Coker Undeterred by Potential of Public Backlash Ahead of Bellator's Israel Debut

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo via Scott Coker/Twitter

Last month, Bellator announced its first event in Israel, which is scheduled to take place on November 10 at Tel Aviv’s 11000-seat Menora Mivtachim Arena.

The card boasts an indulging headline attraction with Andrey Koreshkov defending his welterweight title against Douglas Lima, but the caliber of the card they bring to Isreal is not what they are likely to be criticized for with regard to the event.

For the last number of years, Palestinian supporters have urged musicians and sports stars to boycott the region due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Israeli military’s bombings in Gaza.

A cultural boycott of Israel was undertaken by hundreds of British artists in early 2015 to raise awareness on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The list of boycotters included Pink Floyd singer-songwriter Roger Waters and filmmaker Ken Loach.

When Jennifer Lopez announced her intention to play a concert in Tel Aviv earlier this year, the songstress was inundated along with appeals to boycott, with one tweeter asserting that she would be “entertaining children’s killers” if she performed in Israel.

Former Beatle, Paul McCartney, received death threats when he was booked to play at Israel’s sixtieth anniversary in 2008, but performed at the event anyway.

The issues surrounding the region are so sensitive that both pop starlet Rihanna and basketball player Dwayne Howard, among many others, have removed pro-Palestine tweets from their newsfeeds, for fear of backlash.

Similarly, Kim Kardashian had to issue a statement after a string of pro-Palestinian tweets she posted in 2012.

Having visited Israel frequently, Coker is happy to vouch for the city based on his previous visits.

“I don’t think you do have to be aware of the potential backlash,” he said.

“The reason I feel that way is because I have personally been there myself a number of times over the last eighteen months.

“When I went there on sighting tours I was walking around Tel Aviv, which is a vibrant city. We were just like tourists. You hear all these stories, but it was a pretty quiet time while we were there.”

As for the conflict itself, Coker cited recent attacks on US and French soil to illustrate that acts of violence can happen all over the globe.

He said: “Look what’s happened here (US)? There was the bomb in Chelsea, there was the shooting in Miami today—look at Paris. These types of things are happening all over the world.

“People talk about the political situation or the violence, when I was there no occurrences happened, but—I’ll tell you this—that can happen in Florida and that can happen in New York City now. It can happen anywhere in the world, it’s not just going to happen in the Middle East anymore.”

Bellator was bought by American media conglomerate Viacom in 2011. The media powerhouse is the sixth largest broadcasting company in the world, and Coker revealed that the deals their owners have in place in Israel were the main factor behind their decision.

“We have a really good partner over there, Ananey Communications,” explained Coker. “They have a broadcast station, EGO TOTAL, that broadcast’s Bellator events as well as things like Comedy Central and MTV.

“They’re Viacom’s partner and Viacom just recently made a commitment to Ananey Communications. We have a great partner there and that’s why we decided to go.”

The interest levels in the show seem to be very high with home talent Kirill Medvedovsky set to make his debut. The Bellator president considers taking the promotion to Israel to be one of his crowning achievements in his career in the fight game.

“Israel is really killing it in terms of ticket sales. We’re expecting a sellout. We’re about three-quarters of the way there and we’re certainly expecting it to be a full house on fight night.

“For me, I’ve been in the martial arts business for 31 years and I’ve seen some great fights. I see this Israel event as a feather in my cap because it’s such a historical event. When you consider the history in that region, I’m really proud of this event.”

Rolling out event more international event is part of Bellator’s plans for expansion in 2017 and Coker insisted that Tel Aviv will be on the list of destinations for the promotion to port in next year. However, he is unsure whether other promotions will follow them into the market.

“I don’t understand what kind of deals UFC have in the territory. That’s why it made sense to me because we local broadcasting presence in the area. We’re on the TV every other week.

“The people are seeing Bellator on television and it’s always been one of the highest rated shows out of all the territories we have.” 


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