In the world of professional combat sports, there seems to always be two types of fight promoters. One sticks to the shadows to such a degree that their presence is practically ghostly. The other is so embedded in the public spotlight that news about him and his controversial opinions can sometimes generate as much or even more interest in an upcoming fight than the fighters themselves. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker recently called it the Bob Arum/Don King dynamic, and guess which one Coker says UFC President Dana White comes closest to emulating. Here’s what the soft-spoken head of the second-largest MMA promotion in the world had to say about how fight promoters promote fights.
Courtesy of Bloody Elbow: “Dana is kind of like the Don King. He’s out there and he’s out promoting his brand as well as the company brand and the fighter brand… The guy I really liked wasn’t Don King. To me, it’s okay being the Bob Arum… The stars of the show are in the cage. Dana is Dana… He does a great job at doing what he does. It’s okay to be the Bob Arum… I think we’ve accomplished so much in these last 18 months… We’ve done some big arena shows; we’ve done some million dollar gates… There’s plenty of room for everybody. We are going to continue going down our path.”
I agree that credit should be given where credit is due: Strikeforce has performed admirably since acquiring the bulk of the assets of the now-defunct ProElite organization and fully stepping up as a major player in the global Mixed Martial Arts scene. There have been some stumbling blocks, some missteps here and there, but no promotion is perfect, and that includes the juggernaut that is the UFC. The fact that we’re still talking about Strikeforce in the here and now and not in a postmortem sense is a testament to Scott Coker and his staff knowing their market and being able to survive and even thrive in what is, for the most part, a one-promotion sport.
I also agree that there’s no real problem with playing the Bob Arum to another person’s Don King. It presents an interesting duality, and it opens itself up to the kinds of discussions that ultimately draws some eyes to both the promoters and the promotions. In comparing and contrasting Scott Coker to Dana White, ultimately what we’re focusing in on is Strikeforce and the UFC. And if we’re being perfectly honest, it’s just plain fun to see this type of promoter vs. promoter dynamic, with one being the stoic hero while the other is the flamboyant showman. It gives both the promoters and the promotion a character that is all their own and helps fans and would-be fans identify with said promotion/promoters. If we didn’t have this battle of contrasting ideals, if all we got were the CEO’s that barely raised a whisper or CEO’s that go out of their way to position themselves in the media, what we’d ultimately be left with is a cast of vanilla characters whose acts and opinions would quickly get old.
In the end, I’m fascinated by both Scott Coker and Dana White. I don’t consider either man a saint, but I also don’t consider either man the scum of the earth. Both men have their fair share of flaws, but I think I’m well within the realm of reality to say that both Scott Coker and Dana White are brilliant businessmen. As the sport of MMA continues to drive headfirst into the mainstream and pop culture, it will be very interesting to see which side and promotional style the mass media chooses to fully embrace. For me, at least, the fun is in the journey and not the destination.
And what about you, fans and friends? What do you want in a fight promoter: a Scott Coker or a Dana White?