By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies
It has been a whirlwind week in St. Louis MMA.
Fresh off its standing room only show at the River City Casino, Shamrock Fighting Championships unleashed its first round of signings of area pros.
Ever since Shamrock FC announced its partnership with Bellator last year there has been speculation aplenty about who, locally, will be fighting on those cards.
Shamrock signed a handful of prospects this week to exclusive agreements (with outs for Bellator and the UFC). As expected Joaquin Buckley was picked up fresh off his main event victory at SFC: Showdown. Buckley has fought for SFC his whole career and trains at Finney’s MMA, the flagship gym for the promotion. Talented lightweight Garrett Gross was another to file under the “not surprised” category. But the inking of UFC and RFA veteran Chris Heatherly and Titan vet Dan O’Connor gives an idea where the promotion was going. SFC is putting on another 12 pro fight cards this year, giving plenty of consistency and a path for a fighter’s career. SFC plans to announce 10 more signings in the next couple of weeks before pumping the breaks leading up to this summer’s Bellator show in St. Louis.
Bellator MMA president Scott Coker was in St. Louis this week where he made it official, announcing that High Ridge native and University of Missouri grad Michael Chandler will be the co-main event of Bellator 138: Unfinished Business – Shamrock vs. Slice. The event will mark the return of MMA to the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis on June 19.
Coker became the president of the Viacom-owned Bellator in June, 2014 and under his command trashed the old Bellator tournament format, upped the production value of the live events, and stormed after viable free agents. Coker has always had an eye for talent (Daniel Cormier, Ronda Rousey and St. Louis’ own Tyron Woodley were all young stars for Strikeforce) and he is now about to rummage through this region’s vast wares.
We caught up with Coker for a brief Question and answer session about Chandler, Shamrock FC, and more.
KJ: What attracted you to St. Louis? Did you see a void nationally when it came to MMA in the Midwest?
Scott Coker: It was not so much a void in the Midwest than that once we got our barriers together, got through the 10-weeks (of 2015) and when it came to changes and the amount of fights and the size of the roster, we started to pick city’s and St. Louis was one of the first ones. We needed to have more fights and Shamrock FC are great partners to work with. They will have the say on the undercard. If Jesse says here’s a fighter we may want to take a look at or build up, we will identify it. We found Tyron Woodley in St. Louis and we’re looking for the next one. Bob Cook from AKA told me I should check out (Tyron) but it was Jesse who kept staying on me about it.
KJ: What are your plans for St. Louis?
SC: We would like to do one or two tent pole shows a year here. I’ve always loved St. Louis and thought it was a great fight town and it’s an ongoing relationship from the Strikeforce shows. Shamrock FC has done such a good job building up the market and with them giving us a hand, we feel like we are in good hands here.
KJ: What does Michael Chandler mean to Bellator?
SC: He has been a workhorse for the organization. He has stepped up every time he’s been asked. He’s had those amazing fights with Eddie Alvarez. The first time he fought Will Brooks it was a change in opponent the week of the fight and I think that threw him off. And the second time, Will stepped up big time. I think Michael is going to comeback and do great things for Bellator. He was such a natural fit that when we came to St. Louis we had to have him fighting.
KJ: I expected a lot more skepticism from the mainstream media and hardcore fans when you announced 51-year-old Ken Shamrock vs. famed street fighter Kimbo Slice as the main event here in St. Louis. But I’ve been surprised by the amount of positive feedback it has gotten, especially on social media.
SC: It’s a fight that we feel good about. I feel that it’s a fair fight. It should have happened six-seven years ago and I think that if it had, it would have been the most highly-watched MMA fight at that time. When you look at the hardcore MMA fan compared to the fringe MMA, there are about four-five times more who are fringe. It gives the fan something to tune in to see something for everybody. The key to the fight happening was (2014’s Bellator) fan fest. Ken came up to me and said, ‘I want to fight Royce Gracie.’ I said, ‘No. I’m not going to set that up.’ The catalyst was Kimbo saying, ‘hell yeah.’
KJ: Do you have any standout memories from St. Louis shows in the past?
SC: We had many magic moments with Strikeforce but I’m ready to move forward. We have the best team assembled to go after the market when it comes to marketing, production. It’s exciting. Expect the rest of the fight card to be announced in the next couple of weeks and it’s going to be stacked top to bottom.
Tickets for Bellator MMA: “Unfinished Business” go on sale to the general public today via Ticketmaster and Bellator.com