While Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pushes to open its doors back up as soon as possible amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, other mixed martial arts (MMA) promotions remain closed for the foreseeable future.
That may seem like a bad thing, especially considering UFC already has a significant hold on the MMA market, but it’s the right thing to do according to Bellator MMA president Scott Coker. As others scramble to push through the pandemic and resume operations, Coker is more focused on the health of his fighters and staff and waiting for the best time to return.
“It started with the March 13 event getting postponed,” Coker told MMA Junkie. “We were all in New York, and the virus that week was just starting to hit, and New York was a hotbed for the spreading of the virus, so we decided to shut it down because it was the right decision. I told (everyone) to go home and spend time with their families, and we’ll regroup when the time is right. This is something I thought would be down for a month or a couple weeks, and we could go back to work. But it’s a very serious situation, and a lot of people have passed away. A lot of people won’t be back. It’s just heart-wrenching to see the hundreds of thousands of people.
“You talk about the people infected and the people passing away, it’s a serious situation. So I told my guys, ‘Look, there’s a time for fighting and putting on these events. There’s a time to be home with your family hunkered down and be safe, because at the end of the day I want my team to be safe and healthy.”
Just two weeks ago Coker believed Bellator may be able to resume activities by June, but it’s now looking like that will be pushed back to July. It goes to show how volatile the current situation is and how many sports organizations throughout the world need to continue to adapt on the fly.
Much like UFC constructing a “Fight Island” to stage events in the near future, Bellator may have to think outside the box to start hosting fights again. This may include setting up shop on a soundstage at either the Paramount or CBS lot.
“We do have a plan, and the plan really is to come back sometime in July on a soundstage either in the Paramount lot or the CBS lot, and start doing fights in a closed environment with no audience, at least for the first three, four months,” Coker said. “Because even if they say audiences can come back, I think it’s going to take time, because people don’t have the confidence. The consumers are not going to want to come back to a sporting event and be around thousands of people right from the beginning. It’s going to take time to earn people’s trust that this virus is on its way out.
“But in the meantime we’re going to keep promoting live events, creating content, putting these big fights on, and it’ll be a closed environment. It’ll be on Paramount, it’ll be on DAZN, and the replays will be on CBS Sports Network.”
For now, Coker is content on keeping his fighters and staff safe instead of working around COVID-19 restrictions and possibly making things worse for all involved. That may mean a longer return for Bellator MMA, but that’s a price Coker is willing to pay given the current circumstances.
“Once we find (the venue), negotiate it, create it, get the commission on board, then we’ll go into that setting and start producing these events, which will be made for TV,” Coker said. “Then we’ll monitor it. Is this going to be another three months, five months, two months? Nobody really knows. I’m hoping that it’s over soon because we all want to go back to work and have our fighters fight and get back on TV and do what we do, but again, until it’s safe and we can really make sure all the precautions are done to manage everybody that’s going to be there, we’re going to put a pin in it until we figure it out.
“If it’s not in July, it’s going to happen in August or September or some point. We’re hopeful that in July we’ll get ready. … At the end of the day this is a business, yes. But we’ll make up that money and we’ll make up those fights. But the health and safety is not something you can make up if things go bad. It’s a business, but it’s still a business of people, and a business of fighters. When the time’s right you’ll get the call and we’ll take care of you and we’ll honor our contracts. Just be patient and we’ll get through this thing together, then we’ll get busy.”