Scott Coker was a neophyte blended martial arts promoter in 2006. His firm Strikeforce was in its infancy, coming off its inaugural occasion.
Coker had a card scheduled within the promotion’s dwelling base of San Jose, California, for that June, nevertheless it didn’t function a fighter who might promote a number of tickets. After many years in kickboxing, Coker was attempting to develop Strikeforce right into a participant within the MMA recreation. With that in thoughts, he contacted Nobuyuki Sakakibara, then the promoter for vaunted Delight FC in Japan. Coker and Sakakibara had a relationship from Coker’s time working with Ok-1 kickboxing.
Coker made an enormous ask: Might Delight ship Strikeforce a predominant event-level combat for the San Jose present in return for future expertise sharing? Sakakibara agreed and despatched a bout higher than Coker might have ever dreamed: Vitor Belfort vs. Alistair Overeem. The 2 males had been among the many most well-known fighters on the planet on the time.
13 years later, Coker and Sakakibara are nonetheless swapping expertise, nonetheless cross-promoting in a big approach. On Friday evening, Sakakibara will ship Kyoji Horiguchi, his Rizin bantamweight champion, to combat for the Bellator title in opposition to champ Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 222 at New York’s Madison Sq. Backyard.
Caldwell traveled to Japan on Dec. 31 to face Horiguchi on Rizin’s huge year-end present in a bout that was the inaugural Rizin title combat at that weight class. Horiguchi received by third-round submission. It was all the time the settlement between each side to do the rematch in Bellator. And if Horiguchi wins the Bellator belt this weekend, he might be obligated to defend it not less than annually.
Coker bought Strikeforce to UFC mum or dad firm Zuffa in 2011. After his non-compete settlement was over, Coker was employed by Bellator. Sakakibara has had an analogous path; he bought Delight to Zuffa in 2007, then began Rizin after his non-compete was accomplished in 2015.
By means of all of that, the connection between Coker and Sakakibara has remained robust. Coker will always remember what Sakakibara did for him in 2006 when Coker had nearly nothing to supply in return at that juncture.
“That is why when he got here again from his hiatus from Delight into Rizin, I mentioned I am gonna assist him,” Coker mentioned. “As a result of once I was first beginning, he was there for me and actually helped me out and despatched over two of the most important names within the sport on the time.”
Coker was in a position to reciprocate shortly thereafter. In August 2006, Gilbert Melendez went to Delight to face Nobuhiro Obiya, then he fought Tatsuya Kawajiri at Delight Shockwave 2006 on New 12 months’s Eve of that 12 months. Melendez received each.
Sakakibara advised ESPN he would have despatched fighters over to Strikeforce even when Coker couldn’t ship him any compelling athletes again immediately.
“He had the love of the game, he needed to take the game to the following stage and construct his model,” Sakakibara mentioned by translator and Rizin govt Shingo Kashiwagi. “The UFC was already an enormous participant within the U.S., and any enterprise wants a wholesome competitors, so … it was needed to assist [Coker]. It was doable due to the mutual belief and respect that we had between us.”
Cross-promotion and expertise sharing is an enormous a part of Rizin’s philosophy, which is why Sakakibara mentioned he named it Rizin Preventing Federation. “Federation,” by definition, is a gaggle of entities. Sakakibara’s ideology is that MMA will have the ability to advance provided that promotions work collectively. His finish objective is a World Cup of MMA each 4 years, the place all the huge firms’ athletes compete to really decide one of the best fighters on this planet. He wish to get the athletes’ international locations concerned in straight supporting them.
Sakakibara mentioned the UFC is presently “isolating itself” from different promotions world wide and, by doing so, not permitting MMA to get to the place he believes it might. He acknowledges, although, that it could be a danger for the UFC to collaborate, contemplating the profitable construction the promotion has constructed.
“Clearly, the UFC has accomplished a improbable job of spreading this sport, making this sport acknowledged and established,” Sakakibara mentioned. “There’s nothing to remove from what the UFC has accomplished to construct the game. … The UFC has MMA already established, and it will not go anyplace. But it surely will not get to the form of stage the place soccer is. It will not get to that stage until we get all international locations concerned, just like the Olympics. We cannot have the ability to make it right into a world-accepted sport. That’s how I really feel.”
Kyoji Horiguchi, proper, defeated Darrion Caldwell in a matchup between Rizin and Bellator fighters on Dec. 31. Etsuo Hara/Getty Photographs
There was a time when the UFC was open to cross-promotion. The UFC despatched one among its huge stars, Chuck Liddell, to Delight within the early 2000s, most notably for the Japanese firm’s 2003 middleweight grand prix match. Liddell beat Overeem by first-round knockout within the quarterfinals and was knocked out by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson within the semifinals.
Since then, the UFC has accomplished expertise sharing sparsely. The UFC and Mayweather Promotions did crew up on the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor boxing match in 2017, which was one of many greatest cash making pay-per-view occasions ever (four.three million buys in North America) and led to file income for the UFC that 12 months.
It was a bit totally different, however the UFC labored with ONE Championship final 12 months on a commerce, sending its former flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson, to ONE for former ONE and Bellator champion Ben Askren. UFC president Dana White advised TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter over the weekend that there aren’t another fighters on the market presently which have gotten his consideration.
“We simply did this factor with Askren,” White mentioned. “However no, I do not see that. Askren was a man that I used to be interested by. I do not see anyone else on the market proper now that I am interested by. But when I did, something is feasible.”
There may be appreciable danger in doing cross-promotion. MMA firms pour sources into increase and advertising fighters. If one among them loses to a competitor’s athlete, it is a knock in opposition to the group. Plus, there are appreciable different obstacles to true cross-promotion, equivalent to tv offers and compensation. Coker mentioned Bellator pays Horiguchi based on his Rizin contract on a handshake deal; it is not going to depend in opposition to the quantity of fights he has left with Rizin.
Cross-promotion with Rizin has been a blended bag within the win-loss column for Bellator. Bellator star Muhammed Lawal received the Rizin heavyweight grand prix match in 2015, then was knocked out by Mirko Cro Cop in 2016 and Jiri Prochazka in April, resulting in his retirement.
“You are gonna win some, and you are not gonna win some,” Coker mentioned. “So long as my fighters need to do it, our schedules work out — we each have companies to run and we’re very busy — but when we will make it occur now and again and have a number of enjoyable with it, why not?”
Lawal is a big proponent of those sorts of offers. He thinks the publicity fighters get from them is vital.
“There’s extra speak in regards to the fighters and never the promotions when it occurs,” Lawal mentioned.
Horiguchi mentioned Rizin’s cross-promotion with Bellator helps to develop the Japanese MMA scene.
Caldwell mentioned he’s hoping the UFC will comply with a cross-promotion, to permit him to combat a few of his fellow high bantamweights, equivalent to new UFC champion Henry Cejudo.
“Individuals need to see Darrion Caldwells versus the Cody Garbrandts and TJ Dillashaws,” Caldwell mentioned. “They need to see the Douglas Limas versus the [Kamaru] Usmans. They need to see it. I feel it is simply gonna deliver extra enjoyable, extra followers and extra pleasure to the game.”
Horiguchi has his arms full with Caldwell on Saturday, however he mentioned he wish to compete sooner or later with one of the best within the UFC. Most of all, the Japanese striker needs a future date with former UFC flyweight champion and present ONE Championship star Demetrious Johnson, who beat Horiguchi at UFC 186 in 2015.
“I must return the favor of delivering a loss,” Horiguchi mentioned by a translator. “So sure, someday down the street, I actually do hope that I get to combat him once more.”
Bellator president Scott Coker has lengthy been a fan of cross-promotion in blended martial arts. David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile/Getty Photographs
That is the form of factor Sakakibara is speaking about — one of the best preventing one of the best, no matter group. Rizin is sending one among its ladies’s stars, Rena Kubota, to Bellator this weekend to combat Lindsey VanZandt. Invicta FC atomweight champion Jinh Yu Frey fought her counterpart Ayaka Hamasaki earlier this month at Rizin 16. And Rizin’s Kanako Murata made her Invicta debut final week. In the meantime, Coker mentioned he expects Bellator to be in Japan for its present someday within the subsequent 12 months. And Bellator and Rizin may swap expertise for his or her respective upcoming tournaments.
Sakakibara appears to be making inroads towards his final objective of a World Cup of MMA, although it is going to be laborious to get the UFC on board. Cross-promotions are usually not simple to do, Coker mentioned. There are a number of shifting components, and a robust relationship with different folks is vital.
“Principally, it’s important to have a certain quantity of, as an example, belief in one other promoter and be keen to work with them, they usually’ll need to work with you,” Coker mentioned. “And you will have to have the ability to get alongside to make all this occur. That is fairly tough generally, as a result of everyone has their very own enterprise to run and their very own agenda.”
For 13 years, that belief has existed between Coker and Sakakibara. In 2019, cross-promotion is alive and properly in MMA, if Bellator 222 is any indication. Maybe there might be extra to come back.