With Bellator 222 on the horizon, Bellator CEO Scott Coker feels his champ, Darrion Caldwell, can get it done this time.
New York, NY — Friday, Bellator MMA is back with Bellator 222 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It’s a big card, a tentpole event with two title fights, and a legends bout between Chael Sonnen and Lyoto Machida — one that could lead to a title shot for the winner.
Yet kicking off the card will be the bantamweight cross-promotional title fight between RIZIN champ Kyoji Horiguchi and Bellator’s Darrion Caldwell. It’s an interesting choice to open the card, but as Bellator CEO Scott Coker explained at the event’s media day, “in Japan, it will air live.” Like in the U.S., the event will air on DAZN in Japan, so kicking off with a big bang made sense.
So what is Coker’s take on the champ vs. champ fight? “I wish both fighters good luck, but I said ‘DC you’d better win that fight Friday night,'” he joked.
“No seriously, these fights don’t happen. Where the champs fight another champ in a real legitimate league like Bellator and RIZIN. So if [Horiguchi] wins, congratulations,” Coker said in all seriousness. If it happens, “he proved that he is one of the greatest fighters in his weight class. It’s no easy task, because when DC went to Japan on New Year’s Eve, he had a hard time in the ring. Horguchi was able to get out and throw some heavy blows.”
“He’s fast, he’s explosive, he hits hard, DC had his hands full,” Coker continued.
Of course, he’s pulling for his own guy. “You know, listen, I want my guy to win. And I think he can win. Horiguchi’s a tough fighter, and Sakakibara I’m sure is really pulling for him, because then he has bragging rights.”
“But I feel like my guy can get it done. It’s going to be an interesting fight on Saturday night,” the Bellator CEO observed, “and I’m glad we’re starting off with a bang. That’s a big fight, coming right out of the blocks, and it’s going to be a fun fight to start the night.”
So is there anything but bragging rights on the line between the two promotional heads? “Little side bets? The night’s not over yet. We’ll see.”
RIZIN President Nobuyuki Sakakibara promised a Horiguchi win at Bellator 222 on Friday. Coker, always easy going, retorted that he was promising the same for Darrion Caldwell. “Oh I think he’s going to win. That’s a guarantee. He’s going to guarantee it, I’m going to guarantee it. Everyone’s going to guarantee it,” he quipped. “But I think my guy can do it. I think my guy is talented, he is going to feel very comfortable in that cage, this is where he fights his fights. I think that Horiguchi has been fighting in a ring for a long time. And things that happen in Japan he’s not going to get away with here. And I’m talking about just sliding, slipping out from the clinch, and if you get stuck in a corner, he’s not going to be able to get out this time.”
While the Japanese fighter did spend years in the UFC octagon, Coker still feels the time away from that environment could be key. “Horiguchi’s had fights in the cage before, but its been how long? It’s been a couple years, right? He’s training most of the time to fight in the ring. And it’s a much different experience. I saw DC have a really hard time in the ring in Japan. Harder than I thought he would.”
“I don’t want to take anything away from Horiguchi. He’s a great fighter, I’ve been following his career for a long time. But I think this is going to go our way,” he added.
Watch the full Bellator 222 media day scrum with Scott Coker above! The event goes down Friday, June 14 at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden.