Fedor Emelianenko versus Rampage Jackson at the Saitama Super Arena, Tokyo. A bucket list event for Bellator and its president Scott Coker. It goes down tonight, in a collaboration with Japanese fight league Rizin, with Michael Chandler, Lorenz Larkin and Michael Venom Page from the Bellator roster on the card, too. Explosiveness and dynamism. A moment in time.
Fedor and Rampage never met in PRIDE, in the heyday of fight sports entertainment in Japan, and this is a genuine wind back moment. It also caps a burgeoning, growth year of flags being planted, signings being made, and overall growth for the Bellator fight league.
“I think it all started in 2018 in Hawaii. That started the roll. That was the launch of 2019. That started the momentum. We had Fedor and Bader,” Coker explained to The Daily Telegraph in an exclusive interview as the year closes out.
“Time goes by fast. This it the type of business where there’s ups and downs. We’ve been on a good roll and growing. Europe has started to become solid. I want Europe to be self-sustained. We have a great operation there and fighters. We need to grow more talent and sponsorship there. It can be it’s own little event series. I want to do the same in Asia. Build it’s own self sustained business there."
"And then we’ll go to South America. Build our own business there. When I started here, we were doing 14 events each year, now we’re doing 30 events this year. In a couple years we might be doing 50 events a year. It won’t be just the US team. My goal is to have the European series have its own business within our business. They’ll be times when we overlap. In the next year you’ll see that office grow by four times.”
Is there a danger in getting too big ? “That’s never been our philosophy. To me it’s about who it is doing the work, how you build, and with whom.” The team, led by David Green in the UK, is gaining strength, added Coker.
Then there are adroit signings, like James Haskell. “I think he’s going to be a beast. He can already speak and sell a fight. Hopefully he’s training and getting ready to fight because we’d like him to fight in the second quarter next year,” revealed Coker to The Telegraph.
Back to Japan, though, and this special occasion tonight. “A lot of people weren’t around at that time in Japan from ‘93. Japan was King. The best kickboxing and MMA fighting in the world. Pride had the best fighters in the world. That’s why the UFC bought them, they knew they were a threat.
"If they had hooked up with the right guy they would have really taken off. The UFC saw that as a threat and they decoded to buy it. It all started there. For us to independently go to Japan with Rizin with Fedor and Rampage is huge. It’ll probably be one of the biggest gates in the history of this company and one of the biggest attendance fights. I’m really excited and it’ll be amazing to walk into the arena and see Bellator everywhere.”
For the purists, it is special too.“It’s a throwback fight. That’s why the fans have reacted. I think the sellout is 18,000 people and there’s over 14,000 sold now. We have another 4,000 to sell,” explained Coker ten days out from the event. “I think the fans will show up. It’s a 12 noon show and it’s live on Paramount.”
Like many of the other big Bellator shows, it is also live on Sky Sports,
With Josh Barnett having signed wth Bellator - albeit ill in Hawaii and unable to fight Ronny Markes at the eleventh hour, there is the prospect of Fedor and Barnett meeting. Barnett told The Telegraph last week that it is one of the reasons he signed with the fight promotion
“That’s certainly possible. They almost fought in Affliction. It didn’t work out. Fedor is focusing on Rampage only but Josh is one of the candidates to fight Fedor in the future,” Coker explained to me.
If it means so much to Coker, just listen to what it means to Chandler, the fighter, and one of the longest serving Bellator roster members.
“I remember all these great fights from Japan from back in the day, and it has aways been on my bucket list,” explained Chandler. “Saitama Super Arena, Tokyo, Fedor, Rampage, the venue and a time that got us into this sport. I got to fight at Madison Square Garden, that was amazing. Now here we are in Tokyo. It does not get better than this.” Indeed. Let the battles commence.
Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage Main Card:
Heavyweight Main Event: Fedor Emelianenko (240.5) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (265) 160-lb.
Contract Weight Co-Main Event: Michael Chandler (160.7) vs. Sidney Outlaw (160.9) 173-lb.
Contract Weight Main Card Bout: Michael “Venom” Page (172) vs. Shinsho Anzai (172.9)
Welterweight Main Card Bout: Lorenz Larkin (173.5*) vs. K-Taro Nakamura (170.2)
Flyweight Main Card Bout: Ilara Joanne (125.9) vs. Kana Watanabe (124.8)
Lightweight Main Card Bout: Goiti Yamauchi (157.8*) vs. Daron Cruickshank (155.1)