Bellator MMA president Scott Coker is celebrating this week's cross-promotional announcement with Japan's Rizin Fighting Federation -- and expects there to be similar announcements in 2019.
Earlier this week, Bellator announced that its bantamweight champion, Darrion Caldwell (13-1), will face Rizin's Kyoji Horiguchi (25-2) for the promotion's inaugural 135-pound championship. The bout will take place on New Year's Eve in Saitama, Japan.
Caldwell's Bellator title will not be on the line, but that doesn't mean it won't be in the future. According to Coker, part of the negotiations with Rizin president Nobuyuki Sakakibara pertained to after the event and the potential of regular cross promotions that include champions.
"We each had to make sure we were protected on the back side," Coker said. "If Darrion Caldwell wins the Rizin belt, at least once a year, we'll send 'DC' to Japan to defend that belt, because it's not fair to them to put their championship on the line and if he wins -- sorry, you don't have it anymore.
"Nobuyuki Sakakibara and I got on the same page. If Horiguchi comes here and wins, then he's a two-belt champion, and once a year Sakakibara will send Horiguchi to Bellator to defend that belt against the next title contender. That was important to both of us."
Coker and Sakakibara, the former head of Pride Fighting Championships, have a history of striking deals with one another, going back to Coker's time as the CEO of Strikeforce.
As soon as next year, Coker says, fans might see an entire "Bellator vs. Rizin"-themed fight card.
"I do think Rizin and Bellator will work multiple times together next year," Coker said. "I think it could lead to a big event where it would be 'Rizin vs. Bellator' in Japan or over here, next year. I think you'll see that type of collaboration."
Cross-promotional events are a rarity in MMA, particularly at the highest level. Coker admits there are challenges in the negotiations but believes it's a healthy thing for the sport when they come together.
"Our champ versus their champ -- I like that. It has a good ring to it," Coker said. "I'm happy we put it together. It wasn't easy, but DC is going to have a chance to go to Japan and fight, which is something he wanted to do.
"People are going to be excited about having our champs fight their champs. It makes a lot of sense. That door is always open. We have to have a relationship where each promoter knows the relationship will continue past one event. If those hurdles are managed properly, events like this can happen, which is very exciting for the sport."