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Bellator Pres. Coker Promises To Sign More Free Agents

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Bellator President Scott Coker is no stranger to competition. He has been in the fight game since 1985 when he promoted his first event for the Professional Karate Association. He went on to serve as one of the first directors of ISKA and headed K-1 USA when it signed a TV deal with ESPN. He founded Strikeforce as a kickboxing organization and promoted their first MMA bout in 1997. The first full MMA card for the promotion came in 2006. That event was a joint venture with EliteXC headlined by Frank Shamrock vs. Cesar Gracie. It sold out with 18,265 fans on hand to see the action, at the time the record attendance for an MMA show in North America. Strikeforce aired shows on NBC, CBS and Showtime long before the UFC’s FOX deal and in case you might have forgotten A number of top fighters like Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold, Clay Guida, Gina Carano, Nate Diaz and Miesha Tate all had their first major arena fights in Strikeforce. Remember when Fedor Emelianenko’s 10-year unbeaten streak came to an end at the hands of current UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum? That was a Scott Coker promoted show. Five short years after it’s first MMA card, when it was sold to Zuffa in 2011, it was the 2nd biggest MMA promotion in the world. Coker was retained by UFC’s parent company for a contractual period of three years. That period ended in April 2014, by June he was announced as the new President of Bellator MMA, replacing founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney. Long story short, he has been around the MMA block many times over and has proved that he has the midas touch when it comes to the promotion side of the business.

Today, Mr. Coker sent shock waves through the MMA world once again when it was announced that Bellator signed highly ranked free agent Benson Henderson. This was not the first such move that Bellator has made in recent years. In April 2015, they made a big splash in the waters of MMA when they signed highly ranked UFC light heavyweight, Phil Davis. In July 2014, they saved another UFC vet from the MMA wasteland when they signed Paul Daley to a long term deal. In fact, if you look at their current roster, the names certainly look a lot more familiar to the casual fan than they did just a few years ago. While some of the names are undoubtedly past their prime, the name recognition that the Bellator roster has now is undeniable: Cheick Kongo, Bobby Lashley, Kimbo Slice, Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie, King Mo, Tito Ortiz, Alessio Sakara, Kendall Groove, Melvin Manhoef, Josh Thompson, Houston Alexander, Josh Neer, Josh Koscheck, Melvin Gulliard, Paul Sass, Nam Phan. Even More impressive to hardcore fans are the names that they have been able to build up on their own. Historically these “homegrown” fighters were always eventually poached by the UFC and other organizations, but now Bellator has begun to be able to retain guys like Liam McGreary, Joe Warren, The Pitbull Brothers Patricky and Patricio, Will Brooks, Daniel Straus, Marcos Galvao, Emmanuel Newton and Linton Vassell.

It is worth noting that for some of the fighters that were just mentioned Bellator was simply the only option out there for them as far as major promotions go, but signing guys like Davis and Henderson says something about what Bellator is willing to pay to attract top talent. For some time now we have been hearing rumblings from fans and fighters alike about the problems with the pay scale for UFC fighters. Bellator is now actively putting their money where their mouth is and evening those scales. These fighters were not just run of the mill guys who signed deals with Bellator, they were prime talent that was taken away from the UFC during the resigning process. Another fact worth noting is that while fans have had some negative things to say about some of the matchmaking in Bellator since Coker took over, you would be hard-pressed to find a fighter that has a bad word to say about him. The same cannot be said for the higher ups at Zuffa.

These types deals where free agents go to the highest bidder will continue and President Coker was on Monday afternoon’s edition of The MMA Hour to talk about the Henderson signing and Bellator’s future plans.

“This guy has done it all,” Coker said. “He’s fought everybody. … He’s such a class act and such a great guy, too. I thought he’d be a great fit for our company.”

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Coker said. “Fighters are fighting out their contacts. They want to negotiate. They really want to see what their value is. We’re going to help them to define what their value is. It’s always good for the industry to have more than one bidder.”

“I’ve always said we’re going to build our roster from the ground up and then buy the free agents from the top down that we want…By the end of this year, I think we’re gonna have a really good roster on our hands and some really big fights ahead of us.”

“All these free agents that are out there aren’t just testing free agency just to test it. I think there are other fighters out there that we’ll get.”

While Coker didn’t mention anyone by name that Bellator might have their eye next, some of the biggest names out there on the open market are Alistair Overeem, Aljamain Sterling, and Matt Mitrione. All of them would draw top dollar from Bellator and it seems plausible that they might decide to go that way. Mitrione has had his ups and downs with the UFC over his comments over male born turned female MMA fighter Fallon Fox, Sterling has been vocal about not appreciating the way other less experienced fighters such as Sage Northcutt get promoted more than him when stating that he is open to entertaining offers on the open market and Overeem has a past relationship with Coker from his fights in Strikeforce.

Now do I think that Bellator is going to take over the UFC anytime in the near future? I wouldn’t go that far just yet, but given enough time anything is possible. Let’s not forget that MMA is still a young sport, it has only been around for 25 years and just think of the changes we have seen in the last two decades. It was only ten years ago that Pride was the dominant force in MMA until an organized crime scandal caused it’s eventual downfall in 2005. Only time will tell what the future holds. Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say, but I would equate Henderson’s move to Bellator to Rome winning the First Punic War at the Battle of the Aegates Islands. Carthage signed a treaty and was eventually absorbed by the Republic of Rome, but in time, Rome also fell.

Two quotes come to mind about the state of affairs with free agents signings. The first being from American Author Nancy Pearcey who once said “Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.” While I believe that to be the truth, if the recent history of MMA has taught us anything, Bellator might only be poising itself to bring top dollar in the future when it gets profitable enough for the UFC to get out its checkbook. Pearcey was a great author, but authors don’t usually make a ton of money. I am afraid that a great businessman, former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch, might have provided a better insight to what the future of the sport holds when he said, “Number one, cash is king… number two, communicate… number three, buy or bury the competition.”

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Bellator 194, Nelson vs. Mitrione Pre-Fight Notes

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Bellator takes over the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut later tonight. The promotion hosts, Bellator 194: Nelson vs. Mitrione from the venue, beginning at 6:30 pm (ET). Bellator 194 marks the 17th trip to the Mohegan Sun Casino. Their last trip, took place a little more than a few months ago in October of 2017, Bellator 185. The first trip to the Connecticut casino, occurred all the way back in April of 2009, and the second ever event held by the promotion, Bellator 2.

Twenty four fighters will make the walk later tonight, giving fans 12 bouts to watch from prelims to main event. Of the 24 athletes set to compete, five make their professional debuts. Peter Nascimento, Mike Kimbel, Pat Casey, Ross Richardson, and Ronnie Leon all fight for the first time, professionally. As amateurs, the group holds a combined record of 18-12. Only Ross Richardson maintained an undefeated amateur record (3-0).

In recent cards past, only some full broadcasts brought forward newly professional fighters. Events such as Bellator 191, 190, and 187, only broadcast short main card. While events like 193, 192, 189, 188, and 186 broadcast full fight cards. Since November of 2017, 15 fighters made their pro debuts with the Bellator promotion. Including Khonry Gracie in his unanimous decision loss to Devon Brock (Bellator 192), and Ty-wan Claxton, in his amazing KO finish of Johnny Bonilla-Bowman in the first round of Bellator 186. Claxton makes his second pro appearance tonight at Bellator 194 against Jose Antonio Perez, whom also fights for the second time professionally.

Upon completion of Bellator 194’s broadcast, 50% of the promotions first round matches in their Heavyweight Grand Prix will be decided. It is nearly impossible to choose, one match-up more interesting than the others. Yet, the Mitrione vs. Nelson match up is not only puzzling to fans and media alike. One half of the main event, at least, was once annoyed by the prospect of fighting his former TUF cast mate. Mitrione spoke to MMAJunkie about his reaction to the match-up, “Well, I asked them, how does that make sense? Roy is arguably the #2 guy in the division… Explain that to me, is there any seeding?…” He continued, “But the more I thought about, the less I really cared. Either I beat Roy when I have the strap, or I beat Roy to get the strap. What the hell difference does it make?”

In one bit of event news, fan favorite flyweight, Heather Hardy missed weight, in what turned out to be an odd set of circumstances. According to Hardy, she believed she made weight, without stripping down and using the towel. It was her understanding that the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation gave her a weight allowance for the bikini top and bottom she wore while on the scale. Hardy weighed in at 126.25 lbs. with the aforementioned bikini top and bottom.

This understanding was not shared by president of Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation, Mike Mazzulli. The president made the decision to record Hardy’s weight without allowing her to disrobe, or take use the extra two hours allotted to make weight. It was his understanding upon examining and attempting to communicate with Hardy whilst she stood on the scale that brought him to the decision. After renegotiation of the bout agreement, Hardy was fined 20% of her purse which goes to her opponent Ana Julaton.

 

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Bellator 194 Weigh Ins Live Video

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Bellator 194 takes place Friday, February 16th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The stacked main card features the second bout in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix matching Roy Nelson against Matt Mitrione. Both former members of the UFC roster, Mitrione and Nelson look to make a further impact in the Bellator Heavyweight division with a potential step towards the divisions championship crown. In the co-main event, MMA veteran Patricky Pitbull takes Derek Campos. The two will most likely battle for the next shot at the promotions Lightweight title, following the Brent Primus (c) vs. Michael Chandler rematch. Other notable bouts on the card include Liam McGeary vs. Vadim Nemkov, Heather Hardy vs. Ana Julaton, and Tywon Claxton against Jose Antonio Perez. Bellator 194 airs live on the Paramount network, main card beginning at 9 pm.

The official weigh-ins took place earlier today, the results are listed below.

Main Card (9 PM ET, Paramount Network)

Roy Nelson (23-14) vs. Matt Mitrione (12-5) Heavyweight bout.

RN: 265 lb.

MM: 255 lb.

Patricky Freire (18-8) vs. Derek Campos (19-6) Lightweight bout.

PF: 155 lb.

DC: 154 lb.

Heather Hardy (1-1) vs. Ana Julaton (2-3) Women’s Flyweight bout.

HH: 126.25 lb*

AJ: 125 lb.

Liam McGeary (12-2) vs. Vadim Nemkov (8-2) Light Heavyweight bout.

LM: 203.75 lb.

VN: 205 lb.

Tywan Claxton (1-0) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (0-1) Featherweight bout.

TW: 145 lb.

JS: 142.25 lb.

Preliminary Card (7 PM ET)

Ross Richardson (3-0, Amateur) vs. Ronie Arana Leon (2-5, Amateur) Lightweight bout.

RS: 155.5 lb.

RL: 156 lb.

Mike Kimbel (4-4, Amateur) vs. Geoffrey Then (0-1) Bantamweight bout. 

MK: 135.75 lb.

GT: 135 lb.

Regivaldo Carlvalho (4-2) vs. Thomas English (6-8) Featherweight bout.

RC: 145 lb.

TE: 146 lb.

Jarod Trice (2-0) vs. Walter Howard (3-4) Light Heavyweight bout.

JT: 205.5 lb.

WH: 203 lb.

Marcus Surin (4-1) vs. Dean Hancock (3-1) Lightweight bout.

MS: 156 lb.

DH: 155.25 lb.

Peter Nascimento (2-1, Amateur) vs. Kastriot Xhema (1-1) Catchweight (165 lb.) bout.

PN: 163.5 lb.

KX 164.5 lb.

Tyler Hamilton (1-0) vs. Pat Casey (7-2, Amateur) Lightweight bout.

TH: 154 lb.

PC: 155.5 lb.

*Heather Hardy missed weight by ¼ of a pound and subsequently fined 20% of her purse. The fine will go to her opponent Ana Julaton.

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Exclusive: Saad Awad looking for the quick knockout at Bellator 193

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Saad Awad makes his return to the Bellator cage Friday as he takes on JJ Ambrose.

The veteran Awad has been with Bellator since 2013, amassing a 9-5 record in the process, with five of those wins coming via knockout. Impressive wins against Will Brooks and Evangelista Santos feature on his 21-9 record.

The heavy-handed striker gets to fight in his backyard of California for the first time in over a year. A native of San Bernardino, Awad is fighting only forty-five minutes from his home, in the co-main event no less.

It’s great,” Awad told MMA Latest about co-main eventing in California. “I’m about forty-five minutes from my house, the arena sold out the week they released the tickets. So I know a lot of people are going to be here and the energy’s going to be really good, it’s going to be great, and it’s going to help me mentally.”

Meeting Awad in the co-main is a fellow California native himself, JJ Ambrose. Ambrose has been fighting since 2005 and has amassed 26 wins in his 13-year career.

He’s a veteran, he kind of flew under the radar,” Awad said. “He’s fought all over the place. I think he brings a lot of experience, a good solid stand-up, and ground game, and wrestling.”

Although Awad highlighted Ambrose’s quality, make no mistake, the “Assassin” believes he holds all the advantages.

I match-up with him great, to be honest, I think my striking is a little bit better, I think I hit a lot harder and my jiu-jitsu’s going to be a bit better, and I’m going to be able to outwrestle him,” Awad explained. “So I think stylistically it’s a bad matchup for him.”

Awad is coming off of a quick KO, one minute, seven seconds, over Zach Freeman. The quick win didn’t come as a surprise to Awad as he always expects to finish his opponents quickly.

I mean, not be cocky, but I expect to get a quick KO against everybody,” Awad said. “When I don’t get a quick KO then I’m like ‘okay something’s wrong’ so then I have to change my gameplan up. So nothing against Zach Freeman, I mean, every fight I go in there looking for the quick knockout.”

Currently, on a solid two-fight winning streak, Awad highlights what exactly the key’s been for him to get this far.

Honestly, I’ve just been training a lot,” Awad said. “I’ve just been training and focusing a lot on little details that I knew were my flaws, and every fight I’ll keep something new. If I see something go wrong in one of my fights, I’ll tweak that out and train it and get a little bit better and then just try and keep improving.”

With a win taking Awad to three victories in a row, it would make sense to offer the veteran a big fight. But Awad doesn’t have a name in mind next, although he doesn’t believe it would matter anyway.

Whoever they give me,” Awad said. “I can ask for fights but they won’t give them to me. “My only thing is trying to get a title fight, I’m not even going to ask for that anymore. I’m going to ask them to keep me busy. I just want to stay busy. I get paid the same no matter who I fight so as long as they keep me busy, that’s what I’m happy for.”

As for 2018, Awad’s goals remain simple.

Keep winning,” Awad said. “Stay busy and keep winning.”

If things go the way Awad expects, fans are in for a treat. As for Ambrose? Not so much.

I’m going to go in there and leave with a knockout, a violent knockout,” Awad said. “Get my hand raised, talk some shit, and leave.”

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