The Professional Fighters League has purchased rival MMA company Bellator from Paramount Global in its boldest attempt yet to make a dent in the industry leader, the UFC.
PFL did not disclose financial terms in Monday’s announcement.
“This really makes PFL now a global powerhouse and poised to become a co-leader,” in MMA, PFL Chairman Donn Davis told The Associated Press. “The first five years of the company, our mission was to be the No. 2 company in MMA and we achieved that. We now set a new goal. How do we become the co-leader?”
The deal was aided in part by Saudi Arabia’s recent purchase into PFL. The purchase was relatively modest — $100 million according to the Financial Times — but even in a minority role, Saudi-backed SRJ Sports Investments ensured mixed-martial arts events will take place in that country.
“Their vision is the same as our vision, to become a co-leader in MMA,” Davis said. “Their economic and financial support is helpful for us to be able to achieve this. The Bellator fighter roster is fantastic. But we have to reinvigorate the Bellator business and, with our capital, we’ll be able to do that.”
While the PFL has a unique MMA competition format that includes a regular season, a postseason and a championship event, the Bellator brand will continue in a series of one-off cards in 2024. PFL will launch the “Bellator International Champions Series” next year.
The Champions Series was expected to consist of eight fight events.
PFL absorbed a Bellator roster that included name fighters such as Cris “Cyborg” Justino, Sergio Pettis and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.
Davis said the company first approached Paramount about a deal in January. Bellator now becomes one of five live fight franchises of the Professional Fighters League: PFL League Season, PFL PPV Super Fights, PFL Challenger Series, PFL International Leagues, and Bellator.
PFL also planned to stage a PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions card in 2024 that would include champions in all seven weight classes.
PFL completes its season Nov. 24 at The Anthem in Washington, D.C., in a card headlined by the return of two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison.
Bellator ran its final card Friday night under the Paramount umbrella on Showtime. There are no other immediate shows planned until next year. Davis also did not reveal the fate of Bellator’s media rights.
Paramount has a minority stake in PFL. It was not immediately clear if Bellator President Scott Coker would remain involved with the company.
“We respect Scott and we respect his long-time leadership in MMA,” Davis said. “We have opportunities for Scott and the entire Bellator team to join us. We’ll be making announcements in the coming weeks after our championship about that.”
UFC, which sold for $4 billion in 2016, certainly isn’t anywhere close to ceding its spot as the global MMA leader. White openly scoffed at UFC 295 at the idea of ever co-promoting a card with PFL.
PFL, whose cards are carried on ESPN platforms, has former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and YouTube influencer and celebrity fighter Jake Paul on its roster.
Davis said two PFL pay-per-view events are planned in 2024 with Ngannou and Paul each scheduled to headline one of those cards.
Ngannou impressed last month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with a 10-round boxing loss to reigning WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. Davis said it was “100%” that will Ngannou will fight in PFL next season in “either MMA or mixed rules for PFL.”
UFC’s former owner Zuffa LLC. purchased MMA company Strikeforce in 2011 and ran it as a separate company. Only two years later, Strikeforce was dissolved and all fighter contracts were terminated or absorbed into the UFC.
Davis said there are no plans to eliminate the Bellator brand.
“They’re all part of PFL now,” Davis said. “There are not Bellator fighters and PFL fighters. They’re all PFL fighters now and they’ll fight across all of our products.”