Scott Coker proud of Bellator’s plan as events resume within ‘fightsphere’ during COVID-19

Bellator president Scott Coker admits that the five months since the promotion last hosted an event have been a unique challenge he never expected. The global coronavirus pandemic forced Bellator to halt operations, but now its back with a string of events beginning July 24.

Coker told MMA Junkie in April that he’d hoped to see Bellator host live events again by this month, with a Viacom or CBS lot in Los Angeles targeted to play host. Only the first half of that plan came to fruition, though. With surging COVID-19 cases in California, Coker sorted a deal with the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulations and the Mohegan Sun Arena to put on multiple live events in Uncasville, Conn.

After carefully surveying the best plan, Coker was given the green light to move forward. Similar to what’s been seen in other sports, including the UFC, all operations will be contained to a “bubble” designated exclusively for people involved in the event.

“We’re governed by a group that’s a public company, and of course they will be extremely cautious, as they should, in going back to production not just for Bellator, but also for all their other productions,” Coker told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “They’re going to have their own protocols and systems in place. We were actually talking to about four or five commissioners around the country and looking at hosting at different venues. But at the end of the day the Mike Mazzulli (president of the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation) scenario played out in a really nice bubble.

“Once we get there, you don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t have to leave the area. Once you’re there, you’re in the fightsphere. It’s a turnkey operation and Mazzulli and the Mohegan Sun have made it very good for us.”

Coker, as well as another Bellator official member, told MMA Junkie that the exact specifics of the coronavirus protocols are “confidential and proprietary.” However, Coker was able to shed some insight into how everything will unfold. Everyone involved will be tested multiple times, and a partnership is in place with a laboratory to expedite results. Coker said all details have been meticulously planned out, adding that Bellator wouldn’t be coming back now if it didn’t have confidence in the system that’s been established.

“Health and safety is No. 1,” Coker said. “Everybody will be tested and make sure they are not positive before they can even book the flight and get on the plane. Then the same thing when they get to the venue. The Mohegan Sun is working with the tribe and a testing lab there at a university so we get results back quickly. There will be testing going on every day. … We have a plan we are proud of, and we can implement to create a very safe environment for our fighters, our commissioners, our staff, and we’re ready to go.”

Coker confirmed that Bellator events are official for July 24 and August 7. Reports have surfaced about additional cards on August 28 and Sept. 11, which Coker indicated will be finalized imminently. The upcoming string of live shows will air on Paramount, Coker said, and he’s focused on driving big ratings by adding his marquee athletes.

From a viewer perspective, Coker said discussions are ongoing in regard to changes for the product. He didn’t dismiss the possibility of feeding crowd noise into the broadcast or any other strategies that have been proposed or used in other sports.

Bellator will return July 24 at Mohegan Sun Arena. The promotion shut down for five months during the coronavirus pandemic.

The biggest focus for Coker at this point is the fights, he said. He admitted there have been some challenges from a matchmaking perspective due to travel limitations for international athletes on the roster, but Coker said he is working on solutions. Regardless, it’s his full expectation to have the most noteworthy names on his roster in the cage in the coming weeks.

“We announced our July 24 event, but we have some big fights to announce soon,” Coker said. “All of our big stars are going to be fighting at the summer series at Mohegan Sun. We want to get Ryan Bader in there busy, we want to get (Cris) Cyborg in there busy, and we want to make sure all of our top guys and girls fight. They want to fight, and we want them to fight, and we want our best fighters competing on Paramount.”

Bellator never has gone this long without a fight card since its inception in April 2009. Coker wanted the company to come back the right way, though, he said. Obstacles are sure to arise as plans come to reality, but Coker reiterated he’s pleased with the measures that have been taken and is excited to deliver his product to viewers again.

“It’s definitely an interesting time and space,” Coker said “Never, ever would I think in my lifetime that a virus like this would hit as hard as it’s hit the world and basically stop live sports as we know it today. People are getting back to doing live sports, and it’s a good thing. I think fans are going to appreciate having more live MMA back on TV. It’s going to be great, and it created a win-win to give back a little piece of normalcy.”

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