'How do I keep everyone as safe as possible?': Scott Coker details Bellator's July 24 return

·Combat columnist

Bellator’s five-month hiatus from staging mixed martial arts shows will end on July 24, resuming in the same spot where it pulled the plug when the coronavirus pandemic got to be too much.

Bellator, with the help of parent company ViacomCBS, has created what president Scott Coker describes as a sphere at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, where it will stage its shows for the time being.

Coker told Yahoo Sports that like the UFC and Top Rank, which have been promoting fight cards during the pandemic, there will be no fans at Bellator events. He said the company believes there won’t be fans at any shows for the remainder of 2020 and said he thinks that the ban on fans may extend several months into 2021.

Viacom’s human resources department created a task force that came up with the protocols that Bellator will use in staging the shows, according to Coker. He joked that “people with a tremendous amount of knowledge about this virus created a document that is so thorough and so complex it’s kind of like the re-entry of SpaceX coming back to the planet from space.”

Coker noted that the company’s lawyers are investigating ways to get its international fighters into the country so it will have a larger pool of fighters to pick from, but as of now, the shows will include only fighters from the U.S. or those who were here when the lockdown began in March.

He said safety has been paramount in his mind as he worked through the issues that needed to be solved in order to be able to promote shows again.

That meant being cautious and working through a lot of details.

“Even now, as we’re months into this thing, there is a lot we don’t know,” Coker said. “So our goal and the question I have constantly asked is, ‘How do I keep everyone as safe as possible?’ That’s my fighters, our staff, the families, the commission, the officials, the media. We’re only going to have absolutely essential personnel in the arena and so we had to find a way to keep them safe.

“I think the protocol we’ve got outlined in this document does that. I feel comfortable that we’re doing everything we possibly can to make this the safest and most secure environment we can.”

Bellator President Scott Coker speaks at a news conference promoting the Bellator Spring & Summer fight cards on Monday, March 9, 2020, in New York City. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Bellator President Scott Coker speaks at a news conference promoting the Bellator Spring & Summer fight cards on Monday, March 9, 2020, in New York City. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Bellator has made several adjustments to how it does business as a result of issues created by the pandemic. One of them is that it will share production costs of its shows with Showtime.

He said there was originally discussion of holding the shows on a sound stage in Los Angeles. But it wouldn’t have been as available as he needed given that so many CBS and Viacom shows want to use it for production, as well. 

Coker still believes in Aaron Pico

As for the fights, he said, “If you want to see some kids scrap, this is the card to watch.”

Sergio Pettis will face Ricky Bandejas on July 24 in the main event of Bellator 242 on the Paramount Network. Also on the four-fight main card will be Jason Jackson versus Jordan Mein; Tywan Claxton versus Jay Jay Wilson and Aaron Pico versus Chris Hatley Jr.

Coker said that he’s worked closely with Pico’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, on Pico’s opponents. Pico was one of the sport’s most heralded prospects when he debuted with Bellator, but he’s been knocked out twice and submitted once in eight fights.

Though a 5-3 record is pedestrian, Coker said he believes Pico can still reach the heights that were predicted of him when he debuted in 2017.

“I honestly think he can,” Coker said. “People might think I’m crazy over whatever, but I feel he’s just now learning to become a mixed martial artist. It’s taken this much time, but that’s just how long it takes to develop some of these guys. Aaron’s still a young kid. 

“Do you know how long it would take someone to start a new sport and to do the things he’s able to do now? It would take years, so he’s way ahead of the game. He just has to tighten up a few things. Will he? Well, that’s something I can’t answer, but I’m cautiously optimistic [he will].” 

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