New Year’s Eve is just the beginning, according to Bellator President Scott Coker. When he sends Darrion Caldwell, his promotion’s bantamweight champ, across the Pacific to fight Kyoji Horiguchi for the Rizin FF title at the end of the year, he’s banking on it being the start of a beautiful – and mutually beneficial – friendship.
And, if they get the details just right and both sides stay true to their commitments, he might end up being right.
“(Rizin FF President) Nobuyuki Sakakibara and I got on the same page,” Coker told ESPN recently. “If Horiguchi comes here and wins, then he’s a two-belt champion, and once a year Sakakibara will send Horiguchi to Bellator to defend that belt against the next title contender. That was important to both of us.”
And so here we are again, with two fight promoters chasing that most elusive goal: the successful cross-promotional effort.
These two have a history with it, dating back to Coker’s time as the head of Strikeforce. And really, in a lot of ways he’s the ideal person to make something like this work. Coker has a reputation as a pretty square dealer, for one thing. He’s also far less bombastic than UFC President Dana White, who tends to turn all his professional breakups into public blood feuds.
But there’s also the other thing that makes Bellator and Rizin such suitable partners, and it’s the fact that neither can really say they’re doing the other a favor here, because neither has an easy time getting our attention all on their own.
Take Caldwell, for instance. He won the Bellator bantamweight title last year, to little fanfare. Earlier this year he defended it to even less. Even with that strap around his waist, he’s still probably most notable for being the only fighter in MMA to have a section of his Wikipedia page titled “celebratory backflip incidents.”
So how is Bellator, which is mostly lacking in recognizable names at bantamweight, supposed to get some shine for its champ? Maybe by sending him over to Tokyo and framing the whole thing as a hero’s quest to steal a new belt from enemy lands.
It works for me. It also works for Rizin, which is in need of new challenges for the legitimately awesome Horiguchi. He left the UFC on a three-fight winning streak and has only added to it since being back home in Japan.
If he were to spend New Year’s Eve thumping on another warm body and emerging with another win, so what? But if he defends his territory against a Bellator invader, now suddenly it’s a big deal.
And, let’s not kid ourselves, making a big deal out of nothing is essentially the fight promoter’s job. Sometimes meaningful fights just fall into your lap. The rest of the time you have to put in some work to create a narrative thread that we actually care enough to see through to its end.
Tournaments are one way to create meaning, and both Rizin FF and Bellator have made good use of those. Working together to create a champion-vs.-champion bout is another, though somewhat trickier path to the same waterfall.
If it works – which is to say, if both sides provide the fighters they’ve promised, and on timelines that work for all sides, which has been the big “if” for such endeavors in the past – it could become a semi-regular thing that helps both promotions carve out a little more space for themselves in a landscape still dominated by the MMA world’s 800-pound gorilla.
If nothing else, it gets us talking. And for every promotion not named UFC, that’s the biggest and most stubborn challenge there is.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Why cross-promotional title fights could be just what Bellator and Rizin FF need right now