Above any other aspect in their career, an athlete will always remember how they got themselves into their sport of choice. Sometimes, a friend will tell them about the sport, while other times will see them break into the sport via an encounter with someone they knew. When that athlete finally gets noticed by the eyes and ears of the world, it stands to reason that nobody who tunes into that sport will ever forget their name or where they came from, because that athlete certainly will never forget the people that helped get them there.
When Justin Wilcox made his debut in Strikeforce in 2008, fans who had never seen him fight finally got their taste of a young American Kickboxing Academy product with athleticism, a powerful physique, and the ability to take a man down and keep them there. Wilcox, who made his way to AKA after coming in contact with Josh Koscheck, remembered that night as the first time he did business with Scott Coker, who now operates Bellator MMA, and like many in the sport, Wilcox speaks quite fondly of the former Strikeforce CEO.
“Scott knows my potential and he realizes what I can do. When I was in Strikeforce, I was really scared when the UFC took over. Everyone was like ‘Oh, man, UFC took you guys over’ and I was like, ‘You guys have no clue. That’s not good at all.’ I was really happy with them and with Scott, the way he treats the fighters and he’s just a really outstanding guy, and I guess I just grew used to working for Scott.”
While some fighters from Strikeforce came to the UFC after the purchase, others didn’t. Wilcox didn’t know what the future would hold for him or the then-purchased company, and neither did anyone else. Regardless of what the promotion intended to actually do after purchasing Strikeforce, Wilcox saw the writing on the wall.
“I just heard these guys bold-faced lying to us and saying ‘We’re going to build this company and we’re going to keep these guys around,’ and then the next thing you know, they cut all our sponsors, so they were saying ‘We’re going to do everything we can to keep you guys going’ but then they cut all of our money. In order for people to sponsor [fighters] in Strikeforce, they would have to pay for Strikeforce and for the sponsor people in the UFC, and it was like they were pulling the rug out from underneath our feet.”
To say Wilcox enjoys the business he will get to do with Coker again is an understatement. Wilcox, who faces a style similar to his own when he fights Daniel Straus at Bellator 127 this Friday night, actually signed on to fight for Bellator MMA in time to fight Akop Stepanyan last year, during the “Bjorn Rebney Era” of the promotion. When Rebney stepped down from the promotion earlier this year and Coker came into power, Wilcox was one of the first men to exhibit excitement at the news.
“Scott knows the business, He built Strikeforce up, Bellator saw what he did with that, so I’m pretty sure they swooped up on him because Bellator’s got a great name and they’re growing tremendously.”
One of the changes to Bellator has been what many have considered to be the end of the promotion’s tournament format. In place of the tournament, for the time being, has been the “matchmaker format”, which sees men matched up in ways that most fight fans are used to seeing with the UFC, the MFC, and other promotions that do not regularly use the tournament format. Still, regardless of what lies ahead, if any fighter thinks the supposed “end” of the tournament format is only temporary for Bellator MMA, it is Wilcox himself.
“I wouldn’t say they’ll do away with it because you know Scott likes to throw [tournaments], like he did in Strikeforce, and he’ll throw a tournament format in there like he did for Daniel [Cormier]. I don’t think [Bellator] is done with it totally. They may come back with it here and there.”

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.