The professional fighting league has purchased rival MMA company Bellator from Paramount Global in its boldest attempt yet to break into the industry leader, the UFC.
PFL did not disclose financial terms in Monday’s announcement.
“This really makes the PFL now a global force and poised to become a co-leader,” in MMA, PFL chairman Donn Davis told The Associated Press. “For the company’s first five years, our mission was to be the No. 2 company in MMA, and we achieved that. Now we set a new goal. How do we become a co-leader?’
The deal was helped in part by Saudi Arabia’s recent purchase of PFL. The purchase was relatively modest – $100 million according to the Financial Times – but even with a minority role, Saudi Arabia-backed SRJ Sports Investments ensured that mixed martial arts events would 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 helps us to be able to achieve this.” Bellator’s roster of fighters is fantastic. But we need to revitalize Bellator’s business, and with our capital we will be able to do that.”
While the PFL has a unique MMA competition format that includes a regular season, postseason and championship event, the Bellator brand will continue in a series of one-off cards in 2024. The PFL will launch “Bellator International Championship Series” next year.
The Champions Series was expected to consist of eight fighting events.
The PFL has taken over a Bellator roster that includes fighter names like Cris “Cyborg” Justin, Sergio Pettis and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.
Davis said the company first approached Paramount about a deal in January. Bellator now becomes one of five Pro Fight League live fight franchises: PFL League Season, PFL PPV Super Fights, PFL Challenger Series, PFL International Leagues and Bellator.
The PFL also plans to introduce a PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions card in 2024 that will feature champions in all seven weight classes.
The PFL concludes 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 concerts scheduled until next year. Davis also did not reveal the fate of Bellator’s media rights.
Paramount has a minority stake in PFL. It was unclear whether Bellator president Scott Coker would remain involved with the company.
“We respect Scott and respect his many years of leadership in MMA.” Davis said. “We have opportunities for Scott and the entire Bellator team to join us. We will make announcements about that in the coming weeks after our championship.”
The UFC, which sold for $4 billion in 2016, is certainly not close to relinquishing its place as the world leader in MMA. White openly scoffed at UFC 295 at the idea of ever co-promoting a card with the PFL.
The PFL, whose cards are distributed on ESPN platforms, includes 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 slated 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 Ngannou will fight in the PFL next season “either MMA or PFL mixed rules.”
The former owner of UFC Zuffa LLC. purchased the MMA company Strikeforce in 2011 and operates it as a separate company. Just two years later, Strikeforce was disbanded and all fighters’ contracts were terminated or absorbed by the UFC.
Davis said he has no plans to drop the Bellator brand.
“They are all now part of the PFL,” Davis said. “There are no Bellator fighters and no PFL fighters. Now they are all PFL fighters and they will fight with all our products.”