As his company prepares for their next event on May 15th, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker spoke exclusively with MMARising.com today in an in-depth interview. The long-time fight promoter addressed comments and concerns about the Strikeforce women’s division and his partnership with Showtime.
Discussing topics ranging from planned tournaments in Strikeforce to upcoming matchups involving his champions, Coker remains focused on developing women’s MMA and the Strikeforce brand as a whole, but clarifies misinformation that has become a common theme in MMA reporting.
In recent weeks, statements made by individuals including Strikeforce signee Erin Toughill have painted the promotion and its relationship with the Showtime television network in a negative light. Contrary to claims that Showtime runs the promotion and dictates its course, Coker maintains that Strikeforce is run solely by him and a management group based in San Jose, California. While Showtime’s interests often mirror those of Strikeforce, Coker and his management team make all final decisions.
Toughill alleged in a recent interview that she had been pulled from the company’s April 17th event in Nashville, Tennessee, and that the decision had been made by Showtime executives who do not support the women’s division. Not the case, says Coker, who adds that a fight was offered to Toughill and only fell apart after a miscommunication involving her management. Toughill commented that she would no longer be fighting for Strikeforce, but later recanted and the two sides are working towards an agreement.
It is “so ridiculous” to suggest that Showtime is against women’s MMA or unwilling to promote female fighters, says Coker. He lists Showtime executive Ken Hershman as a big supporter of the division and states that Showtime was responsible for bringing Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos and Gina Carano to primetime CBS television. They were also in favour of the pair’s main event title fight in August.
“If it wasn’t for Showtime supporting female mixed martial arts, where would it be in [North] America? It wouldn’t be on TV. [Showtime has] done more for female mixed martial arts than any other network in the United States, for sure.” He added, “We have a great relationship with Showtime and Ken Hershman. If it wasn’t for Ken Hershman, we wouldn’t have the depth of matchups that we currently have. We’re lucky that Showtime believes in MMA and female MMA. They believe in Cris Cyborg and they believe in Marloes Coenen.”
“The reason why we signed Erin is we believe that she can be someone that we can [promote] as well, but we’ve just got to get her in the cage and stop these misfires from happening.” In response to recent comments from Toughill that state that she is fed up with being a scapegoat and does not care anymore, Coker says that it simply sounds like a frustrated fighter.
“We did offer [Toughill] a fight on either June 16th or June 26th. She told [Strikeforce representative] Shannon Knapp that she would not be ready to fight until after July.” Coker wants to move forward and believes that issues will be resolved once Toughill has fought for Strikeforce for the first time. While not interested in getting into a debate with Toughill or others, he wanted to set the record straight about Showtime and their support of the women’s division.
“Strikeforce is firmly committed to the women’s division and so is Showtime. Believe me, they are behind us [100%]. The suggestion that Showtime does not support the women’s division is just false information. We should be thankful for their support.”
“It’s really just propaganda from [UFC President Dana White], and then fighters start believing it. [Dana] says that Showtime runs Strikeforce, but Showtime is our broadcast partner and we’re lucky to have them. However, they’re not doing any administration and they’re not running our company. We’re running our company. It’s ridiculous for people to think anything else.”
“The propaganda machine is always going to be there with [the UFC], but judge Strikeforce by its actions. To me, we put on some great fights and we’ve only had the relationship with CBS and Showtime for one year. In one year’s time, we’ve done some amazing stuff.”
“If you look back at the history of Strikeforce, we did the first female MMA fight in the state of California when Gina Carano fought Elaina Maxwell. Before that, with kickboxing, I first started promoting back in 1985. I’ve been doing this for a long time. We’re going to be here for a long time and MMA isn’t going anywhere.”
In a final response to recent unflattering comments from competitors, Coker said, “To me, there’s two types of journalists in mixed martial arts. There’s the guys who want to be the National Enquirer of MMA and there’s reporters who get both sides of the story to get the facts, and don’t just rely on soundbytes.”
Looking ahead, Coker has many plans for the Strikeforce women’s division and addressed upcoming matchups for his two champions, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos and Sarah Kaufman. He confirmed that Santos will definitely fight on June 26th, not June 16th as initially reported, and an opponent is still being finalised. Strikeforce is in contact with multiple potential opponents.
“The beauty of [having Santos fight on the 26th] is you get to watch the number one male fighter [Fedor Emelianenko] and the number one female fighter [Santos] competing on the same night on Showtime.”
The idea of women’s tournaments is still very much in Coker’s plans, though a 145-pound tournament is not likely in the immediate future. A 135-pound tournament is planned for late summer and will determine a future title challenger. “[Sarah Kaufman] will fight the winner of the tournament at 135,” Coker said. “It hasn’t been set yet, but we may feature her in a superfight first.”
“We’re monitoring [other] tournaments and encouraging our friends all around the world that we have relationships with to host female tournaments.” The winners of the tournaments, including the recent Upcoming Glory tournament in Europe, will be invited to take part in future tournaments in Strikeforce. As well, Strikeforce star Miesha Tate is also a likely candidate for the 135-pound Strikeforce bracket. “I think she will [be in the tournament],” Coker said.
“We’re going to invite fighters from [the all-female Jewels promotion in Japan] to be part of our 135-pound tournament. I really want to make this a worldwide tournament to create the next female superstar.” Coker and his management team are also monitoring the ongoing Freestyle Cage Fighting Women’s Grand Prix, which concludes on June 12th. The winner could possibly be slated to challenge Kaufman in the superfight. As well, Hiroko Yamanaka (8-1-1), a top fighter in Jewels, could serve as a future challenger for Santos’s 145-pound crown.
On a final note, Coker addressed the future of women’s MMA postergirl Gina Carano, who is currently filming a movie and is said to be involved in a second big-budget film this year. “[Carano] still has a home here with Strikeforce and we look forward to her return,” said Coker, who stated that he would reach out to Carano when she had returned home and taken some time off after filming had wrapped. “Cung [Le] waited about 18 months before he came back, so let [Carano] go be a movie star for now.”
Contrary to reports that have suggested otherwise, Carano’s contract is a multi-fight, multi-year deal that extends well beyond what some have speculated. Coker looks forward to Carano’s return and believes that she will be part of the company’s bright future.
MMARising.com sincerely thanks Scott for his time in providing this lengthy interview.
(Photo Credit: Esther Lin, Strikeforce)