Around this time last year, we were on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and the focus was on the first-ever UFC champion, Royce Gracie. Fast forward to a year later and the four-time champion is a brand ambassador for ... Bellator?
One of the pioneers of MMA now joins fellow UFC Hall of Famers Stephan Bonnar, Tito Ortiz, and Randy Couture in embracing the biggest promotional rival to the UFC.
Bellator's newest leading man, president Scott Coker, is making moves fast and furiously to gain momentum and garner star power in and out of the Bellator cage. You can sneer and turn your nose up all you want at the "Tito vs. Bonnar" main event coming up at Bellator 131, but both are UFC guys who made their names fighting inside the Octagon.
People will likely tune in to see them in action, however far past their prime they really are. The "Fight Master" reality show is cancelled, but the people who did watch it, were watching because of Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and Frank Shamrock.
Coker is doing away with the tournament format and needs mass appeal to help promote events and once they move away from the weekly format, they will need it more than ever to maintain ratings on Spike TV.
So if a fighter's contract is up in the UFC and he isn't nailed down to the floor, expect Coker to make a play for him, or her. Yes, there is currently no women's featherweight division in the UFC, but there are more than a few bantamweights who wouldn't mind not having to cut down 10 extra pounds, so don't rule any of those fighters out, either.
There is plenty of room as Marloes Coenen and Annalisa Gucci are set to revive the division on October 24, 2014, and Julia Budd is also on the roster. Both Coenen and Budd have fought under Coker at Strikeforce.
Turning the attention back to the signing of Gracie, it's a huge move for Bellator in terms of attention and credibility. The UFC machine will chug on regardless of who jumps off the train, but for Bellator to gain the first UFC champion and Hall of Famer to push their brand is just a straight-up fleecing.
Dana White was fuming when Couture made a deal with Bellator to be on "Fight Master" and "Gym Rescue." So much so, he had him banned from being in his son Ryan's corner while he was fighting in the UFC. It's hard to imagine White -- along with UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta -- not getting nauseous while looking at pictures of Gracie rocking a Bellator gi.
It's not just UFC legends he's after, either. How about GLORY kickboxers? Just last week, Coker -- a former kickboxing promoter -- brought on No. 1-ranked GLORY middleweight Joe Schilling to take on Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 131. That equates to basically stealing a GLORY fight and putting it inside the Bellator cage.
Coker is after the best fighters on the planet, wherever they come from. Whether they are out in the open or he has to rummage through the MMA garbage like a bum who is after empty cans, the former Strikeforce president is always looking to score some star power and put on exciting fights.
Brock Lesnar's contract is up in the WWE in about six months. Think Coker couldn't find a way to persuade the former UFC heavyweight champion to come over and face lesser competition on Spike TV?
Don't laugh, it almost happened.
All you ever hear about Coker is how much is he is liked and respected by fighters and their managers. The antithesis of Bjorn Rebney, which bodes well for more high-priced talent to give Bellator a try. It will also become even more of a landing spot for those let go by the UFC or other promotions, like Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal, and others, because word travels fast how much they like their new boss.
As we approach 2015, the Bellator roster will continue to turn over and Coker will continue to pick the bones of other promotions, bring in other stars, and continue his effort to bolster the level of talent.
Bellator may be sitting at number two in the MMA stratosphere, but man, Coker is sure going to make things interesting.