Following months of rumors, the landscape of MMA has officially changed forever. A new era in combat sports has begun, as the Professional Fighters League officially closed a deal to acquire Bellator MMA.
Following months of reporting from Todd Adkins and Al Zullino, PFL founder Donn Davis officially announced the news. Bellator, acquired from Paramount Global, had its last event under the Showtime banner, Bellator 301, last week, with two new champions crowned. The news comes a few days before the PFL World Championship Finals on November 24, airing on ESPN+ PPV.
Per Davis, the PFL will continue the Bellator brand, with it being a “one-off” product dubbed the Bellator International Champions Series. That launches in 2024 with eight fight events hosted by major cities across the globe. It joins the PFL League Season, PFL PPV Super Fights division, PFL Challenger Series, and PFL International Leagues.
The Bellator International Champions Series will be a standalone event, and the PFL promises champion versus champion fights featuring PFL and Bellator champions. Per MMA Fighting, that would take place in February 2024.
Our Fighter Roster Equal To UFC – Both 30% Top 25 World Ranked FIghters
PFL Launch Reimagined Bellator – Bellator International Champions Series
Mega-Event For Fans In 2024 – PFL Champs vs. Bellator Champs pic.twitter.com/Ma4YUl4AUi
— Donn Davis (@DonnDavisPFL) November 20, 2023
“This totally changes the MMA landscape overnight,” Davis told The Financial Times via MMA Fighting. “You essentially put two number two companies to create a co-leader. The combined PFL Bellator roster now has 30 percent of its fighters who are ranked top 25 in the world by Fight Matrix. That’s the same as UFC has in their roster.”
Bellator was founded in 2008 by Bjorn Rebney. Since 2014, Scott Coker has been the President of the promotion, considered second in popularity to the UFC. It has been known for its tournaments, with Grand Prix’s being a fixture over the last few years. Top talent signed include Fedor Emelianenko, Patricio Freire, A.J. McKee, Ryan Bader, and Cris Cyborg. It is also known for its young talent, including Aaron Pico and Patchy Mix.
The PFL formed in 2018 following the restructuring of the World Series of Fighting. It holds a tournament each year/season to crown six champions, with a winner, often fighting four times a year, getting $1 million. Top signings for the promotion include Jake Paul and Francis Gannon, who helped launch the “Super Fight” PPV division, as well as Amanda Serrano, Claressa Shields, Derek Brunson, Kayla Harrison, and Cedric Doumbe.
Ngannou, the former UFC heavyweight champion who faced WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury a few months ago, is helping with the launch of a PFL International League in Africa, part of his new deal with the promotion.
The six same weight classes will be used under the PFL format next year, including:
- Light Heavyweight
- Featherweight (men and women’s)
Bellator will still use the same divisions in its system, which include:
- Heavyweight (Ryan Bader)
- Light Heavyweight (Vadim Nemkov)
- Middleweight (Johnny Eblen)
- Welterweight (Jason Jackson)
- Lightweight (Usman Nurmagomedov)
- Featherweight (men and women’s) (Patricio Freire / Cris Cyborg)
- Bantamweight (Patchy Mix)
- Women’s Flyweight (Liz Carmouche)
“PFL is now a global powerhouse in MMA,” said Davis in a press release. “Our Bellator acquisition turbocharges PFL’s mission to innovate the sport and become the industry co-leader.”
Per ESPN, the PFL has offered Bellator President Score Coker, who led Strikeforce long ago, an opportunity to stay on with the brand. It is unknown what Coker’s status is at the moment. Paramount will remain a minor stakeholder of Bellator.