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Strikeforce CEO Coker sees endless possibilities

Partnership with M-1, DREAM could make promotion a legitimate threat to UFC

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Strikeforce

Strikeforce chief Scott Coker, center, holds the 145-pound women’s title belt that was up for grabs between Gina Carano, left, and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos. Santos won the fight.

Strikeforce: Carano-Cyborg

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In order to land highly sought mixed martial artist Fedor Emelianenko, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker had to do something UFC brass wouldn’t budge on — letting the Russian star’s M-1 Global fighting organization co-promote events.

Now it seems Strikeforce is ready to stretch its global stage even farther, announcing after Saturday’s historic Carano vs. Cyborg event that the San Jose-based MMA promotion is working on a deal with the Japanese DREAM organization to co-promote events both in the U.S. and Japan.

“In Strikeforce, we're committed to putting on the best fights that we can," Coker said. "They have a lot of great fighters in DREAM, and we'll be able to test the best fighters in Strikeforce against the best fighters in DREAM.

“Hopefully we'll be in Japan doing a co-promotion in relatively short time."

While the contract or the exact details haven’t been finalized, DREAM executive Keiichi Sasahara was at the HP Pavilion Saturday night talking about his vision for co-promoted events with shared fighters from both organizations.

"For this event, we have sent (Mitsuhiro) Ishida and Gegard Mouasi as fighters from Japan and DREAM," Sasahara said with the help of a translator. "Not only these fighters, but we would like to send our champion-class fighters — and if Strikeforce will allow us, Strikeforce's champion-class fighters will come to Japan."

Coker is confident he can create interesting match-ups by mixing up the two promotion’s lineups.

"I'd love to get (Shinya) Aoki to come here and fight Josh Thomson or Gilbert Melendez," Coker said. "I'd like to see Melvin Manhoef fight Robbie Lawler.

"There's some amazing fights that we can put together, and that's a reason we did this. As a martial arts promoter and as a fan of martial arts, you go, 'What would happen if this guy fought this guy?' Now we have the opportunity to do it, so we're excited."

Coker mentioned another intriguing match-up between Jason “Mayhem” Miller, of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown” fame, against Jake Shields for the interim middleweight title was a strong possibility.

Of course with the signing of Fedor, the MMA world patiently awaits the arguable pound-for-pound king’s next opponent.

Coker said “The Last Emperor" would likely make his Strikeforce debut in November with possible foes of either Fabricio Werdum, who disposed of Mike Kyle Saturday in 1:24, or undefeated Brett Rogers.

"I definitely think there's two guys here that would be a quality opponent for Fedor,” said Coker, who also quickly dispelled rumors of Emelianenko fighting one-time UFC champ Ricco Rodriguez.

"I think Brett Rogers is one of the guys we have to take a serious look at. And Fabricio (Werdum) looked great tonight. I think on any given day he could do his thing."

While Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos did her thing Saturday, scoring a historic victory over Gina Carano — the question now is what’s next not only for the first-ever 145-pound female champ, but all women fighters competing in Strikeforce?

Coker suggested Saturday night that he would try to promote a DREAM-style, eight-fighter female event where the winner could face Santos.

Another option could be 27-year-old Dutch fighter Marloes Coenen (16-3), who has stopped 14 of her 16 opponents — 11 via submission.

“Marloes Coenen is the real deal," Coker said. "Can you imagine her and 'Cyborg' in a fight? ... (Coenen) might be fighting Cristiane 'Cyborg' next, or she might go in the tournament.

"The vision is really to have an eight-fighter tournament. We'd reduce it to four (fighters), and then the last four would fight twice in one night. We'd get one champion, and then the champion would fight 'Cyborg.'”

One famous face gracing the scene in San Jose, but not that of the Strikeforce roster, was former UFC champ Randy Couture.

Couture, who helped train Carano, announced he was partnering with EA Sports for their upcoming “MMA” video game. Recently UFC President Dana White has said that any fighter appearing in a rival game to the UFC’s-sponsored THQ title “UFC 2009 Undisputed” would not be allowed to fight in the organization.

Couture, who had a long drawn out legal battle with the UFC starting in the fall of 2007, wasn’t part of White’s decree and thus could use his likeness in other ventures.

“I fought hard to maintain my name and rights and the ancillary image since Zuffa bought the company in 2000," Couture said. "That's been a major rub along the way. But I'm a fighter first and foremost, so I'll continue to fight as long as there's a contract (with the UFC). All the other stuff I'm free and clear to do, I'm going to do. We'll work it out.

"My fight contract has nothing to do with the ancillary stuff that I do outside of that fight contract. I don't really see it as a conflict. I know that Dana sees it differently, but I don't."

These perceived differences, coupled with the fact that after Couture’s fight with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira Aug. 29 in Portland he will have one fight left on his contract with the UFC, and Fedor signing with Strikeforce — one could make the assumption that Couture might leave the UFC for Strikeforce and his dream fight with Fedor.

But Couture said on Tuesday that’s not the case, and that if a fight with Emelianenko goes down it will happen in the organization where he became a star.

"Sooner or later he's going to have to come to the UFC. Hopefully I'm still around and in the shape I'm in now to be able to fight him,” Couture said. “But if the fight's going to happen, it’s going to be a fight in the UFC.”

Fighting against the UFC, that is a battle Coker says he wants no part of. Unlike the heads of past UFC rivals in Affliction and Elite XC, Coker believes his promotion and the UFC can co-exist.

“Obviously I’m bummed out by some of the comments,” Coker said about White dubbing his organization “Strikefarce” and saying Emelianenko will run it into the ground.

“I don’t want to ever have a problem with Dana. I respect all those guys. I watch all their pay-per-views. I go to the fights when I can, and I’m a supporter of MMA. They’re doing a great job of running their company. And I’m just trying to do my thing and move Strikeforce forward.”

Coker said if Strikeforce didn’t sign Fedor, some other promotion besides the UFC, would have.

“They would have signed with somebody else. The co-promotion efforts were so important to them that they would have went with (Oscar) De La Hoya’s (Golden Boy Promotions), Mark Cuban’s company, or some other promotion.

“The money was not the issue, they really wanted to do co-promotions.”

Despite White’s derogatory statements, Coker was nothing but smiles when he talked about Strikeforce's future, including its global endeavors with M-1 and DREAM, and the most successful Showtime event it's put on yet.

“It’s an exciting time for us and I’m very happy to be with this company,” Coker said. “There are a lot of great victories we’ve accomplished in the last six months.

“You watch, that DREAM relationship is something fans are really gonna love. You’ll be able to watch all these amazing match-ups free on Showtime. Now that’s a great value.”

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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