Coker defends Bellator pay structure

Monday, March 12, 2018

Bellator MMA president Scott Coker has been clear that he wants to go head to head with the UFC. Thus eyebrows raised all the higher when Bellator 192 salaries were released – 16 fighters had show money of $2,000 or less. By contrast, the minimum UFC purse is $10,000 to show and another $10,000 to win. While four fighters on the card were guaranteed over $100,000, the lower end was startling. With the average fighter fighting twice a year, and the average fighter losing 50% of the time, the year’s $30,000 at the UFC is tough to live on, but at least it’s more than a teenage counselor makes at summer camp.

Worse still, last month featherweight Marcus Sims tweeted that he had been offered $250 and $250 to fight on a non-televised bout at an Atlanta, Georgia motocross event held in partnership with Monster Energy.

However, Bellator boss Scott Coker spoke at length with Marc Raimondi for MMA Fighting, and detailed how his promotion’s model differs from the UFC’s. Bellator fills out cards with local talent, not signed to a multi-fight contract; it serves as a sort of try out (and put asses in seats). Some of these fights don’t even appear on the Bellator.com livestream, and sometimes serve as postlims after the main event.

“We work with local promoters in local markets, whether it’s Jesse Finney in the St. Louis area. We work with a local promoter in LA that helps us out,” said Coker. “All these guys have their own businesses that they’re running. They have fighters under contract and fighters that they’re trying to build for their leagues.”

“If somebody doesn’t understand our business, I get it. But for the people we deal with, the local promoters, the local managers, the local fighters — they understand it. Like, look if you get the call, then you’re gonna jump from what you’re making to the normal contract for Bellator fighters. It’s just a business model I’ve been doing for 30 years.”

“Really what we’re looking for is the next fighter that we would like to bring over. So we basically provide them the platform and the opportunity to get seen. … If we like somebody, then we’ll sign them. But they’re not a signed Bellator fighter to a Bellator contract. It’s just a one-off promotional contract to fight one fight.”

Tywan Claxton, Jordan Howard, Michael Kimbel, and Joaquin Buckley all entered Bellator this way, and then signed more reasonable contracts.

“We saw what we liked and we signed them to basically a television contract,” said Coker. “They get to fight on TV. And when you’re signed for a main card or TV, they go from what they were making in the local market to the 10 and 10 contract that we started out with and then we go up from there.”

“It’s almost like a tryout, is the way I look at it. Let’s see what these kids have and the ones we like, we’ll offer contracts. I think that’s the difference.”

These fighters can also get a percentage of their ticket money, if they choose to go through the process of using a promotional code.

The bizarre $250 offer apparently led to some internal changes.

“For me, it was definitely something that created some awareness internally and I think we made some massive changes and we feel great about the direction it’s heading,” said Coker.

The percentage of total revenue going to athletes appears to be roughly 50% across many professional sports. Coker says Bellator fighter compensation is above 50%. It’s widely believed that direct fighter compensation is well under that in the UFC.

“We pay a healthy amount and we help keep the industry healthy, along with the UFC and ONE FC or all these other promotions together combined,” he said. “We keep the industry going and we do our part.”