Strikeforce President Scott Coker is making the media rounds to promote his organization's upcoming March 3rd card at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Competing for the Strikeforce women's bantamweight title, champion Meisha Tate will defend against challenger and bronze medal-winning Olympian Ronda Rousey. To hear Coker tell it, Tate vs. Rousey is part of Strikeforce's continuing commitment to women's mixed martial arts, but also an important milestone in that genre of the sport.
In this interview with MMA Nation, Coker discusses the positive drug tests of Muhammed Lawal and Cris Santos, whether woman in MMA can break through on ability alone, if he'd remove a fighter from the organization for missing weight, the return of Daniel Cormier and boxing's Andre Berto vs. Victor Ortiz II.
Luke Thomas: Alright joining me right now to talk Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey which takes place March 3rd, 2012 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, by the way, tickets are already on sale the President of Strikeforce, Scott Coker. Scott, how are you?
Scott Coker: I'm doing great, how are you?
Luke Thomas: I'm doing good. I know it has to be a frustrating week for you. You had Cyborg obviously had some issues, that wasn't just this week but Cyborg had some issues with the athletic commission testing positive for steroids and yesterday, Muhammed Lawal, indicate to me your level of frustration at this point.
Scott Coker: Yeah, it's always frustrating when your star athletes and guys or females you're looking to get back into the cage right away but these things are governed by the state athletic commission and we're gonna support the commission and we're gonna let the due process fall out and fall through and we're gonna follow it up from there. Fighters do have rights and they can appeal and go through that process and we'll see what happens.
Luke Thomas: Lawal's an interesting case. Cyborg, I think many people were kind of not necessarily surprised but Lawal I think people were very surprised because here's a guy with international wrestling experience who took very rigorous testing from WADA and never had an issue and then came up with this new test result after his January 7th fight. Are you a believer that it's possible to have false positives in athletic commission testing?
Scott Coker: Boy, I'll tell you. I just don't know the process in which the Nevada State Athletic Commission does their sampling so I really can't comment on that but what I can comment on is I talked to Mo's manager, Mike Kogan and they're claiming that there's nothing they took that was inappropriate so like I said, let's let them deal with the commission and we're gonna support the commission. That's always been our position in Strikeforce. I think it's gonna be a process, I guess is my point.
Luke Thomas: About matchmaking, these two were popular figures in your organization that headlined fights before, Lawal obviously and Cyborg. How do you go forward losing two possible headlines who could be out for up to a year? What do you do now? Do you promote guys you wouldn't necessarily fill in that role? Do you lean on your figures? What's the process?
Scott Coker: Well I think we have a certain amount of TV dates that we have scheduled for Showtime and each one of these fighters would have definitely fought once or twice before the end of the year but we're just gonna fill their slots until they're ready to come back, until the commission clears them. We're gonna just continue moving forward and putting on great fights.
Luke Thomas: There was a news release I got yesterday from Zuffa and it was about, basically saying that once people sign with the larger company, they'll be drug tested immediately before they even fight their first fight as an effort to maybe curb these tests that we've had later and promote a culture of drug free use but there was a statement made by a former President of WADA, Richard Pound, and these are his words not mine, quote, "It's complete illusory and obviously intended to be that way. They're just trying to do enough to keep congress off their backs," end quote, obviously his words not mine. How rigorous is the testing in athletic commissions in your judgment?
Scott Coker: Well, since I've been a promoter for the last 25-28 years, we've always been governed by the state athletic commissions and I know Nevada and New Jersey and now California have had some of the strictest commissions to do the type of testing they do so to me, I think that to say the commissions aren't doing enough and for WADA to jump on them, for me, it's kind of like, look, they've been doing this a long time. They govern the boxing and MMA and we're governed by the state athletic commissions and the state of California or Nevada or New Jersey or wherever you go to or whatever state you're promotion, you're governed by those states so to me, it's always seemed like a process we're used to doing and a process that from time to time, if there's an athlete that was on some steroids or were cheating then they were caught and the process would happen and they can go through suspension or appeals and eventually they'd be allowed or not allowed to fight again.
In the states that we're fighting in, we're governed by the department of consumer affairs, I wish it was put together, if you remember why the athletic commissions were put together, it's to protect the athletes from the promoters and the promoters are protecting themselves from the athletes and the consumers are making sure they're getting a fair show. That's where we're being governed and I think they're doing a good job and I think that to get ahead of the curve like what Zuffa announced yesterday, I think that's just one more positive step.
Luke Thomas: Talk to me about Lorenz Larkin now. It seemed like he would have lost, I don't want to say no matter what but it looked to me like Lawal was clearly the better fighter. What does it do to him now that Lawal is in this kind of state of flux given this test. Again, Lawal's people are probably gonna fight it and maybe they'll be successful and we'll get back to where we were two days ago but how do you view Larkin's progression? Does that loss against Lawal still set him back or are you going to give him a little bit of a reset button?
Scott Coker: I think that I have to speak to Keith Kizer first because I think this loss might get taken off his record by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and then as far as I'm concerned, Lorenz, whether he lost to King Mo or not, will still have more opportunities. I still think the guy is talented, he's still young and King Mo fought him perfectly and did what he had to do, and you know the result. To me, I still think he has a tremendous amount of potential and talent and I think it kind of resets the button.
Luke Thomas: Let's talk about the fight you're here to promote, the Tate vs. Rousey event, main event Miesha Tate vs. Ronda Rousey, helluva fight really. Ronda Rousey, listen, Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufmann have been very vocal about their dislike that, not that Ronda isn't a tremendous competitor, but she kind of talked her way into the main event. Let me ask you, they recognize her ability, so what's wrong with talking your way into a title shot?
Scott Coker: Well I think it happens all the time whether it's boxing or MMA. These girls are very attractive girls but the one thing about both of them is these girls are dangerous. They're both very explosive, they're great fighters, they're great mixed martial arts fighters and it's been a long time, it's been since 2009 since we had a female main event on the big Showtime fight card. We've had fights on the challengers, the female tournament, but it's the first time since the Cyborg-Carano fight since we've had a fight of this magnitude. I think it's the most highly anticipated female fight in the last three years in female mixed martial arts.
Luke Thomas: This fight's different in a number of ways obviously but in an organizational standpoint, what are your differences between that event, the Cyborg-Carano fight and this Tate-Rousey fight? The Carano-Cyborg fight, Gina Carano's obviously the most popular star and there was a real big contrast but as you mentioned, there's a bit of similarity between Tate and Rousey. How do these two fights differ and how are they similar in your mind?
Scott Coker: Well Cyborg is Cyborg, she's got an appropriate name and Gina was a girl that came from a very, very good and experienced kickboxing background, got into mixed martial arts and Gina was the girl next door while Cyborg was, I always said, "Could you imagine me at the 911 domestic violence call at that house?" The Cyborg I know is always picking up her husband after her fight with a congratulatory salute to the crowd with her husband up on her shoulders. She's a beast as a girl so if you look at them, they're totally different but in this fight, you have both girls who are very attractive but like I said, they're both very dangerous. Ronda, she might have talked her way into this fight, which is great for female mixed martial arts, I still think that this girl, with her Olympic experience and the amount of mat time she's had with judo and professional competition definitely deserves a shot and I think Miesha will have her hands full.
Luke Thomas: Maybe this is getting to esoteric or off the beaten path but it's on my mind so I'll ask you. I'm reading a book now by David Brooks of the New York Times called The Social Animal and in the book, he talks about basically, even the most intelligent guys are bound by their evolution of genetics from the Pleistocene era, which is to say they predominate their thinking subconsciously with just how women look and in a sport where 90 percent of the audience but a huge percentage of the audience is male, can a female break through on ability alone?
Scott Coker: Well I think that they can. I think Cyborg proved it, I think Gina before her proved it and I think Miesha proved it and Ronda is gonna be the up and coming star that has her shot on the 3rd to see if she can hang on this level and when you think about female fighting, for myself, we've always supported female fights. In 2006, when mixed martial arts became legal in California, we promoted Carana vs. Elaina Maxwell which is the first sanctioned female fight in the history of California MMA and before that, Strikeforce was a kickboxing league before MMA was legalized in 2006 and we had so many great fights and I come from a culture in the martial arts school where you train with females, you spar with females and it was no different having a male or female around you training all the time. Females have always been a part of Strikeforce and keep in mind, the Cyborg-Carano fight was still the second highest-rated show on Showtime in the mixed martial arts Strikeforce show since we started three years ago.
Luke Thomas: Let's transition if we can a little bit. One thing that's been on my mind and I can't sort of figure it out, I know I speak for many fans when I say I'm happy to see the undercard bouts airing on Showtime Extreme. It's a wonderful addition, but why can't we get live video technology for your press conferences and your weigh-ins? Not that it would make a huge difference but I think there's a hardcore audience that has a pretty large demand for it and Zuffa already does it with UFC stuff, but we wouldn't even need that. You could just use basic UStream technology. Are we gonna get that live access to press conferences and weigh-ins in 2012?
Scott Coker: That's certainly something I can talk to them about but you have to just come out and come to the fights and check it out.
Luke Thomas: One sort of thing that was on my mind from UFC 142 was Anthony Johnson and what was kind of interesting was here was a guy that had some considerable ability although I don't think he fought that well in that particular event, but third time having issues with his weight cut. Let me ask you about Strikeforce. Strikeforce doesn't have the number of fighters on their roster as the UFC but would you take a punitive action in a proactive way against a fighter who had weight cut issues and here's what I mean: athletic commission are gonna do what they do for Lawal and for Santos but that's a different issue that Strikeforce as an organization taking a role. What is your view on a fighter who has habitual problems making weight?
Scott Coker: It's a real problem and you're counting on the fighter to be professional and to show up in shape, put on a good fight, do his best and I think making weight is the first step of that process of the fight weekend. To me, if you can't make weight, you have to question the professionalism of the athlete and if this is something that happens over and over and over, I think that maybe the relationship with the fighter is not gonna be a long career in Strikeforce or UFC because they're counting on you to do what you signed up for and it's a contract. You have a contract that you signed saying, "I'm gonna be at this fight weight," and when that doesn't happen, it creates a lot of problems for the promoter, the fighter and the TV networks. It's a real big issue.
Luke Thomas: Lay it out for me from the promoter standpoint, you get news the weigh-ins are Friday and you get news on Thursday, "Hey, your co-main event guy who's been selling this fight, there's just no way he's gonna make it," what goes through your mind?
Scott Coker: Oh boy, it's a series of, "Oh God here we go." Now you've got to talk to the other camp which is the biggest issue, you've got to let the commission know. For instance, if the fighter is too heavy, even if the opposing camp wanted to do it, the athletic commission won't let you do it. Then, the fight's off at that point and it can become very ugly and I've seen it happen a couple times in my promotion career that the fighter came in so heavy that the fight would not be allowed by the athletic commission and the fight was off.
Luke Thomas: One more question about this entire event you're having, we're talking about Tate vs. Rousey March 3rd, the next Strikeforce event on Showtime, Nationwide Arena is a place your organization has been to a lot and had some success. What is so great about that venue and that city that allows you to keep going back there?
Scott Coker: Well I tell you we're very excited to come back here. We went that last year with the Dan Henderson fight and did very well and did very well on Showtime and if you look at the community here especially that weekend when the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic is here, you can have 175,000-200,000 athletes coming into town to compete and these are athletes from all different martial arts from traditional karate and judo and body building and fitness and gymnastics, virtually I think they have 125 different categories that somebody can compete in and so I think there's a lot of synergy there and if you look at the Ohio State wrestling pedigree they came out that turned into MMA with all the guys like Coleman and Randleman and there's a big, big wrestling and MMA community in town and they've always supported us and we've been thankful.
Luke Thomas: There was big story on ESPN about UFC fighter pay, I don't want to get into it, it's been done and done over 1000 times but I'm kind of curious, it looks to me unless I'm missing something, Strikeforce doesn't have the same kind of discretionary bonus system, at least not to the same extent. If you could break it down for fans, how does pay for fighters differ in terms of between the way the UFC does it and the way that Strikeforce does it?
Scott Coker: Well, basically, I think the only difference really is we're not a pay-per-view product. We are a Showtime Television product and the bonuses for the pay-per-view swing upside that some of the fighters get in the UFC, you wouldn't have in Strikeforce. I think we pay our fighters very well to say that and I think if you talked to Gilbert Melendez or Jake Shields before, a lot of the guys that are fighting for us now, the pay, these guys are making a good living but the pay-per-view structure is a little different in the UFC and when you think about Showtime, we're a license fee-driven product and that means the subscribers on Showtime like mixed martial arts, therefore Showtime provides a license fee to Strikeforce per event and we have to create a budget for the fighters which we do and I think, like I said, it's a very fair portion and the fighters get paid according to popularity, TV ratings sometimes and the star power. This is a sport that's very driven by the individual and to me, if you're the main event, you're gonna make more money than the undercard fighter fighting on Showtime Extreme cards. It's very similar to the UFC but I think we're not in the pay-per-view business.
Luke Thomas: Can you give me an update on Daniel Cormier? I know it's still wishy-washy on when he will return but can you give me a little firmer idea?
Scott Coker: We're hoping, boy, we're hoping for a lot of things but that's a hard question to answer because every time I think of an update, it always seems to be changing. I know their coaches are concerned and want him to fight at 100 percent so we're in a holding pattern right now for Daniel to come back. That was a tournament that started February of 2011 and we're looking forward to putting on the main event and moving forward.
Luke Thomas: Last question before we let you go, I know you're a boxing fan as well. Next big fight on Showtime, the rematch between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto, who do you like to win?
Scott Coker: Boy, I tell you, that's a fantastic fight. In fact, I'm gonna go check it out in person because when I watched in on TV last year it was unbelievable, it was Fight of the Year or wasn't it nominated for Fight of the Year?
Luke Thomas: Yeah I think so, Ring Magazine I think had it Fight of the Year.
Scott Coker: Yeah, it was an unbelievable fight and I'm excited to go, but I'm gonna take Berto in this fight. I'm gonna take Berto.
Luke Thomas: Interesting. Do you think the loss to Mayweather may have set Ortiz back a little bit?
Scott Coker: Yeah, you know what? It's almost like a pick ‘em and I'm taking Berto because I think it's gonna go back and forth. It could go to three fights but I think Berto is gonna win this next one. I just have a hunch.
Interview transcribed by Brian Hemminger. Follow him Twitter: @GotAHemmi.