Our story on Bellator’s motivation to honor the legends of MMA and bring the fans closer to the men who paved the path for the fastest growing sport in the world. Includes full audio interviews with Ken Shamrock and Randy Couture.
Growing up with sports has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life. Taking in a ball game with my dad and brother were the highlights of my childhood. Barely surviving the heartbreak and drama of games that didn’t go my teams’ way were paramount to developing a loyal fandom that I carry to this day. Throughout these experiences I learned to appreciate the remarkable nature of what these athletes’ put into their craft, execute on the battlefield and carry with them throughout their careers and well into their retirement.
As older players retire and young players become legends in their own right, generations of athletes across the major sports are honored by the teams they played for. If you were to visit any NFL stadium and look up, you will notice names of famous athletes who graced the playing field below. In any NBA arena, a jersey hangs from the rafters in honor of the players who exceled on the hardwood. For the most part, this concept is referred to as a “Ring of Honor,” and even though most of us will never get to see these legends play in person, we hold these men in high regard for the accomplishments they made and we honor them to this day.
While the three major sports honor their legends with retired jerseys, executive positions and statues, there is one sport that needs to step up and embrace the same ideology towards the legends that made the sport what it is today: MMA.
MMA is growing at an exponential rate. The demand is there, and the UFC, Bellator, WSOF and Titan, have accepted the challenge of meeting that demand by televising a fight card nearly every week, entering new international markets and loading their stable of fighters into the hundreds. While all of these things benefit the sport, through athlete development, brand awareness and fan satisfaction, there is one thing missing. When will the men who made the sport what it is today receive their “Ring of Honor,” or better yet, “Cage of Honor?”
As Ken Shamrock expressed in our interview, the idea of using legends in the sport is there for the taking. “I really don’t understand why Scott [Coker] was the only one to think of it and why it took so long. I don’t understand why people haven’t used legends . . . people who built the sport to help promote fights like Bellator is doing now.”
In 2014, Bellator’s President Scott Coker took the first step to filling this void. Coker, who took the helm at Bellator from Bjorn Rebney in June, has been busy making sweeping changes to the Bellator product. Bellator will be moving away from the tournament format, moving to less frequent shows and paying their fighters more in line with the organization they are chasing.
As the number two MMA organization in the country, Bellator and Coker have decided to make one change that can potentially earn them significant fan loyalty, respect among retired fighters and inch them one step closer to the UFC: Honoring the legends of the sport.
While the UFC does have a Hall of Fame, in which there are eleven members, including Royce Gracie, Tito Ortiz, Stephan Bonnar, Ken Shamrock and Randy Couture, there appears to be a disconnect between showcasing them as Hall of Famers and honoring them as legends.
With vey public feuds between UFC President Dana White and several Hall of Famers making headlines in 2013, Scott Coker took advantage of using legends under the Bellator banner, when he named MMA legend and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu royalty Royce Gracie as Brand Ambassador for Bellator. He then followed that move with the announcement of a Fan Fest to take place in San Diego on October 21, 2014 to promote Bellator 131: Ortiz-Bonnar, an event that would include appearances by several MMA legends.
On Tuesday, October 21, at the Bellator Fan Fest in San Diego, an event that’s main goal was to promote Bellator 131: Ortiz-Bonnar, the idea of “embracing the legends” was clear. In attendance that night? Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz. All in one room, all shaking hands with the media, giving candid, fun interviews, and then meeting their loyal fans for hours.
“How can you not see the excitement in the room tonight and on social media . . . when you see Royce, Tito and Randy and all of a sudden Twitter starts blowing up and the excitement is there,” Shamrock explains when asked about whether or not this idea of embracing the legends will continue into the future.
Upon leaving the Bellator 131 Fan Fest, I gained a new appreciation for what Bellator as an organization and Coker, as the company’s leader, was putting into action. Legends, such as Gracie, Shamrock. Couture and Ortiz are the fighters who put MMA on the map for millions of fans around the world and to see them in the flesh, promoting the fights and engaging with fans shows me that Bellator is taking the necessary steps to honoring the men who made this sport what it is today.
It is clear that Scott Coker has a vision and that these men, pioneers of the sport, will forever be a fixture in the sports storied history, a feat that is long overdue and can escalate a sport that is already on the rise.
The stage has been set for Bellator 131 live from the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. Full details can be found here: http://www.bellator.com/articles/bellator-131-full-card-finalized-from-san-diego-valley-view-casino-center
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