Bellator MMA had some big news to announce on Tuesday: their 2021 debut date. A light heavyweight grand prix. And a new broadcast partner in the U.S., Showtime, who will be the exclusive home of live Bellator events stateside.
It’s big news. Interesting, given the promotion just last year moved from longtime home Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV) to CBS Sports Network — an outlet with actual sports content, unlike Paramount, but with 20 million or so fewer potential viewers. Showtime is another story — a premium cable network with a long history in combat sports.
“Now we have the ability to tell stories. And I think Showtime are very good if not the best storytellers I’ve seen,” Coker said Tuesday, speaking to media outlets including Cageside Press. “So to be integrated into their whole production and company, I think you’ll see a lot of stars being built here at Bellator moving forward.”
Coker should know. His previous promotion, Strikeforce, also aired on Showtime (as well as CBS). Prior to the Strikeforce relationship, the channel had been in the MMA business with EliteXC.
The light heavyweight grand prix announced Tuesday is clearly the big showcase for the promotion’s new broadcast home. Eight very qualified names including a number of former UFC standouts, plus current champion Vadim Nemkov. It’s an idea that came about once Bellator signed former UFC contender Corey Anderson, said Coker.
There will be a number of alternates for the tournament, whose main roster includes Anderson, Nemkov, Ryan Bader, Lyoto Machida, Phil Davis, Yoel Romero, Anthony Johnson, and promotional newcomer Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov. “We do have them, but I want to announce them all together.” Early next week, Coker suggested, the promotion will announce not one but two alternate fights for the grand prix.
The Bellator CEO also clarified that, since the champion is fighting five rounds throughout the grand prix, all fights will include the championship rounds. “Every fight in this tournament, even if you’re not the champ, will be five, five minute rounds.”
One interesting side effect of the Showtime deal is what happens to the north. Canadian MMA fans haven’t seen the promotion set foot in Canada for years. Paramount Network was widely available in the country, but CBS Sports Network, where Bellator moved last year, was not — appearing on the line-up of just a small number of cable and satellite providers. Showtime? It is non-existent in Canada.
“We are signing a lot of international deals at this moment. I know we’re talking to a couple of broadcasters up in Canada,” Coker revealed. “I’m confident we’ll have something to announce before the April date.”
Scott Coker’s full media scrum following Tuesday’s press conference can be viewed above.