good article in San Jose Mercury News on Scott Coker
Mark Purdy: San Jose's Strikeforce goes prime time in mixed martial arts
By Mark Purdy
Mercury News Columnist
Scott Coker was at home last weekend in Willow Glen, doggedly pursuing the American dream. He was watching football on television.
Suddenly, during a commercial break, Coker sat up straighter. On the screen, a screaming CBS announcer was talking about a big-deal Mixed Martial Arts fight that the network will broadcast Saturday night.
Coker found himself being surprised — even though the fight being promoted was the fight he created and was promoting.
"This," he said to himself, "is very cool."
Coker was relating this story the other day at one of his favorite San Jose breakfast joints, a few hours before flying off to Chicago, where the CBS fight will be held. The card features heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, who is generally recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the MMA game.
No surprise, then, that Coker says the arena is nearly sold out. But he is just as pumped by the fact that it is the first prime-time broadcast network show for his promotion company, Strikeforce.
"It's a proud moment for me and the company," he says, "as well as for Mixed Martial Arts and for all the people who supported me and our company from the start."
And wait, there's more big stuff coming. Former pro football star Herschel Walker has signed a deal with Strikeforce. He is scheduled to begin training in San Jose in the next few weeks.
For all of this, however, Coker still generally flies under the
radar in his own hometown. Coker operates his multimillion-dollar company out of a small office suite in the rear of a martial arts studio on Lincoln Avenue. He is the most unpublicized (for sure) and amazing (in many ways) sports story in the Bay Area of the past few years.
How did it happen, anyway? How on earth did an affable Korean-American guy from Gunderson High School wind up ascending to the upper echelon of the country's fastest-growing sport?
The answer: It definitely didn't happen overnight.
Coker, the son of an American father and Korean mother — they met in Seoul when his dad was in the military — was 12 years old when his family moved to San Jose in 1974. His parents noticed a martial arts studio in their neighborhood. They signed up their son for classes.
In a way, Coker has never left that studio. He competed in various disciplines through high school, won a bunch of trophies, taught classes himself. After graduating from Gunderson in 1980, he was attending West Valley College and uncertain about a career when a friend asked if he'd help promote a kickboxing show at San Jose Civic Auditorium.
"It was in February of 1985," Coker remembers. "It drew 2,400 people. My split of the gate was $8,000. I thought I was rich."
Coker really knew he was onto something, however, when the crowds kept coming back. This led, in the early days of ESPN, to Coker providing all the kickboxing shows for the network. In 1993, he shifted to ESPN2 with other martial arts programming.
"I came up with the 'Strikeforce' name that year," Coker says. "I had heard the term used in a TV documentary on the military — you know, the 'strike force' is the group that's first sent into the trouble. I thought it sounded like a good term for what we were doing."
Coker eventually forged a partnership with a Japanese MMA company to stage twice-annual shows in Las Vegas, then cut a deal for a series of televised fights from the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. He made a major splash in 2006 when he promoted California's first-ever MMA show at HP Pavilion and drew a paid crowd of 18,265.
Saturday night, though, might be Coker's most significant step. Coker has joined up with two other business partners — Showtime cable network and the Sharks' business arm, Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment — to build a solid business plan. He's got a Dec. 19 event planned for HP Pavilion and 20 televised shows planned for next year, coast to coast.
Of course, in the MMA racket, the unquestioned industry leader is UFC, which is operated by proud loudmouth promoter Dana White. Coker has no trouble acknowledging White's top-dog status and credits UFC for "paving the way" with the sport. White, though, was not happy when Coker signed up Emelianenko and has been snakily referring to Coker's company as "Strike-Farce."
This tells you that Coker must be getting under someone's skin. And you can imagine what will happen if Walker, the former Dallas Cowboy running back, turns out to have actual MMA potential.
When initially contacted by Walker's people, Coker said "no way" to the overtures. But he finally agreed to a meeting in Los Angeles. After determining that Walker was serious, Coker set up an impromptu session at a local gym that featured one round with a kickboxer, a wrestler and a jujitsu fighter. Walker held his own in the first two disciplines and struggled some in the third. But Coker saw enough to take a chance.
"I told him if he came to San Jose and trained 60 to 90 days with our people, I would find a fight for him," Coker says. "He'll be here next week. If it goes well, he'll fight in February or March."
That, too, could be on network television and would surely draw large ratings, even if a freak-show factor is involved.
And that, he acknowledges, could also be very cool.
good article in San Jose Mercury News on Scott Coker
Brock has mono...