Bellator’s move back to live mixed martial arts events will come under the auspices of CBS/Viacom which owns the fight league, with plans to stage six events in six weeks behind closed doors in Los Angeles from mid-July. Still in the planning, the events will be ‘made for TV’ experiences on sound stages within the media conglomerate’s LA properties, until it is safe to return to having full audiences, explained president Scott Coker. For now, events will be US-based, with plans, if possible, to fly in overseas fighters and quarantine them for two weeks if necessary. Coker’s aim is to ‘catch up’ with the six events which will have fallen by the wayside in that period due to the coronavirus pandemic, with his ambitions to still have the 30 events scheduled for 2020. But the emphasis will be on major levels of testing for anyone involved, from staff, to officials to fighters and their teams.
I was at the Bellator event on March 13 that was postponed just five hours before it was due to start as the pandemic broadened its grip on the world and all sports began an almost immediate shutdown. Coker believes it could take a long time for the public to have the confidence to return in large numbers to live events again. “It will take time for people to develop confidence to go back to the movies, basketball games, boxing events and combat events. We’ve decided in July, August and September and maybe even October we’ll be on a sound stage in LA or at the Paramount lot” explained the respected veteran promoter.
“We’re talking to both of them right now and we’re looking at all the options. What I mean is no audience, a sound stage, an isolated event where we can control the environment. We’ll make it a ‘made for TV’ show only.” “We might just have to do super fights from North America,” explained Coker. “There’s a lot of unknowns right now including going to the UK. We don’t know what’s going on over there. If we did go there would we go into quarantine? Certain states in the US do that, like Hawaii. Certain states are opening up. Texas is opening up, Florida and Georgia have opened up. It’s affected the world economy and it’s not something I thought I’d ever see in my lifetime. But we’ll just have to do it.”
The key will be testing fighters, their cornermen, officials and television crews and MMA announcers. “The testing protocols will be worked out. I feel the athletic commissions will want to have their own protocols and then Viacom as a company will have its own protocol,” explained Coker. “The thing about it is, Viacom will have a protocol that addresses employees but we have cornermen and cutmen to deal with. We’ll have Viacom needs for protocol, Bellator needs for protocol and then the Athletic Commission needs for protocol. All three of those need to be addressed and they will be.”
Like others sports, it will be about working with new protocols. Coker explained that CBS/Viacom will come out with their protocol, as will the commissions, and it will all have to be integrated, with more staff hired to handle those protocols: logistics staff, new specific medical staff.
Coker also believes it will be imperative that fighters – however desperate they are to get back in the cage – will have to be transparent about their health, and look at the wider picture.
“We’re going to be back to work, whether it’s July or August. I don’t know if media will be allowed. Even with our staff, we’re not bringing everybody. We want to limit the people in the building so we can do everything we can to stop a spread,” added Coker.
Meanwhile, other fight organizations such as the Professional Fighters League have already taken the decision to reschedule its 2020 season for 2021.
Donn Davis, the chairman and co-founder of the PFL, which has been running for two seasons, believed there was no sense in having their schedule truncated by shutdowns, and therefore committed to paying their contracted fighters a monthly sum to support themselves during the lockdown. Next spring, the fighters will compete for the $1 million purse.
The key is safety. In what the world is calling ‘the new normal’. And fight sports will have new levels of normalcy, that could make the landscape look different, at least for the time being.
This Article First Appeared in Fighters Only Magazine [FIGHTERSONLYMAG.COM], July 2020, Page 14