Scott Coker Exclusive: On Freakshows, Developing Stars, and the Best Heavyweights
In its eighteen months as a national MMA promotion, Strikeforce has done an amazing job building a brand and putting on meaningful and exciting fight cards. What the promotion hasn't done is create their own star, a fighter who can carry them into the next decade.
Strikeforce shows have been built around stars that came to the promotion as finished products - Cung Le, Frank Shamrock, Nick Diaz, and Fedor Emelianenko. But the flow of main event worthy fighters from the UFC and PRIDE has slowed to a trickle. Relying on that talent without developing new stars is a recipe for disaster. Strikeforce President Scott Coker is looking to change that, but recognizes that talent development takes time and can be more art than science.
"We sit down with our fight team and we identify the fighters we feel can be well rounded mixed martial artists. Not just a striker, not just a wrestler, not just a grappler, but somebody that can do it all. I'll give you a good example - Daniel Cormier," Coker told Bloody Elbow in an exclusive interview. "Here's a guy, two-time Olympian, when we discussed him it was a no brainer. He spoke extremely well, he was already media trained. He knew how to handle himself in the media. He's a great wrestler. Let's see how far he can take his grappling skills, how far he can take his striking skills. And as an athlete, how he can put these different disciplines together."
Cormier and fellow wrestlers Tyron Woodley and Muhammed Lawal represent the best of the current crop of Strikeforce prospects. Each has the potential to be special. And while the promotion waits to see who emerges as a future star, they aren't afraid to fill their cards with special attraction fights, often referred to by hardcore fans as "freakshow" fights. When it comes to promoting this kind of bout, Coker had a front row seat watching the Japanese kickboxing promotion create mainstream buzz with a series of spectacles. And when it seems right, he's not afraid to lead Strikeforce down the same path.
"I used to work for K-1 for eight years. I know all about the freak fights. They love that stuff. I was one of the guys that brought Bob Sapp to Japan originally. He became this huge star doing Pepsi commercials and Pizza Hut and Panasonic. The guy was just killing it over there. We are a mixed martial arts league first. But a guy like Herschel Walker is a special circumstance. A Bobby Lashley, who's still growing his mixed martial arts career. These are all special opportunities," Coker said. "We evaluate them one at a time. If you look at our overall record - come on! We've thrown some amazing fights. For us to put in fights with Herschel and Bobby and some of the other guys like Bob Sapp early on: why not do it? It's like Kimbo Slice. We passed on Kimbo and UFC took Kimbo. Everybody knew that career was going to be limited. Is he going to go fight Alistair Overeem? Is he going to fight Fedor? Is he going to fight "Bigfoot" Silva? Is he going to fight Josh Barnett? We know that's not going to happen. But you can put him in some fights that are fun, that are relevant, that are competitive? Why not?"
More with Scott Coker, including what fans have to look forward to in 2011, after the jump.
By all accounts, Strikeforce suffered some growing pains in 2010. The April event in Nashville was a bust on CBS and ended in an embarrassing brawl in the cage. And while the promotion built an impressive roster of heavyweights, they were rarely able to coax them into the cage. Next year Coker intends to change that. In eight Saturday night Strikeforce cards and eight more Friday night Challengers cards, Coker expects the heavyweights to put on quite a show.
"We're working on some things with M-1 trying to extend Fedor's contract. The thing I'm really excited about for 2011 is our heavyweight division. I believe it's the best heavyweight division in mixed martial arts. It's the most proven heavyweight division in mixed martial arts," Coker said. "When you get guys like Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Fedor, Bigfoot, Josh Barnett. You have Lavar Johnson coming up in that mix. Maybe Daniel Cormier coming in late 2011. We have Brett Rogers and Andrei Arlovski. Sergei Kharitonov. This heavweight division is unbelievable. The beauty of the Showtime deal is that we can let all these guys battle it out. If you don't have Showtime you better order it....We're going to turn these beasts loose to go fight each other and I'm excited. Because our heavyweight division is the best in mixed martial arts right now."