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Bellator expects to promote Bellator 242, but will play by ear

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Bellator hopes to promote an event on May 9 in San Jose, Calif., but will re-evaluate at the end of this month.

With a “shelter in place” order in effect for the Bay Area and Viacom employees ordered to work from home for the next 30 to 45 days, Bellator president Scott Coker is taking things as they come.

“Right now, for May 9, it’s business as usual,” he told MMA Fighting. “If the government extends the self-quarantine, we’ll adjust as needed.”

Bellator 242 is set to feature a pair of title fights: Two-division champ Ryan Bader will defend the light heavyweight title against Vadim Nemkov, while welterweight champ Douglas Lima will try to become the promotion’s third champ-champ by beating Gegard Mousasi for the vacant middleweight title.

The sport’s No. 2 promotion pulled the plug on its Bellator 241 event this past Friday at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., after staff and fighters grew uneasy about the prospect of working, Coker said. The promotion had planned to limit attendance at the event to 250 people, per an order from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, but circumstances on the ground rapidly changed.

“We started hearing rumblings about people feeling uncomfortable, my production staff and fighters included,” Coker said. “Then the president said he was making an emergency announcement, which created more panic in people. They thought they might get locked in and not be able to go home. We told our staff if you don’t feel comfortable, make your way home and be with your family.”

The UFC, by contrast, promoted an event in Brasilia, Brazil, to an empty arena after the state governor banned large gatherings of people. After resisting calls to pause its schedule, something every other sporting league had done after the virus was declared a pandemic, the industry-leader on Monday postponed its next three events. The highly anticipated UFC 249 remains on the schedule, though without a location.

Since the shelter declaration in his home state of California, Coker has stayed indoors like everyone else. On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom requested a hospital ship from the federal government, citing a projection that 56.6 precent of the state, or 25.5 million people, would become infected with the coronavirus. The COVID-19 pandemic has infected hundreds of thousands worldwide and more than 11,800 people in the U.S. with 179 deaths.

Coker expects the virus to wreak havoc on the sports and entertainment industry, but dismissed a question of whether an extended shutdown would endanger Bellator’s business.

“I think everybody has to just hunker down and play it by ear, and hopefully the virus will have a timeframe and then hopefully it will get back to normal,” Coker said. “At some point, we’ll look for all systems clear, and then we’ll start promoting fights again.