Bellator MMA Boss Scott Coker Responds to Meryl Streep Saying Mixed Martial Arts Is Not Art

Scott Coker
Scott Coker speaks during the Bellator 158 MMA Press Conference in London on April 18, 2016. The MMA promoter told Newsweek why he was upset by Meryl Streep's comments about mixed martial arts at the Golden Globes Sunday night. Jordan Mansfield/Getty

Meryl Streep’s speech about U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards prompted a standing ovation from the A-list stars in attendance and acclaim across social media, where the actor's name trended for much of Monday.

But not everyone took kindly to Streep’s impassioned monologue. Trump reacted with a typically scathing diatribe on Twitter, calling Streep “overrated.”

Streep also caught the attention of those in the mixed martial arts (MMA) world. She told the Globes audience that without Hollywood Americans would “have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”

Related: Meryl Streep calls out Trump's bully tactics in powerful Golden Globes speech

Scott Coker, a veteran mixed martial artist and president of Bellator, one of the largest MMA organizations in the U.S. behind Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), disagrees. In an open letter on Twitter Sunday night, he said the sport is “truly artistic” and invited Streep to attend an upcoming event, “Bellator 170: Sonnen vs. Ortiz,” in Los Angeles on January 21.

The MMA promoter’s post was retweeted over 1,000 times, and his invitation was picked up in worldwide press, including People magazine and the New York Post’s Page Six.

Speaking to Newsweek by phone Monday, Coker explained why he was upset by Streep’s cavalier dismissal of MMA and doubled down on his invitation.

What was your reaction when you watched the Globes and saw Streep’s comments about football and MMA?
I was surprised. Martial arts is something I studied since I was 6 years old. It’s been a lifelong journey, I’m in my early 50s now; I’ve dedicated my whole life to taking this martial arts journey. I’m a big fan of Meryl and her work. When she took a dig at martial arts, I was surprised…there is an art form in martial arts. Mixed martial arts is a combative form, but there is beauty in [it]. I want people to understand that this isn’t just two guys fighting in the cage. I’ve taught martial arts to many children, from 5 years old and up—there’s character development, there’s respect, discipline, perseverance. All of these life lessons you learn that I feel she discredited.

Streep is someone who has dedicated her own life to perfecting her craft. Would you have expected her to be more open-minded about the hard work and dedication martial arts and MMA require?
She is an artist; she works at her craft at the highest level and has won many awards. She is recognized as one of the legends of an art form called acting. I appreciate that as a fan. But when I heard the dig, I was like, “I’m not going to just discard it; I have to say something.” To say martial arts, or the combative form—mixed martial arts—is not an art form is incorrect.

You have invited Streep to the Sonnen vs. Ortiz fight card on January 21. If she were to accept, what would you say to her in person?
I would invite her to come sit with me, and I’d explain to her what’s going on. Part of her statement is a lack of understanding of what mixed martial arts is. I would explain it to her. As an ambassador for mixed martial arts, I’d explain how the event was unfolding and spend a lot of time educating her on how there is an art form attached to it.

Have you had any response from her people to your invitation?
No, nothing.

Streep’s comments reflected the thoughts of many in Hollywood who fear what a Trump presidency might mean for their industry. What is the consensus in the mixed martial arts industry—could President Trump have a negative effect?
Martial arts is self-growth, it’s artistic impression, it’s self-defense…it doesn’t have any place in politics. That’s what I’d say. It’s about using the human body as a self-defense mechanism. It’s about mind, body and spirit. That has no place in politics.

MMA mega star Ronda Rousey suffered a stinging defeat at UFC 207, losing to Amanda Nunes in 48 seconds. You gave Rousey her big professional break in the now-defunct Strikeforce. Where do you think she goes from here? There has been talk of retirement
Sometimes a fighter needs to take a step back to take a step forward. She should take some time off to evaluate all the people around her, including her camp and her trainers, and see if there was a mistake made in the efforts of the people around her.

But only the fighter knows if it’s over or it’s not. Even if Ronda doesn’t compete, she’s already done it all. She has helped take female mixed martial arts to a whole new level of acceptance and popularity. She’s done some great work. She could walk away and still be on top.

Would it be disappointing to see a fighter in her prime, like Rousey, walk away? She is only 29.
I’ve seen it happen at all different levels, where fighters have had long careers and other fighters have had shorter careers. You can’t just look at it from when she came into mixed martial arts to fight professionally; you have to look at the time, sacrifice and hard work she put in to go to the Olympics and represent the U.S. [in judo]. She’s been competing for a long time. She’s got nothing to be ashamed about. She might have a lot of other opportunities out there that she might want to take advantage of.

Former WWE wrestler CM Punk also had a tough time, losing his UFC debut fight last year. UFC President Dana White said he probably wouldn’t fight in UFC again. Would he be welcome in Bellator?
If he was free from any [contractual] obligations and he wanted to fight under Bellator, we would definitely love to have a conversation with him. I believe he’s still under contract.