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first_img Apparel Standard BJJ Gi Top Contenders for Fight of the Year ProMax 440 BJJ GI Greatest Highlights of Anderson Silva’s Career Which is More Dangerous – MMA or Football? Colby Covington rips ‘diva’ Robbie Lawler for leaving American Top Team over a photo Latest From MMA Warehouse Morning Report: Jorge Masvidal praises Conor McGregor: ‘The dude is a f*cking G, bro’ Scott Coker has a simple answer of what he wants Bellator to become, and why this Saturday night is a major step in that direction.”I want it to be like Pride, only better,” he said.Pride was the leading MMA promotion in the world between 2000 and 2005, before an organized crime scandal that made the press doomed it in Japan, and before UFC exploded in the U.S. But Pride was very different from today’s UFC. It was a promotion that sold both the sizzle with the steak, with the best produced shows of the era.Long before he started running MMA events under the Strikeforce banner, Coker was the U.S. representative for K-1, another Japanese  company that took the sport of kickboxing and made it a mainstream phenomenon in Japan during the 1990s. Kazuyoshi Ishii, the promoter, was something of a mentor to Coker, who attended the biggest K-1 events of the year. Coker would go to places like the Tokyo Dome and see it sold out with 50,000 fans, with production that made the stars into larger-than-life figures.K-1 and Pride at times were rival promotions, but they also worked together, most notably on the first “Dynamite” show on Aug. 28, 2002, at Tokyo National Stadium. The show drew 71,000 fans, which to this day is still the largest crowd to attend an MMA event anywhere in the world. The show featured mostly MMA fights, but also had bouts with other rules, including kickboxing.Over the next several years, “Dynamite” was the term used for K-1’s biggest show of the year. It was held on New Year’s Eve. Unlike in the U.S., in Japan, New Year’s Eve is a television night. It’s best known for live concerts that are almost the equivalent of the Super Bowl as the country’s biggest TV event of the year dating back decades. The “Dynamite” shows, usually a mixture of kickboxing and MMA fights, were the strongest counter programming for the concerts in Japanese television history.On New Year’s Eve in 2003, the fight between Bob Sapp and Akebono, a 460-pound sumo legend, under kickboxing rules, had 54 million viewers watching live in a country with a total population of 128 million.Coker’s goal is for “Dynamite” in the U.S. to be a copy of what worked in Japan. The idea is for it to be Bellator’s signature biggest event of the year, its Super Bowl, Final Four, or if you prefer, its WrestleMania. So there is a lot of pressure Saturday to deliver a memorable event to start what he is hoping will become a tradition.”That’s the goal,” Coker said. “The tentpole events are a massive jump from the shows Bellator was creating a year ago. This is to be a once-a-year extravaganza with kickboxing and MMA. This will take Bellator’s production, viewership and attendance hopefully to a different level.”Some of the similarities to Japanese big shows will include the big production ring entrances and video wall that Bellator introduced last November when Coker put on his first major event. There will also be the opening ceremony with all the fighters, which Coker said he isn’t sure if it will be on television or not. There will even be a familiar voice from that era in Lenne Hardt, the eloquent female ring announcer who was an institution during Pride’s heyday.”She’s going to introduce the fighters from the stage, like in Japan,” he said. “If you remember Japan, they also had a different ring announcer in the ring.”What Coker hopes to make historic on Saturday takes place in his old stomping grounds, the SAP Center in San Jose. The 20-fight show airs live on Spike, which includes an eight-fight main card that starts at 9 p.m. The show will feature both Glory kickboxing matches in a ring, and Bellator MMA fights in a cage, both set up on the arena floor. The show is headlined by Liam McGeary (10-0) defending the Bellator light heavyweight title against Tito Ortiz (18-11). It also features a one-night light heavyweight tournament, with first round bouts with Linton Vassell (15-4-1) vs. King Mo Lawal (15-4, 1 no contest) and Phil Davis (13-3) vs. Emanuel Newton (25-8-1). There is also a bout for the vacant Glory light heavyweight title with Saulo Cavalari (31-2) facing Zack Mwekassa (13-2).The idea of a ring and cage next to each other, something that even Pride and K-1 never did, since they ran MMA fights in a ring, came from a drawing Coker said he made from an idea about three years ago.”I thought it would be for a great show and thought, `How would we do this?,” he said. “When I came to Bellator, on one of my first days in the office, I sat down with Kevin Nelson a graphic artist, and he made a mockup for me.”The televised event is scheduled to run until about 12:30 a.m. It will open with the tournament first round fights, which will both be two rounds. The two winners will then come back in the seventh televised fight of the night. It will directly precede the Ortiz vs. McGeary title fight.Coker has nothing negative to say about the UFC, but is looking to create a strong alternate brand.”Why can’t we be different? It’s good to be different,” he said. “To me, we’re trying to appeal to the overall fan of fighting. If you’re a fan of MMA, tune in. If you’re a fan of kickboxing, tune in. If you’re a fan of martial arts, tune in.”Just as the name isn’t a coincidence, neither is the location.Coker, who lives in San Jose, began promoting martial arts events, mostly kickboxing, in 1985, right out of college, in smaller buildings in San Jose and the surrounding area. His bouts, under the Strikeforce banner, aired on ESPN for years. One of his earliest stars was Javier Mendez, now best known as the MMA trainer for the likes of Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold. Later he built his promotion around Cung Le. Television and movie star Ernie Reyes Jr. even fought kickboxing fights during that era. The first kickboxing fight on the televised portion of the show features Keri Taylor-Melendez, the wife of Gilbert Melendez, who a decade back, long before she was married, was kickboxer Keri-Anne Taylor, who fought with the old Strikeforce promotion.When ESPN decided to no longer carry regular kickboxing, and MMA got legalized in California in 2006, Strikeforce became an MMA promotion, and grew even larger. Instead of running in smaller arenas in the city, he moved to the HP Pavilion, now the SAP Center. The first show, headlined by Frank Shamrock vs. Cesar Gracie, sold out with 18,265 fans, at the time the record attendance for MMA in North America. Strikeforce quickly became the No. 2 promotion in the country. A number of top fighters, Cormier, Velasquez, Rockhold, Clay Guida, Gina Carano, Nate Diaz and Miesha Tate all had their first major arena fights in Strikeforce.With the exception of Las Vegas, more MMA history was made in that building than any other place. There was the Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua fight at UFC 139, which was one of the greatest fights in UFC history, headlining one of the strongest action shows that company ever promoted. Strikeforce had the Fabricio Werdum win over Fedor Emelianenko, which ended Emelianenko’s 10-year unbeaten streak. There was the Carano vs. Cris Cyborg fight which was the fight that proved women could headline and draw a big crowd live as well as do record television ratings. That fight set the wheels in motion for the success of Ronda Rousey and women’s MMA. And there was the three-fight series with Josh Thomson vs. Gilbert Melendez, among the best MMA trilogies of all-time.Coker has been pushing the arena to the fighters as they’ve arrived in town.”I keep telling them, you haven’t fought in a place like San Jose,” he said. “If you compare the MGM Grand (in Las Vegas, the home of UFC’s biggest fights) to what we have in San Jose, it isn’t close. They don’t have the technology in the building. This is a well kept up state-of-the-art building. Those screens are just perfect and it’s an amazing place to watch the fights.””This is going to be our biggest showcase,” he said. “From everything I’ve been hearing, the production is going to be amazing. It’s going to look different and feel different.”Bellator has shown strong growth in the 15 months since Coker replaced Bellator founder Bjorn Rebney. Live attendance is up 72 percent, although that is a little misleading because they’ve played larger venues. But in comparing major arena show attendance, it is a 42-percent increase. Television ratings as of the summer had increased 34 percent, going from a 667,000 average to 892,000. Bellator broke its ratings records for the Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar fight, and then blew those numbers away for Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice, which peaked at nearly 3 million viewers for all its various airings.Breaking those ratings records may be difficult, as McGeary doesn’t have the mainstream recognition that Shamrock and Slice had, and with the longer show, the main event probably won’t be in the cage until after midnight. But they expect to set Bellator’s attendance record. Coker said that they originally set the building up for 10,000 seats, and have started opening up new sections.”I would like to hit a (ratings) peak of 3 million,” he said. “I’d like to have 12,000 in the building. That would be a great victory. But it’s just great to be back here promoting. We’re so thankful for the people in this market supporting us for 25 to 30 years. I think we’ve proven we can be ultra-successful in the Bay Area. We’re going to continue to promote here and keep building Bellator here.”Further good news is that all the television commercial inventory for Spike on Saturday is sold out, with more than 50 minutes of commercial time.”It’s fantastic,” Coker said. “All good indicators.”Bellator is now in 134 different countries and territories around the world, and are taking in eight figures annually from international television deals. Broadcasters from everywhere from the U.K. to Italy to Israel are coming to the show. Coker noted that even Nobuyuki Sakakibara, who was the promoter of Pride during its heyday and is looking at reviving MMA in Japan, will be in San Jose.”To really have a business in Japan that’s thriving, that the Japanese fans can attach themselves to, it has to be a Japanese brand run by Japanese executives, and on Japanese TV,” he said.On Monday, Bellator announced a deal with ESPN Deportes to start airing all their events live in Spanish starting this week. When Bellator began in 2009, its first season under Rebney was exclusively on ESPN Deportes, before moving to Fox Sports Net.”ESPN Deportes has a long history of carrying premier sporting events, relevant to our Hispanic sports fans,” said Lino Garcia, the General Manager of ESPN Deportes. “We recognize the changes and growth of Bellator over the past year and we are thrilled to see the world-class mixed martial arts organization return to its original television home,”The prelims will stream in English on Spike.com, and in Spanish on ESPN3 and ESPNDeportes+.  ESPN Deportes will also air old Bellator fights. Lockdown duffle bag MMA Fighting King Ryan Longsleeve Shirt Gordon Ryan Competition Kit Video: Aalon Cruz scores ridiculous jumping knee KO on Contender Series Should Frankie Edgar finally fight at bantamweight? 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