Bellator MMA was in no danger of going under when its owner, Viacom, made the decision on June 18 to replace Bjorn Rebney as Bellator's chairman and CEO.
But it was lacking relevance.
Scott Coker's hiring as Bellator’s new president will change that. There are few with a better eye for talent than Coker, who was itching to get back into the business.
With Strikeforce in serious debt, hemorrhaging money and his partners unhappy, Coker made the decision to sell the promotion he founded to Zuffa, the UFC's parent company.
But when the remaining Strikeforce fighters were folded into the UFC, there was little for Coker to do. He'd become a wealthy man after the sale, but life wasn't fulfilling in the way he'd grown to love.
"I played golf four times a week, and that was great, and I'd gone to Europe twice a year," Coker said. "But I'd seen all of the places I wanted to see twice. When this opportunity came up, it seemed like a perfect fit."
Bellator desperately needed someone not only with a great eye for talent, but also one who was liked and respected throughout the industry.
That almost perfectly describes Coker. One would have to search far and wide to find anyone with a bad word to say about the man.
Fighters like him. Their managers and trainers like and trust him. And Viacom employees will soon feel the same way.
With Viacom, he has almost the ideal employer: A group with deep pockets and a strong commitment to MMA, as well as a television network that reaches nearly 100 million homes.
He'll work closely with Spike president Kevin Kay and believes he's sitting on a gold mine.
"I was saying to my friend today that it's almost like it was meant to be that with all my years of experience in the fight game for me to help this company get to the next level," Coker said. "The experience I've had with Strikeforce kickboxing, K1, Strikeforce MMA, working with ESPN, working with Showtime, working with Japanese television, working with fighter camps from all over the world has given me a unique perspective.
"This is probably the premier opportunity because of the power of Spike TV to build stars, to build MMA talent, is very powerful. With Viacom behind it, hey, they get it and they want it. So there is a great opportunity there."
MMA thrives on stars. If you don't believe that, simply look no further than the UFC. When the UFC was promoting cards that included fighters like Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Cain Velasquez and Georges St-Pierre at the top, no one was talking about how the company was struggling in its pay-per-view business.
But Jones is the only one of them to have had a fight this year and when 2014 ends, it's likely that Jones will have had just that one fight and Velasquez will have had only one.
With the stars out – and that list doesn't include guys like Anthony Pettis, Gilbert Melendez, Nick Diaz and Junior dos Santos, who have missed all of 2014 so far – the talk arises that pay-per-view sales are down and that the company is struggling.
Stars drive business, and Coker gets that. The reorganization of Bellator that he's planning will make it much more familiar and conducive for stars.
Starting in 2015, Coker is doing away with Bellator's familiar tournament format and going to the matchmaking-based format that Rebney so despised.
There were numerous problems with the tournament format, not the least of which was no time to promote. Bellator's schedule in recent years has been two 10-week tournaments and a six-week summer series. During the tournaments, most of the fighters were not known widely by the casual fan.
Given that the fights were week after week, it made it hard to get the word out.
"When you look at the tournaments Bellator did in the past, it was great action, great fighting, but it didn't create stars out of the tournament," Coker said. "My belief is, given the frequency with which these tournaments went on, week after week after week after week, and the weight divisions sort of overlapped, is that it was confusing for the fan to follow the tournament. And then because the brackets were predetermined, you might not get the fights that people wanted to see.
"I think what we want to see is where our championship fights put star vs. star, so we're going to go back to basics. We're going to build the company with a strong foundation and move forward from there."
That will mean fewer shows – Coker said the plan is for 16 shows in 2015, all of which will be on Spike – but more of them in bigger markets and venues.
Coker is going to spend much of his time looking to increase Bellator's talent base. He said he's been pleasantly surprised by a few fighters already on the roster whom he believes have star potential, but he is going to make it a point to add fighters he believes can move the needle.
That might mean signing a UFC fighter once he or she reaches free agency, but those who have followed Coker's career closely realize that signing ex-UFC stars isn't how he built Strikeforce into a powerhouse.
For the most part, he scoured the world for talent and signed his own fighters that he then developed.
A look at the UFC's roster proves his success. Fighters like Jacare Souza, Luke Rockhold, Gegard Mousasi, Melendez and others made their bones fighting for Coker in Strikeforce long before they went to the UFC.
If he can pull an encore – and few who know him would bet against him – Bellator just may turn into a more fiscally sound version of Strikeforce.
And that's a good thing.
In fact, it's a very good thing.
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