Print and Go Back ESPN.com: MMA [Print without images]

Friday, July 29, 2011
Coker precariously carries Strikeforce flag

By Chad Dundas

Scott Coker
If the future of Strikeforce is in jeopardy, classy Scott Coker isn't letting on.
It’s getting harder and harder to watch Scott Coker try to do his job.

Ever since Zuffa took over his company a little more than four months ago, the Strikeforce head honcho has been in an impossible situation. Formerly American MMA’s second largest employer, Coker is now the employee of men who were once his biggest rivals, doing his best to hold onto a leadership role everyone assumes is largely ceremonial at an organization we all agree isn’t long for this world.

He’s far too classy to ever complain about it, but this end game must be excruciating for him. If you didn’t feel bad for Coker this week, watching him give safe, upbeat answers to the media’s questions about Saturday night’s “Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson” event while his body language told us he’d rather be anywhere else in the world, you might want to double-check that you can still experience normal human emotions.

Coker continues to say all the right things, but sit through his uncomfortable 12-minute video interview with MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani from Thursday and you come away with a taste of how unstable things must feel for the long-time fight promoter right now. It takes approximately seven seconds during this Q&A session to realize -- when Helwani’s introduction tacitly reminds us Zuffa recently reinstated Coker as Strikeforce’s CEO after briefly demoting him to “Executive Vice President” -- that we barely even know what to call the guy anymore.

From there, it gets even more painful, with Coker squirming and sweating and nervously chuckling while telling us that he has no idea why women’s welterweight champion Marloes Coenen no-showed the prefight press conference, that he won’t answer questions about what will happen to the vacant men's 170-pound title, that he can’t get into the specifics of Fedor Emelianenko’s contract with his company and that he “doesn’t have all the details still, honestly” about the medical condition of Gina Carano.

I mean, really? Coker has never been particularly forthcoming with the media, but the lasting impression of this interview isn’t that he’s trying to play politics, it’s that he honestly doesn’t know most of the answers. Like Zuffa’s just not telling him anymore.

As depressing as that is, you have to give Coker credit for handling this difficult situation as well as he has. The man has long been one of MMA’s more dignified executives -- which is part of what makes this so tough to watch -- and after these past few months playing the consummate solider it’ll be a shame if Zuffa doesn’t retain him to some different administrative position if/when it does finally pull the plug on Strikeforce.

For now, company brass are sticking to their own talking points that they have no definite plans to do away with the smaller organization. That means we have no choice but to watch Coker twist in the wind a bit longer, steadfastly playing his awkward part, following the script toward an uncertain end and making it clear every step of the way that he’s not making any long term plans.

“To me,” Coker tells Helwani at one point during their talk. “It’s all about enjoying Saturday night.”

That’s probably a healthy way to look at it.