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Bellator MMA hopes to build New York presence with Madison Square Garden debut

Scott Coker speaks during the Bellator 158 MMA

Scott Coker speaks during the Bellator 158 MMA Press Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on April 18, 2016 in London, England. Credit: Getty Images/ Jordan Mansfield

When mixed martial arts was legalized in New York last year, the UFC and World Series of Fighting were quick to bring events to the new market before 2016’s end.

Bellator MMA president Scott Coker, however, didn’t want to rush it.

“People ask me all the time, they say, ‘why did you guys wait so long?’” Coker said. “At the end of the day, we wanted to bring the biggest, best fight card we could bring to New York, and now we have done that.”

Bellator NYC on June 24 at Madison Square Garden will mark the promotion’s debut in the state, featuring a double main event of Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva and Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione.

The event will also feature a pair of title fights. UFC veteran Lorenz Larkin will make his promotional debut against welterweight champion Douglas Lima, while lightweight champion Michael Chandler will defend his belt against unbeaten Brent Primus.

The Viacom-owned promotion may have taken its time coming to New York, but Bellator plans on being here for the long haul.

“This is our hometown. Viacom, our world headquarters are right up the street,” said Jon Slusser, Spike TV President of Sports and Specials. “This is a home game for us.”

New York isn’t the only big change for Bellator. The event will be just the second in promotional history to be sold as a live pay-per-view, and the first under Coker’s leadership. Coker and Slusser indicated this pay-per-view isn’t a one-off event.

“This is a new revenue stream for us and will allow us in time to continue to build up Bellator,” Slusser said. “There will be consistent and regular pay-per-views moving forward as we enter this new line of business.”

Coker said Bellator won’t hold monthly pay-per-views, but will build events around big fights as they come up. He also said New York will be a potential site for future pay-per-views and the promotion has been pursing local fighters as it builds a presence in the market moving forward.

“In 2017, we have a schedule where we’re going to be doing some fights in the New York area and upstate New York, but this is the beginning of it all,” Coker said. “There’s nothing that’s off the table.”

Slusser said coming to Madison Square Garden first made “perfect sense” for Bellator.

“There’s no better place to start in New York than here, the sports mecca that it is and the fact that it is our backyard,” Slusser said.

The only person who seems indifferent to the stage of New York and MSG is the man who will be at its center — Sonnen.

Coming off a loss to Tito Ortiz in his Bellator debut, the boisterous Sonnen spent much of the press conference bad-mouthing Silva ahead of their long-awaited matchup. Ever the talker, Sonnen even had a parting jab for the city and venue.

“Feast your eyes and fantasize, ladies and gentlemen, because on June 24, the king of pay-per-view is coming to your decrepit building in your concrete-ridden city,” Sonnen said. “I’m taking your money and going back to West Linn, Oregon, still undefeated and still undisputed.”

Sonnen is neither undefeated nor undisputed.

Silva, who spoke at the press conference via video conference, is hoping to let his fighting speak for him despite a four-year layoff.

“He just talk, all the time, just talking, talking, talking,” Silva said. “I hope you training more than you talking, because like you got beat in the last fight, I’m going to beat you so fast.”


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