Bellator's Scott Coker: Fedor Emelianenko 'in fourth quarter of his career'

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Fedor Emelianenko (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin following a 2012 match in Moscow. (The Associated Press)

Scott Coker calls Bellator NYC the best pay-per-view offering this year, and said he hopes it can sell at least 200,000 units.

In the last 10-plus years, no MMA organization other than the UFC has been able to come close to doing it, and for Saturday’s show at Madison Square Garden in New York to reverse that trend, the public is going to have to buy in on Fedor Emelianenko.

The Russian heavyweight, who fights Matt Mitrione on Saturday, is by far the biggest name on the show. Since his days when he was the dominant heavyweight in the now-defunct PRIDE Fighting Championship ended, Emelianenko has more often appeared on network or cable television, rather than on pay-per-view.

But since PRIDE was purchased by the UFC and dissolved in 2007, Emelianenko hasn’t proven to be a pay-per-view attraction. He fought three times on pay-per-view in the U.S. since PRIDE ended, and sold around 200,000 combined.

His April 14, 2007, match in BoDog with Matt Lindland did less than 20,000 sales. He fought twice in Affliction, selling about 95,000 for his win over Tim Sylvia and about 85,000 for a victory over Andrei Arlovski.

Other than that, his shows have all been on either network or cable.

Saturday, Bellator has an intriguing card that lacks a dominant figure like a Conor McGregor at the top who is sure to sell. Aaron Pico is potentially the greatest prospect in MMA history, but he has no name recognition yet. The nominal main event between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva would almost certainly do significant numbers on cable, but it’s questionable whether it would cause people to open their wallets.

But Emelianenko versus Mitrione could, if the public believes that Emelianenko has enough left to make it a competitive fight. Mitrione is a slight favorite, but Coker said there are plenty of signs that Emelianenko has taken the bout seriously.

“I’m confident that he is motivated and he knows he’s in the fourth quarter of his career,” Coker said. “He trained hard for the Mitrione fight when he was supposed to fight him in San Jose. And then he went to Holland to train for this fight. He knows what is on the line here. I think you’ll see the best Fedor there’s been in the last 10 years coming out on Saturday night.”

The best version of Fedor was probably from 2002 through 2005. At his best, he would be a massive favorite to finish Mitrione. But at less than his peak, it’s a 50-50 fight.

He didn’t look good in a bout last summer with Fabio Maldonado, in which the scoring was questionable. Mitrione is at a higher level than Maldonado, so perhaps Emelianenko will need to be vastly better.

For the show to hit the numbers that Coker is targeting, though, he’s going to need the public to believe that Emelianenko-Mitrione is a legitimate 50-50 fight.

If he doesn’t perform and Mitrione wins easily, it will likely be over, at least in the U.S., for the popular Russian heavyweight.