Typically, when you mention the name Mike Ditka in downtown Chicago, sports is just second nature. It would make sense that Mike Ditka’s restaurant plays host to so many sporting events (after all, the hardcore Bears fans are already situated there ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft). This is probably why Bellator President, Scott Coker, chose this location ahead of Bellator 198 press conference which headlines Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir.
I’ve said this before, but the conference room is a virtual who’s who of MMA fighters, old and new. Fedor and his crew have matching track suits (is this officially a thing?) His face is stoic and while he is open in the interview, I have a feeling that I’d get a whole new perspective of him if I were fluent in Russian. He does get a good chuckle out of the press when he asks a reporter if he should lay out his whole game plan.
Watch the Bellator 198 press conference below:
Dillon Danis is in full track suit when he enters and is sporting square shades that he refuses to tell me where he got them (I want these glasses). His coach, famed John Kavanagh, is present but in the background. Kavanagh is soft spoken and funny, but you don’t want to piss him off as he later confirms when Danis mentions Steve Kozola is no longer fighting in Bellator.
“That’s what happens when you call out my guys,” Kavanagh teases.
“You end up in a ditch somewhere,” he continues.
I’m not entirely convinced so I test that.
“Is this some sort of Irish Mob thing you’re talking about?” I ask, smirk on my face.
“Don’t worry brother, you’re good you are on the ‘right side.'”
Royce Gracie is here, obviously, because Neiman is looking to defend his undefeated record. This man is incognito. Neiman knows who he wants to fight next, but did not tell the media. Royce didn’t offer much more later and said that Bellator will decide who Neiman fights next.
Gareth Davies, from the Telegraph is interviewing Mir as I arrive. Davies is the only man who is going to give my suit coats a run for their money (I’m not worried though). He and I chat for a while about consistency in media reporting, his 27-years of covering combat sports and if MMA is as popular across the pond. I tell him that I want to write think-pieces and sort of what-does-it-all-mean stories. His response is sincere and rejuvenating by telling me those pieces are important and will be referenced in the future.
During the press conference Scott Coker is excited but reserved when discussing Emelianenko-Mir fight.
“When you can make a fight, you make it,” Coker stated.
“There are no guarantees in this sport,” he continued.
Gerald Harris seems to get the first acknowledgment with Rafael (not Haf-a-el) Lovato Jr. left in limbo before booking. Lovato praised Harris and Bellator for setting up the fight short notice. But the short notice fight doesn’t bother Lovato that much.
“Wasn’t too much for change for me,” Levato stated.
During the series of questions to follow, Mir seemed to study the room, his opponent and other fighters on the panel. His eyes tell you everything: when he is surprised by a statement, when he is genuinely interested in a line-of-questioning and when his focus is buried in something that showed on his cell phone. He is a lifelong student.
The co-main event between Emmanuel Sanchez and Sam Sicilia took a bit of time to develop in the conference, but once addressed, both fighters delivered. Sicilia insisted the fight was a newcomer vs. a hot streak and that the winner should receive title implications. Sanchez did address the mental side of his recent fights but kept everything light-hearted. After all, he is the pretty one, and everyone from every country he has fought in loves him.
During the final few questions, Coker addressed the future of Bellator with Paramount Network and the sport.
“Where would MMA be?” Coker asked of MMA with television network deals.
“The development and recruiting has been great,” Coker continued.
Catch Bellator 198 LIVE at the AllState Arena in Rosemont, IL Saturday on the Paramount Network at 9:00 PM.