HOUSTON--The writing has been on the wall for quite some time that Scott Coker was seeking to put together a kickboxing promotion for Spike TV -- even when GLORY was still a part of the channel -- and late last week Bellator Kickboxing became official.
Bellator president Scott Coker announced the first show will take place on Sat., April 16, 2016 at the Pala Alpitour in Torino, Italy, and will be co-promoted with Bellator Kickboxing as well as the Italian promotion, Oktagon Kickboxing. The main event will be Melvin Manhoef vs. Alexandru Negrea and the show will air on Spike at 9 p.m. ET on tape delay. Earlier in the day, Spike will air Bellator 152 live at 3 p.m. ET.
Coker was joined by Spike TV Senior Vice President of Sports, Jon Slusser, on the dais at Thursday's (Feb. 18, 2015) press conference inside the Toyota Center, as well as Oktagon president Carlo Diblasi and fighters Joe Schilling, Raymond Daniels, Kevin Ross, Anastasia Yankova and Keri Melendez, who were all announced as part of the new promotion.
There are many questions to be asked about this new kickboxing venture as well as why the last one with GLORY didn't continue. It seems more or less that their desire was just do their own thing under the Viacom and Bellator umbrella.
"When the GLORY relationship ended, we had a conversation," Coker told MMAmania.com. "Are we going to go look for another promotional company to bring in? And I said, 'you know what, why don't we just do it ourselves?' I think the infrastructure is here. The television network is here. We know how to do this. We are better than everybody because this kickboxing business is something I've been doing for a long time. It's something that I felt we could do properly. Let's get our fighters that want to fight kickboxing that are fighting MMA right now and let them fight on both sides of the ledger let's say."
"We still talk to the GLORY guys, Slusser told MMAmania.com after the press conference. "It's all good. We see an opportunity with the infrastructure and the platform we are already on. Here we are sitting on assets and great people and infrastructure that is really first class and why not take advantage of it to squeeze more efficiency out of it in a sport that we know has potential and we know has a future for the U.S. audience that it just doesn't have today."
It was also Coker's history with kickboxing that made the decision an easy one to make, according to Slusser, who called Coker the "best promoter in the business" and sang his praises.
"We are thrilled to partner with him on Bellator Kickboxing," Slusser said. "We love kickboxing. With kickboxing, you need to build recognizable stars that the U.S. audience cheers for. No one is better suited for that task than Scott Coker. You've seen with Strikeforce, K-1, and now he is doing it here as you can see with this terrific event. And we are thrilled to help him do that with Bellator kickboxing. So, Spike is fully behind Scott's efforts in this new venture and we can't wait to help him build something great.
With fighters like Joe Schilling, who fights in Bellator MMA and has been a GLORY mainstay and Raymond Daniels coming over, Coker was asked if he intends to continue adding high-level talent from GLORY, especially since many GLORY fighters are not under an exclusive contract and already fight in different promotions.
"I think we have enough fighters right now," Coker said. "We are looking for a certain type of fighter. We are looking for a certain type of personality in the fighter. That's really what it comes down to. Not every fighter that fights for GLORY or any other kickboxing organization around the world is going to fit here in Bellator Kickboxing. We will be scouting the planet for the fighters that we want and those are the fighters we are going to invest in and build."
Coker also mentioned that fighters will have an "open door" to compete in either MMA or in kickboxing, which he thinks is a big positive in resonating with the fans.
Schilling brought up pulling off the combat sports hat trick and adding PBC boxing -- which is also featured on Spike TV -- to the mix.
"I would like to be the first one to raise my hand and do all three," Schilling volunteered. "I'm the guy for the job. Like you said, it's up to the fighters. I'm that fighter. I'll fight boxing. I'll fight kickboxing. I'll fight MMA. That's who I am as a person."
"Stitch 'em Up" fights Mike Lemaire at GLORY 27 next Friday night (Feb. 26, 2016) and has two fights left with GLORY and said, "from then on I intend to fight for Bellator Kickboxing."
"To stay on Spike TV just made the most sense," he said.
"GLORY has gone on to a smaller platform, so to speak, and I've been so successful and so well taken care of and it's been great for my career being on Spike so it was an obvious decision to stick with Spike and stick with Bellator," Schilling continued.
Former GLORY welterweight, Raymond Daniels, shared similar sentiments.
"When I heard that Bellator was doing it with Spike that was the determining factor," Daniels told MMAmania.com. "And then having Scott, who my original first kickboxing fight was with. He kind of has that Midas touch. Everything he touches he turns to gold. I"m looking forward to being involved with Bellator as it turns to gold on Spike TV."
Diblasi has known Coker for almost a decade and said he has tried to get the former Strikeforce president to come back into kickboxing for a long time. And when Coker told him it was happening and he wanted to work with him, he was pleasantly surprised.
"He came to Italy and we had dinner," Dilblasi told MMAmania.com. "I made the question again and he said, 'you know Carlo, it's time.' I said, 'are you kidding?' I was falling from my chair. He said, 'no, no I'm coming back.' A few weeks ago I was in Los Angeles to meet him and we started talking about it and now this dream is coming true. When I heard about this chance I was really amazed. I was really, 'okay let's do it.' If Scott is there it will be a success. It's not just that I'm a friend. I'm a professional and I know he can do it."
Coker said working with Diblasi and Oktagon will not be a "one off," and they will keep the relationship going past April 16th and put together "Road to Bellator" tournaments in Italy and other parts of Europe.
As for rule sets, the fights will look similar to that of GLORY and K-1 rules. Coker said there will be no elbows allowed despite bringing in several muay thai practitioners like Ross, Schilling, and Yankova.
It's fair to say that GLORY was not heavily promoted and often aired during late time windows or tape delayed cards. Bellator Kickboxing should undoubtedly receive a much larger and widespread promotional push, but will it be enough to catch on with the U.S. crowd, who has yet to really respond to kickboxing as a whole? That remains to be seen and that fickleness and lack of popularity has been ongoing since the sport was on ESPN all the way back in the eighties.
To that end, Slusser is willing to be very patient, while feeling very confident that with Bellator, Spike, and Viacom behind it, it will eventually thrive and be a hit with American television audiences.
"We have time," Slusser said. "This isn't going to happen overnight. This is something that we are investing in a long-term way. If we came in and we said, 'this needs to be a success and we have certain metrics we need to hit immediately.' Then we would be under different constraints, different pressures that would make it grow artificially. Meaning, if you let it grow correctly, organically. If you build stars organically and we promote those stars to our Spike audience and we piggy back on the efficiencies and infrastructure of both Bellator, Spike, and Viacom. In time we think that is a winning formula with Scott Coker at the helm. It's not an overnight, flip the switch and the world loves kickboxing they like the NFL. Not going to happen. It will happen eventually if we put all these factors together and we do it and we give it time to mature."
And the most important factor for him is their confidence and trust in Coker. That's why they ultimately believe it will succeed.
"Yes, we wouldn't do anything if we didn't think we could be very successful and Scott Coker has proven that he can make things successful."