-ever draws would generate.
And though McGregor remains a heavy underdog in the hypothetical bout, those long odds won’t prevent Coker from opening his wallet to discover if McGregor can fulfill his promise and shock the world.
“Listen, when two guys are throwing down, you never know,” Coker said. “Some people said, ‘hey, this is like celebrity boxing, this is like a sparring session for Mayweather.’ And to Mayweather’s credit, he’s super hard to hit. Manny Pacquiao couldn’t hit him. People have a hard time hitting him, but all it takes it one or two punches, man. It could change the whole game. So, to me, I hope that fight happens and I hope they get through all the legal or all the political stuff and make it happen, because they’ll get my $99.”
Lawyers and fixed fights
While Coker didn’t mention anyone by name, it was clear that Dan Hardy’s throw-away tweet in January accusing Tito Ortiz vs. Chael Sonnen of being a “choreographed” fight didn’t sit well with Bellator officials.
In fact, Coker indicated that Bellator even pursued legal action against the UFC commentator.
“The whole thing about fixing the fight, that’s total… you know how I feel about that. It’s insulting, honestly,” Coker said.
“And the thing about it, think about it: it always starts with some commentator from the other guys who starts these rumors, right? And I’m like, come on, man. You really think that we’d put 31 years of being a fight promoter on the line, jeopardize our promoter’s license? Because it’s just so ludicrous. It’s almost, I feel like it’s blatant. Like this is an attack. It’s an attack done on purpose. Come on, man. It’s just so silly, it doesn’t make sense.
“So I’m thinking this is a tactical attack by this guy, and so to me it’s like, I told Viacom legal, I said, ‘look, this guy is disparaging us. He is a person who’s in the media, so people will listen to him. So you should send this to our law offices and see what they can do.’ I think they’re still doing something.”
Hardy later walked back his accusations about the Bellator 170 main event, explaining that he was being “fatuous” at the time of his tweet, which he deemed “a rather flippant comment” about a bizarre fight that saw Ortiz defeat Sonnen via first-round submission.
But nonetheless, the situation was not the first time that Coker and Bellator have dealt with allegations of fight fixing, and Coker vowed that the company is no longer putting up with them without a fight.
“When Wanderlei (Silva) said that about the UFC, what did the UFC do?” Coker said. “Because your reputation is on the line, right? Think about it. And that’s really, at the end of the day, what you have. Your reputation. And so to me it’s like, look, we don’t attack people. We’re just trying to grow our business and go do our business, and that’s been my philosophy. And for people to attack us, most of the time I’m just like whatever. But this one, I felt like this is a blatant attack, it has to be addressed, and people need to know that we’re going to take this kind of accusation very seriously.”
“We haven’t talked to him about fighting,” Coker said.
“I think we have a lot on our plate this year, and I’m not sure that fight would fall in that schedule.”
Hughes hasn’t competed since 2011, when he lost via first-round knockout to Josh Koscheck. Coincidentally, Koscheck attempted to mount his own comeback in Bellator this past February, ultimately faltering against unheralded welterweight Mauricio Alonso. And after watching Koscheck suffer his sixth loss in a row, Coker indicated that it could be time for the 39-year-old to hang up his gloves.
“That’s up to him,” Coker said. “Really, that’s a tough one, man. I feel like it’s probably, maybe time to let it go. We had high hopes, honestly. We thought we could put him in, but I think the body just is not there anymore. I think it might be time to let it go, but that’s up to him, because let’s say we say, ‘okay, it’s over, we don’t want to do it, we can’t do it anymore,’ he’s going to go fight somewhere else. He’s going to fight in another league. If he really wants to fight, he’s going to keep fighting.
“I think that we should probably have a sit-down conversation and really talk through it, and say, ‘what are the goals here for the next four or five years? You have a great business.’ He’s got an amazing business. Hey, go focus on the business. Build your next career and teach and train and work out. But to fight on a competitive level, especially in our league or another big one, it’s going to be tough, man. There’s some killers out there.”
Notably, Coker had a different assessment when asked about another aging Josh — Josh Thomson, the 38-year-old former Strikeforce champion who suffered a nasty knockout loss to Patricky Freire on the same show as Koscheck.
“We have a couple more fights for him, I think, if he’s still down with it,” Coker said of Thomson. “But let’s face it, I was even hanging out with Gilbert Melendez at the last fight — we were promoting Keri, his wife — and he goes, ‘you know, I know this is the fourth quarter for me.’ They know. They know the body’s not the same, it doesn’t perform as well, it doesn’t rebound as well. They know it’s in the fourth quarter, and I said, ‘hey, you might have an overtime and come to these games.’ So, you never know.
“Careers can be rebuilt, but when you get the point where the body’s not responding, and just, [guys] are having a hard time moving their arms, I’m talking about some of the other fighters, you just can’t; it’s time, man. It’s time to let it go.”
New network, same old
Change will be coming to Viacom in a major way in 2018 when Spike TV is rebranded as Paramount Network. But according to Coker, the fresh coat of paint won’t impact Bellator’s standing on the channel.
“It doesn’t affect us at all,” Coker said. “Bellator will be on the Paramount Network instead of the Spike TV network.
“We will sit on there. And what I’m excited about is, like this pay-per-view, how many different networks do they have — Viacom, I’m talking about — that can cross-promote this show? So I think you’ll see more promotion on this fight (Bellator 180) than any Bellator fight ever.”