Idaho’s reputation for producing solid mixed martial arts fighters, along with a dedicated fan base in the Treasure Valley, has attracted the biggest MMA event yet to hit the state.
Bellator 155 features 14 fights and a nationally television event, headlined by Rafael Carvalho and Melvin Manhoef’s bout for the middleweight world championship.
“I think Boise’s ripe for a big fight,” Bellator CEO Scott Coker said this week while in Hong Kong for business meetings. “The area has some good fighters, and we’re always (watching) for the next star we can build.”
Friday’s preliminary card, which begins at 5 p.m., is full of local talent, with eight Idaho fighters, including former Boise State wrestlers Jesse Brock (21-8, bantamweight) and Scott Thometz (9-5, lightweight).
Local fighters have been successful in CenturyLink Arena’s Front Street Fights series, which started two years ago and recently held its eighth event in Boise’s downtown arena.
“When we started Front Street Fights, we’d hope to build it up to be able to get one of the sorts of events we’ll have Friday, and it’s honestly been a little quicker than we thought,” CenturyLink Arena President Eric Trapp said.
Trapp said ticket sales have been strong, topping 3,000 already with a sizeable walk-up crowd expected. The event could have about 4,000 fans in attendance, “which we think will be a sellout,” Trapp said.
Bellator is owned by media giant Viacom, and has a visible TV presence. Friday’s five featured bouts will be televised beginning at 7 p.m. on Spike (Dish Network/DirecTV channel 241). CenturyLink Arena has hosted nationally-televised boxing matches, but a half dozen satellite trucks will occupy space on Front Street and Capitol Boulevard on Friday.
“It’s going to be international. It’s a big deal,” Trapp said.
Not only will screens across the world be tuned in, there’s an international flavor to the featured bouts. Carvalho, a Brazilian, is 12-1 as the current middleweight title holder, while Manhoef (30-12-1) hails from the Netherlands.
“I can’t see any way that goes the distance,” Coker said. “They’re some of my favorite fighters. They’re going to go right at it, and swing for the fences ... We’re really excited about that one.”
Coker founded Strikeforce, which began as a kickboxing organization in 1985, and morphed into a competitor for the sport’s largest and most prominent league, Ultimate Fighting Championship. UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and former women’s champion Ronda Rousey both rose to prominence in Strikeforce before it was sold to UFC.
Now, Coker hopes to grow Bellator into more of a competitor of UFC.
“You see how MMA has grown, and there’s room for more than one company,” Coker said. “Only one buyer hurts the industry. I think of it like, you can have Coke and you can have Pepsi. I think as we’ve risen, it’s only a good thing, because when a fighter’s a free agent, they now have a choice.”
With eyes on the local fighters and a potential big crowd, there’s hope that the first visit from Bellator won’t be the last.
“We’ve put Boise in their minds, hopefully we can keep it that way and that it’s the start of more to come,” Trapp said.
Bellator 155 in Boise
▪ 5 p.m. Friday, CenturyLink Arena
▪ Televised on Spike beginning at 7 p.m. (prelims start at 5 p.m. at bellator.com)
▪ Tickets are $25-$100 at centurylinkarenaboise.com, the arena box office or at 208-331-8497
▪ Weigh-ins are 5 p.m. Thursday at the Knitting Factory (free and open to the public)
MAIN CARD (7 P.M.)
▪ Middleweight world championship: Rafael Carvalho (12-1) vs. Melvin Manhoef (30-12-1)
▪ Featherweight co-main event: Pat Curran (21-7) vs. Georgi Karakhanyan (24-5-1)
▪ Heavyweight: Dan Charles (10-3) vs. Augusto Sakai (9-0)
▪ Featherweight: Marloes Coenen (23-6) vs. Alexis Dufresne (5-2)
▪ Heavyweight: Joey Beltran (17-12) vs. Chase Gormley (12-5)
PRELIMINARY CARD (5 P.M.)
▪ Lightweight: Dave Jansen (20-3) vs. Marcin Held (21-4)
▪ Bantamweight: Joe Hamilton* (3-0) vs. Tyler Freeland* (3-0)
▪ Flyweight: Veta Arteaga* (1-0) vs. Jackie Vandenburgh (0-1)
▪ Featherweight: Vince Morales (3-1) vs. Hamilton Ash (3-1)
▪ Bantamweight: Brendon Raftery* (4-2) vs. Casey Johnson* (4-0)
▪ Lightweight: Scott Thometz* (9-5) vs. Josh Tyler (7-3)
▪ Middleweight: Sean Powers (9-5) vs. Will Noland (15-6)
▪ Bantamweight: Ricky Steele* (5-0) vs. Erick Cronkhite (2-1)
▪ Bantamweight: Jesse Brock* (21-8) vs. Olly Bradstreet (39-12)