Bellator Kickboxing

Welcome to Bellator Kickboxing, Scott Coker has officially launched his first MMA offshoot and is already showing strong intentions to capitalise on the striking market. But with the volatile nature of the sport, Bellator have to do it right, or not at all.

The announcement during the Bellator 149 media week encompassed everything we already know about the promotion. Use the big name’s to help promote a new, fresh vibe – and essentially that’s what we got with the Bellator Kickboxing presser.

Bellator Kickboxing
Bellator Kickboxing Logo

Coker said: “Kickboxing is a thrilling, non-stop action-packed sport that I believe will resonate with MMA fans.

“Our first goal is to develop stars and showcase these incredible athletes on the #1 home for combat sports, Spike TV.”

There has been slight backlash on Coker’s announcement, with the polarising MMA fanbase often resilient to accept kickboxing into their tender, loving arms. Whether you like it or not, one thing that is clear, it isn’t as baffling as the World Wrestling Entertainment’s failed 2001 football venture with the brutally short lived  XFL. Although a bold move by WWE owner Vince McMahon, hindsight showed us it was a complete “colossal failure” (his words not mine). When you put that into perspective, Bellator Kickboxing actually makes an incredible amount of sense.

The vast amount of kickboxing experience Coker has on his CV is enough to show that the man is pretty serious about the sport.  In 1986 he became one of the first directors of ISKA. This alongside his experience promoting K-1 under the Strikeforce banner shows he is no dummy to the striking arts.

A kickboxing history lesson

Since the death of the original incarnation of K-1 in 2012, although kickboxing has been able to survive; and in some cases flourish; specifically in Asia, a visible void was left in a once uber popular contact sport. When you think of K-1, pomp and circumstance comes to mind. One thing K-1 did fantastically was promoting a spectacle (ring any bells?). Massive credit has to be given to GLORY Kickboxing who have actively made strong efforts over the past several years to re-introduce kickboxing to the majority. It is something they are still working towards and with one of the best rosters on the planet, coupled in with their recent deal to air SuperFight Series events on UFC Fight Pass it is still a major possibility in the coming years.

GLORY were never the overbearing sort, they were; and remain, kickboxing purists. Strip away the big entrances, the larger than life characters, the entertainment driven core that K-1 founded itself on and you have GLORY – without question the best and most straight to the point kickboxing brand in the world today. However, it has yet to captivate in the manner that K-1 managed to do for such an extensive period of time. That in itself is a telling story about the state of kickboxing.

Quite frankly, kickboxing has also struggled due to its failure to re-produce the level of talent it was consistently creating during it’s golden age. Andy Hug, Semmy Schilt, Mirko Filipović, Alistair Overeem, Ernesto Hoost and Peter Aerts, all irreplaceable and yet to be replicated. Contrarily, the current age of kickboxers such as Rico Verhoeven, Nieky Holzken, Giorgio Petrosyan and others are equally as talented but have failed to break the global mainstream in the way Hug and co did during the boom period. There was of course a lot more money being pumped into the sport at that time, something which lead to the eventual demise of K-1, but finances needs to be invested in building fighters for promotions to flourish; that’s business 101. Coincidently, if there is anything we know about Bellator and parent company Viacom, they’ve got tonnes of cash to throw around and they aren’t afraid to do so.

Bellator Kickboxing
Scott Coker and Carlo Di Blasi announce the crossover January.

The main crux of the new brand is centrally structured around the faces that Bellator expect to promote long-term. Namely:  Joe Schilling, Raymond Daniels, Kevin Ross, Keri Melendez and Anastasia Yankova.

Of course, Schilling and Daniels will be known to the wider kickboxing market who have followed GLORY in recent years, Ross is one of the U.S’s most renowned Muay Thai fighters, whilst Melendez and Yankova represent a fresh injection of female kickboxing talent yet to be fully utilised in the North American market.

Yankova gave a fantastic interview to MMA Fighting’s Luke Thomas at the presser and it really gave an insight into her humble yet equally candid persona -something which will inevitably bring her great marketability for Bellator.

The flashy karateke style of Daniels is something that will immediately draw the attention of the intrigued viewer. He’s somewhat the kickboxing parallel of Bellator MMA’s Michael “Venom” Page but slightly more versed in the way of the ninja.

Scott Coker and Carlo Di Blassi – dream team

One thing I have to give major credit to Coker and his team for is their desire to get into bed with the right people. On April 16 at the Pala Alpitour in Torino, Italy, Bellator will put on their first kickboxing show, co-promoted with Oktagon Kickboxing and the genius that is Carlo Di Blasi. The wise Italian has worked in this kickboxing game as Oktagon promoter since 1996 and as one of the most respected in Europe, his name value alone lends an enormous amount of weight to Bellator’s intent in their new venture.

Bellator Kickboxing
Bellator Kickboxing 1 Poster

Coker made it clear about the appeal of Bellator Kickboxing and it’s ability to give MMA fighters the opportunity to try their hand at two sports. That’s obviously a nice concept in theory, but the reality of the past examples do not favour well for MMA’s in the kickboxing world.

Bellator Kickboxing must avoid using washed up MMA fighters

Two names you need to know, Miguel Torres and Pat Barry – they tried and failed to give kickboxing a real go post-MMA. Former WEC Bantamweight champion Torres has a well accomplished MMA career for the most part – although the latter section of his career really spiralled downward. Angel Huerta put Torres to shame in his kickboxing debut and we’ve yet to see him in a ring since.

The case of Barry is slightly different, with “Hype or Die” holding some kickboxing experience prior to his time in MMA. Barry was actually a very decent kickboxer, competing on quite a few high profile K-1 events. Barry would go on to sign to GLORY where he would get floored by Zack Mwekassa. I hold less blame on Barry in this situation however, as he merely fell victim to the hype (pun intended).

In all honesty, it seemed like GLORY got a terribly raw deal from their time on Spike TV. Yes, the ratings were never an overnight success, failing to draw over 659,000 viewers, the numbers for their initial GLORY 13 broadcast on Spike, but was the partnership with the TV network always equally devoted? Take Bellator: Dynamite for example, from the three main card kickboxing bouts, only two of the fighters were signed to GLORY – Saulo Cavalari and Mwekassa. Add in the fact that the GLORY match-making team had limitations on their booking of knock out monster Paul “Semtex” Daley, it’s no surprise why GLORY’s participation in Dynamite seemingly detonated in their own face.

GLORY themselves are doing good things, they’ve got a budding relationship with ESPN and their new UFC Fight Pass deal can only help increase their reach within the MMA bubble. They are constantly showcasing the best kickboxers in the world on a regular basis. They are expected to put on 10 events in 2016, with five of those taking place in Europe; arguably their strongest market.

Schilling signing with Bellator is clearly a big loss for GLORY as he has the potential to be that crossover star Bellator are angling for. However, he has two fights left on his GLORY contract and clearly still holds value to that – hence he is headlining the SuperFight Series Chicago show.

With the resources being put into Bellator Kickboxing, bringing in some of the smartest brains and marketable names, everything is in their favour for it to be an overwhelming success. If they can learn from where their predecessors have failed and somehow manage to persuade the ever-strong MMA audience to give it a chance, then once again kickboxing may return to its roots as one of the most fulfilling and viable combat sports in the world.