Paradigm Shift: Can Bellator Become the Premiere MMA Organization?

Bellator NYC fighters Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko aka the Last Emperor
Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko Credit: Dave Mandel/

As Bellator NYC nears, and the UFC continues to seemingly make all the wrong moves, could Bellator unseat the UFC at the top of the MMA world?

On June 18, 2014, Scott Coker was announced as the new President of Bellator MMA, replacing founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney. Since then, Coker has seemingly made great move after great move for the Viacom-owned promotion. But can Bellator displace the UFC as the face of mixed martial arts? It might not be a question of “can they?” The real question is “when will they?”

The UFC has had competition in the MMA realm in years past, however, the primary fault of those organizations was always lack of revenue. Pride FC, Elite XC, and Strikeforce come to mind. So, when those companies folded or became near bankrupt, the UFC did what any other monopoly would do, they swooped in to purchase their competition. Otherwise known as the Vince McMahon model.

$22.51 billion, that’s what Viacom is worth, and that is what separates Bellator MMA from prior competition. While Pride FC and Strikeforce had their moments and hosted many successful events, they lacked the combination of two things. The first thing lacking, as previously mentioned, is the money. The second, someone at the helm who truly understood the fight game. Bellator has both in place now and are poised to make a serious run at the UFC.

When Scott Coker was asked what some of the biggest initiatives that he’s rolled out for Bellator, he replied, “The Reebok deal and USADA.” This is quite humorous, considering neither of those protocols are Bellator’s. It’s no secret that the UFC’s Reebok partnership has been less than a hit, and although cleaning up the sport is a good thing, many fighters have voiced their concerns over USADA’s invasive nature.

The Reebok deal, USADA, and the new ownership of the UFC have all contributed to the rise of Bellator. Many lifelong fight fans were concerned when WME-IMG purchased the UFC for $4.2 billion in July of 2016. Now nearly a year later, those concerns are being realized on almost a weekly basis. Many fighters can’t wait to fulfill their UFC contracts so they can become free agents, some fighters are outright asking to be released from their UFC contracts. That is unheard of.

These reasons coupled with the brilliant decisions that Scott Coker has been making are the reasons why Bellator will soon be the premier MMA organization on the planet. Coker doesn’t appear to be slowing down, just this week, he announced the signing of former longtime UFC play-by-play commentator Mike Goldberg, and arguably the best commentator in the combat sports business, Mauro Ranallo. Bellator’s new all-star commentary team is set to make their debut on June 24 during Bellator NYC on PPV.

Perhaps we will get a glimpse into the future during Bellator’s second-ever pay-per-view. It’s fair to point out that this is the company’s first PPV effort with Scott Coker at the helm.

Competition is good. It drives industry, and for the first time the UFC has some serious competition with some seriously deep pockets. No matter what happens, regardless of which promotion is the prominent MMA organization, we all win as fans of the sport.