by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
Strikeforce CEO Ready To Go To Work
By Tom Hamlin/MMAWeekly.com

In many ways, Scott Coker’s work has just begun.

The CEO of Strikeforce is in Los Angeles to negotiate with several managers who’s clients were until recently signed with ProElite, Inc. Last Thursday, he acquired 42 athletes from the troubled company, and wants to put them to work.

If there was a virtue that proved to be a commodity in his last three months as a promoter, it was patience.

“This is something that truly tested my character,” Coker told MMAWeekly.com about negotiations with ProElite, Showtime, and CBS. “I don’t think I’ve ever run across a deal that’s been this complicated, and had this many roller coaster rides. Because one minute I thought this was going to close, and the next minute, it’s not going to happen. For three months, it’s been a wild ride.”

Strikeforce’s new television deals could position it to become the sport’s next big player. The San Jose, Calif.-based promotion is set for aggressive expansion in 2009, chairing 16 fights on premium cable channel Showtime over the next year. CBS has also inked an option to produce four live event specials, though airdates haven’t been finalized.

That’s a lot of work for veterans and newcomers alike.

Coker himself plans on hiring three or four more employees, and says there’s a possibility that Strikeforce will open an office in the City of Angels. But the rule of the day will be to keep the promotion “lean and mean,” even as it undergoes its biggest growth spurt.

Next week, Coker will meet with Showtime’s New York executives to map out the promotion’s schedule for 2009. Strikeforce’s first Showtime-aired event is set for April 11 and will feature Frank Shamrock in the main event. Middleweights Benji Radach and Scott Smith are confirmed for the main card.

“Frank wants to fight Tito Ortiz,” Coker said of Shamrock’s potential opponent, though he wasn’t aware of Ortiz’s contractual status with longtime employer UFC. Prior to his debut as a color commentator for Affliction Entertainment, Ortiz called Shamrock out in a video interview with MMAWeekly.com.

Though Ortiz has said he is eyeing a July return to fighting following back surgery, he was clear about his take on Shamrock.

“As a warm up fight – this is a warm-up fight – since I’m getting off a huge back surgery and so forth: Frank Shamrock. Frank Shamrock, step up. Yeah, he’s a little smaller than me, but he’s said a lot of things, he’s beat me the last time he was a smaller man. Step up or shut up.”

According to Coker, there has been “dialogue” about Shamrock facing Nick Diaz, but the main event is still a question mark.

For the co-main event of the April card, Coker has offered former EliteXC lightweight champion KJ Noons a fight with Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson. A re-match between EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler and Joey Villasenor is a possibility, as well as a second meeting for Gilbert Melendez and Mitsuhiro Ishida.

This week, Coker will meet with Gina Carano’s representatives to shore up a deal with Strikeforce and offer a spot on the first event. If negotiations go well, a much-anticipated fight between the star and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos may come to fruition.

“(Santos) has already sent me an email saying she wants to fight Gina and she’s ready to go, so we’ll offer her that fight,” said Coker.

Santos has already agreed to a four-fight, exclusive contract with Strikeforce, according to a report by Sherdog.com.

A second Showtime event is planned for May at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., site of Strikeforce’s first foray outside California. Ed Soares and Jorge Guimaraes, representatives for former EliteXC fighter Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, have already cleared him for a bout with Strikeforce light heavyweight Renato “Babalu” Sobral on the card. Sobral is expected to be offered the fight this week, though nothing is set in stone at this point.

Coker says his relationship with Japanese promoters from Dream and Sengoku will be essential for filling 2009’s calendar. In September, he gave standouts Kazuo Misaki and Ishida their first fights for an American promotion, and sees many exciting match-ups possible for as early as May. Among his “dream” fights: Melvin Manhoef vs. Robbie Lawler, Joachim Hansen vs. Josh Thomson, and Shinya Aoki vs. Gilbert Melendez.

“We’re going to continue to expand on that relationship,” he said. “We’d like to have some of their top guys come and fight some of our top guys.”

In a fight sure to agree with Japanese fans, Coker says he’s considering a main card bout – though not a headliner – between Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson and Bob Sapp, possibly as soon as the Tacoma event.

“I would say by the second week of March, we’ll have the next 12 months laid out,” said Coker, adding he’ll pitch the return of 8-man tournaments to Showtime and CBS. “We’ll map out three or four main events and co-main events, months out.”

While he’s about to get very busy in the coming months, the 25-year veteran of kickboxing, Sanshou, and MMA events is happy to have cleared the major hurdle to expansion.

“It’s been very emotionally draining,” he said. “I’m glad it’s over with so we can go to work.”