by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker had swept through Florence and Venice and was in Rome when his girlfriend’s cell phone started to blow up. It was his office with bad news: Josh Barnett had allegedly tested positive for steroids.
“My first thought was, who did the test?” Coker told MMAWeekly.com. “Because it’s usually after the fact. That was at midnight or one (on Tuesday morning).”
Coker was informed early Friday morning that Affliction had formally folded.
“I’m like, Jesus, man,” he continued. “I’d hate to be the guy to tell Fedor that it’s not happening.”
It did not take him by surprise that the new promoter had closed up shop – though he expected it to happen after “Trilogy.”
He disputes a well-read report that said Strikeforce was in the final stages of a merger with the clothing company.
“I just want to make the facts straight: there were never merger talks,” he said. “It makes me look stupid. I was very much in touch.”
Coker would confirm, however, that Strikeforce had been in talks with Affliction for several months regarding a sponsorship deal, which never came to fruition. Shortly after Barnett was removed from the card, communications broke down between the companies over a possible replacement. That replacement was Strikeforce heavyweight Brett Rogers.
“The reality, honestly, is that I couldn’t react fast enough for Todd (Beard) to feel good about,” said Coker.
Beard, who Affliction said resigned in November to seek counseling for alcohol abuse and anger management problems, was apparently still at the helm, and upset with Coker’s unwillingness to allow Rogers to step in.
“I’m like, look, it’s not just me, I have to talk to Showtime, and usually we don’t put fighters in fights that we can’t have a rematch with,” Coker continued. “It’s like, you want us to take one of our top heavyweights and give him to you when he’s only trained for five days? He’s just going to be taking the fight for the money. Even if you wanted to pay me money, it’s not worth it to me. And Showtime’s like no. So I told Todd, get a rematch clause for Fedor. But on another show, in the future, we can do it. Which I think is reasonable.”
In the end, though, Coker understood that any future talent exchanges wouldn’t be necessary, because the clothing company was getting out of the fight business.
“That was already in the works,” he said. “How they got out…(if) they became a sponsor for Strikeforce, (were) the conversations we were having. This was their last fight, so there would be no more fighters. The dialogue was that they were getting out of the business a month ago.”
A few high-profile fighters that appeared homeless after the cancellation were, in fact, already with Strikeforce.
“I can only speak for the fighters we have under contract that we allowed them to use,” he said. “One is Babalu, and one is Gegard Mousasi. Those are our fighters. The deal (with Gegard) was made months ago.”
Strikeforce recently signed Jay Hieron, who was previously under a non-exclusive deal with Affliction, to face Nick Diaz on Aug. 15.
Others, like Vitor Belfort, do not have a clear path.
“I’ve got enough 185-pound fighters I’ve got to keep busy,” he said. “Vitor’s been around a long time. He’s a great fighter, and that’s a conversation maybe we could have, but we just haven’t had it.”
The most coveted fighter of them all, Fedor Emelianenko, is currently entertaining Coker’s offer along with “4 or 5″ others from MMA and boxing promoters.
The San Jose, Calif., based promoter will now shift his focus to Aug. 15, when two top female fighters, Gina Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, headline a major event for the first time ever.
Coker’s time with Affliction is done, but the lesson of its demise is one he’s become accustomed to.
“The natural laws of economics apply to all businesses, and they applied to Affliction,” he said.