Bellator President Scott Coker said Khabib Nurmagomedov was blown away by what he saw at Bellator MMA vs. Rizin on New Year’s Eve.
After Bellator swept fighters from the Japanese promotion in five promotion vs. promotion fights at Saitama Arena, Coker shared Nurmagomedov’s reaction.
“It’s very interesting, because he wasn’t here in the heyday,” Coker said at the post-event press conference. “I got to see those fights. A lot of you know that [I’ve been] in the martial arts business a long time, I started working for K-1 in 1999, so I got to see all the great fights in K-1. I got to see the great fights of PRIDE. And Khabib has never see the production and the fans, and he was freaking out.
“He was telling me, ‘This is unbelievable.’ He kept telling me, ‘This is unbelievable. I had no idea that something like this was happening in Japan.’ And I said, ‘This is where it started, Khabib.’ This is where MMA and martial arts combat, it started here – it grew throughout the rest of the world, but there was a time when Japan had the best fighters in the world, the best production in the world, the best promotion in the world, and that’s why the UFC bought it. Just like my company, Strikeforce, I think we had a great roster, great events, so they bought it.”
Before signing with the UFC, Nurmagomedov fought mostly in Russia, not under Strikeforce. While Coker’s longtime colleague Javier Mendez coached at the American Kickboxing Academy, where UFC and Strikeforce fighters trained, the undefeated fighter maintained a close relationship with his former colleague.
After Nurmagomedov transitioned from combat sambo to MMA, Japanese MMA had suffered a severe blow; PRIDE, the once-mighty MMA organization, was shuttered by the UFC in 2007. Nobuyuki Sakakibara, former PRIDE chief, created Rizin after a non-compete period. Sakakibara and Rizin traded fighters with Bellator MMA before joining forces for New Year’s Eve.
As part of their walkouts, Bellator MMA fighters infused their walkouts with the costumes and drama that were once synonymous with PRIDE and Japanese MMA.
Despite being retired, Coker said Nurmagomedov was inspired by what he saw.
“It’s so ironic to sit here with Khabib – he’s like freaking out about the production and the staging and just the pageantry,” Coker said.