In case you haven’t heard already, it was announced today by Bellator that Bjorn Rebney has departed from the organization and that his replacement is former Strikeforce head Scott Coker. Coker was restricted under his deal with Zuffa from competing with them until March of this year, which was when Viacom began making a play to push Rebney out and to replace him with Coker. The rumors are no longer rumors and it is indeed now fact; Scott Coker is the new head of Bellator and Bjorn Rebney is out.
Now, I’m sure that you are asking yourself; why does this matter to Kickboxing. The answer is a long one, which you already knew because I only give long answers. GLORY is on Spike TV and in case you haven’t noticed, GLORY has had problems gaining much power with Spike TV since they joined up with the network. GLORY’s ratings have been just as good as Bellator’s have been and they’ve done so with a whole lot less backing compared to Bellator.
See, Bellator had a majority share sold off to Viacom a few years ago, making them not only a part of the Spike TV family, but embedded into the very essence of the network. Viacom now had a stake in not only Bellator’s survival, but its growth and prosperity. While I can’t speak firsthand of Bjorn Rebney, there have been reports for years about how he does business and that the way in which he handled Bellator wasn’t much different. I remember balking at the leaked Bellator contracts when the promotion first began, then we all remember the contract disputes with guys like Eddie Alvarez and Ben Askren.
It’s safe to say that not many in the fight world are big fans of Bjorn Rebney. Kickboxing fans shouldn’t be, either. You’d think that with GLORY under the Spike TV umbrella that there were natural crossover appeals for Bellator and GLORY, in fact, better crossover appeal than between Bellator and TNA Wrestling. Yet the crossovers that we saw were between Bellator and TNA Wrestling, TNA being a distant second place to the WWE and has been in constant financial and creative turmoil for years now. Not even pro wrestling fans like TNA Wrestling (you could argue that MMA fans don’t like Bellator, either, but that’s another story).
So why not work with GLORY?
The answer is simple; GLORY is a great, polished and professional product. It offers something exciting and if people watch it, they fall in love with it. Bellator on the other hand has had to struggle for any gains in viewers and at times had to sacrifice their “vision” of tournaments to even attract marginal attention from the MMA press and fan base. We’ve had many reports that Rebney considered GLORY as the competition for Spike’s and Viacom’s affections, not something that he could work with and form mutually-beneficial deals with.
GLORY is on the rise and is doing so through rather modest means, while Bellator has had to dip into Viacom’s coffers to push expensive stars like Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz as real competition. While I can’t speak to boardroom affairs or meetings that happened behind closed doors, there has been a sense that a reason why we haven’t seen more GLORY programming on Spike TV or more support for the GLORY brand had a lot to do with Rebney’s attitude towards Kickboxing and GLORY.
This is why the inclusion of Scott Coker is like a beam of light through a cloudy day for GLORY and Kickboxing fans right now. Scott Coker’s history is one that is rich not only in Mixed Martial Arts, but Martial Arts in general. Scott Coker was a longtime Kickboxing promoter, even working for K-1 on their US events. Before you rag on those events, remember that K-1 gave him extremely limited resources for those events and that any of the good that came for K-1 USA came through Scott and his very talented and motivated team (later on Mike Kogan had similar struggles but did an admirable job as well).
Scott Coker isn’t afraid of Kickboxing, in fact, Scott Coker loves Kickboxing. Kickboxing is how he broke into the world of promoting fights and nobody in the United States did it as successfully as Coker did it. Scott Coker also isn’t afraid of working with other brands on mutually-beneficial arrangements. Strikeforce came into prominence through a landmark deal with EliteXC that brought Strikeforce’s fighters, following and respect to PPV with some of EliteXC’s big names that they had signed, making for truly memorable events. It later led to Strikeforce absorbing EliteXC and becoming the #2 promotion in the world overnight.
Now, do we think that things are going to immediately get better? Probably not. In fact, it might take a while. Scott Coker might bring about change, but Scott Coker still has to answer to Viacom at the end of the day and without a financial stake in GLORY they might not see the value in pushing it too hard. Then again, there is a contract in place and they are paying GLORY for the programming, so it makes sense to maximize the brand to its fullest and I see no reason why Scott Coker and Bellator would turn away a chance at working with another successful, unique brand to help build credibility for both.