Another major Bellator event, another Bellator event not being headlined by a title fight.
What gives, Scott Coker?
The Bellator boss appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday to clear up some of the controversy over why a World Heavyweight Grand Prix opening round bout between veterans Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Chael Sonnen has been granted the main event slot at Bellator 192 this Saturday over a welterweight title clash between defending champion Douglas Lima and former UFC star Rory MacDonald.
This is the second straight time that a bout featuring the popular Sonnen has taken precedent over a championship fight. Last June at Bellator NYC, his grudge match with Wanderlei Silva headlined the show while a trio of title fights failed to place in even the pay-per-view’s co-main event slot (a light heavyweight title bout featuring Ryan Bader and Phil Davis did close out the Bellator 180 card, which aired on Spike TV before Bellator NYC).
In defending the decision, Coker essentially paraphrased a famous Shaggy song: It wasn’t me.
“I think that you guys assumed that (the Lima-MacDonald) fight was going to be last and it could have went either way, but there’s a lot of people that do a lot of, I want to say analytics and things like that up at Viacom and it came down to me that (‘Rampage’-Sonnen) should be the last fight, so when TV says this is what they want, then that’s what they get,” Coker explained.
He went on to say that it shouldn’t matter too much to fans since they have the choice to stick around and watch both fights anyway and that all four competitors have told him that they’re excited to step into the cage regardless of where they’re positioned on the card.
Another decision that was apparently out of Coker’s hands was the departure of Jimmy Smith. The longtime Bellator color commentator parted ways with the promotion in December and is set to join the UFC broadcasting team this year.
Coker laughed at the suggestion that he calls every single shot for Bellator and again pointed to his superiors when asked about Smith leaving.
“It was a network decision,” Coker said. “When we were (running the Strikeforce promotion) with Showtime, I didn’t ask, ‘Could so-and-so be a commentator or a play-by-play guy?’ It was like hey, here’s the team. TV traditionally handles the broadcast part of that and I’m happy that they do. It’s something that they’re very good at and they felt that they wanted to move forward in another direction and that’s what they did.”
“TV” in this case refers to the newly-branded Paramount Network, formerly known as Spike. Bellator 192 will mark the promotion’s first event under this banner, and Coker sounded thrilled at his fighters potentially being seen in networks across the globe in association with Paramount and parent company Viacom.
Even with that growing international presence, Coker was unable to provide much information on what Bellator plans to do about its fans in the U.K. having to deal with tape-delayed shows, but acknowledged that the situation needs to change.
“100 percent, we need to fix that,” Coker said. “It’s complicated because you have a network that has the rights to it and they have a certain day slot that they want to use it for or they want to do it on a certain day and sometimes that’s tape-delayed 24 hours, or that’s tape-delayed 12 hours, but fans want to see it now. We’re talking internally and we’re trying to work it out. It’s on a case-by-case basis because a lot of the networks have already tied up a lot of the rights to the product.”
For now, Coker’s sole focus is on having a successful debut on the Paramount Network. He dismissed the rumors that putting “Rampage” and Sonnen in the main event was a last-minute attempt to drive ticket sales, stating that Bellator 192 has already outpaced last January’s record-breaking Bellator 170 card that was headlined by Sonnen and Tito Ortiz.
Nor was Coker interested in promoting any rivalry between Bellator and his former employers over at Zuffa, LLC, who just so happen to be holding a pay-per-view on Saturday, UFC 220.
“I think if you look at our past history, we have traditionally done I want to say 80 percent of our shows on Friday night and we’re happy to do shows on Friday night, it’s just that we have a business to run, they have a business to run and this is a fight that just happens to conflict,” Coker said. “We didn’t know when we booked the date that they had a pay-per-view date. We just said, ‘Hey, this is the date that’s only available that’s open for Paramount and it’s the launch of the network, it has to be on this weekend, and the venue was available and the venue happens to be in California, which we’re not going to go on a Friday night in California, which would be a terrible mistake (due to traffic).
“So we said let’s go on Saturday night and then it ended up going head-to-head, but that wasn’t something that was planned. We’re not that company where we’re going to be targeting different events. We’re just going to go do our own thing, run our own business, and this one just happened to have a conflict.”