PFL purchases Bellator MMA, aims to be co-leader with UFC

In a deal that could give mixed martial arts a true rival to UFC, the Professional Fighters League announced Monday that it acquired Bellator from Paramount Global.

PFL claimed in a news release that it was now “a global powerhouse in mixed martial arts” with a combined fighter roster “equal in stature” to that of the UFC.

“Our Bellator acquisition turbocharges PFL’s mission to innovate the sport and become the industry co-leader,” venture capitalist Donn Davis, who launched PFL in 2018, said in a statement.

In an interview Monday on the “MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani,” Davis said that the acquisition involved only company stock, with no cash, and that Paramount will have a “small” minority stake in his outfit. With an announcement last month that it was shuttering Showtime Sports, long known for airing high-profile boxing matches, Paramount signaled a move away from the combat-sports space to “more efficiently allocate resources.”

The deal also represents another step by Saudi Arabia into the sports world after the nation’s Public Investment Fund-backed SRJ Sports Investments purchased a stake in PFL two months ago.

“Their vision is the same as our vision, to become a co-leader in MMA,” Davis said Monday to the Associated Press. “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.”

PFL said Bellator will remain a separate brand within its parent company’s umbrella and the newly reimagined promotion would stage eight fights next year, each with two co-main events with championship belts at stake.

PFL’s signature format, a League Season in which fighters advance through a regular season and playoffs in a championship race, will be one of four other “live fight franchises.” The others, PFL said, will be PFL PPV Super Fights, PFL Challenger Series and PFL International Leagues.

“Overall, the company can now meet fan and media demand,” PFL said, “by producing and programming a year-round calendar of live fight content with 30 premium MMA events per year.”

Of particular interest to MMA fans could be a promised slate of showdowns between current PFL champions and their Bellator counterparts. Davis said on “MMA Hour” that he hoped that would take place in February, with the new Bellator launching the following month and PFL’s League Season arriving in April. He added that he would allow Bellator fighters to move to PFL and vice versa.

As for when Francis Ngannou might make his PFL debut after signing in May, Davis did not share specifics but promised it would be sometime next year. Ngannou, a former UFC heavyweight champion, made a splash by knocking down Tyson Fury during a boxing match last month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the undefeated WBC heavyweight champion was awarded a victory by the judging panel in a controversial split decision. Davis said Monday that Ngannou’s next fight might involve another boxing star, Deontay Wilder.

With Bellator in the fold, Ngannou could wind up squaring off with that promotion’s heavyweight champion, Ryan Bader, in an MMA fight. Other possible matchups could pit Bellator’s Cris Cyborg against PFL’s Kayla Harrison and Bellator’s Usman Nurmagomedov against the winner of an upcoming PFL lightweight final between Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Clay Collard.

“We can’t wait,” PFL CEO Peter Murray said Monday in a statement, “to bring MMA fans what they have been asking for — best vs. best with the PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions Mega-Event.”

PFL has done “great so far,” Davis said, but despite adding the likes of Ngannou and Jake Paul, his company needed “more and better athletes.”

“There’s only one company that at one time could put us on equal footing with the UFC,” he said, “and that was Bellator.”

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