INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Following A.J. McKee’s first-round finish of Patricio Freire in front of a packed house at The Forum for Bellator 263, president Scott Coker showered his new featherweight champion with praise.
During fight week, ahead of the event, Coker detailed why it was important to build talent from the ground up and stick with them as Bellator did with McKee. On Saturday evening, the plan plaid off as McKee won the featherweight grand prix, featherweight title, and a hefty $1 million paycheck.
“That honestly was spectacular,” Coker told MMA Junkie and other reporters at the post-fight news conference at The Forum in Los Angeles. “You guys felt the energy in that room, it was electric in there. It had that big, big-time championship fight feeling and A.J. did his thing, man. He was impressive.”
McKee’s moment was elevated by the fans in attendance at The Forum, something that has been absent from recent Bellator shows dude to the COVID-19 pandemic. Combined with the pre-fight build-up surrounding the event, Coker felt made the entire evening a special moment in the promotion’s history.
However, it’s not lost on Coker that variants of the virus are spreading rapidly, causing a rise in positive tests around the globe. This could jeopardize the promotions plans to hold cards overseas in London and in Russia this October.
“We are monitoring it closely,” Coker said. “When we planned our France event, Paris event last year, when we planned it, it was half-capacity. It was going to have 9 to 10,000 people there and then covid hit and started rising. It was down to 1,000 people by the time we got there, and then the week after nobody was even allowed to come to the country.”
Two months from now, a lot of things can change with how countries respond to the rising number of cases, but Coker ensures he will keep health and safety in mind while doing everything he can to make sure the fights take place, even if it means moving cards back to the U.S., like Uncasville, Conn., where the promotion has stayed active in a closed arena.
“Hopefully, like in the U.K., it’s fully open, I think they’re 85% vaccinated in the U.K. so I feel good about that event,” Coker said. “In Russia, I know they’re doing what they need to do and my feeling is it will be a full-scale event like this was. Maybe they’ll have some protocols with masks and things like that, but believe me, Viacom is really about protocols and making sure that all of our athletes and staff, the production team are safe, so that’s the number one priority moving forward. If it changes, then we’ll adapt, but right now, it’s full steam ahead.”
“If Russia, they’re on lockdown and covid starts ramping up to where we can’t do it there, then, of course, we’ll find an alternate location.”
Watch the full post-fight press conference with Coker in the video above.