“It’s a huge deal. This doesn’t happen in MMA.”
Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader is in no doubt as to the significance of what it will mean for MMA when fighters from the Professional Fighters League and Bellator finally go head-to-head next month.
Bader was just one of those in attendance in Florida as the two organizations came together to promote their upcoming fight card in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 24, which will feature former and current champions from both camps going up against each other.
For Bellator fighters, it was a chance to talk to their new bosses since the PFL purchased their home recently. It also gave them time to scout out who they will be dealing with when they meet in the SmartCage next month.
The event in Saudi Arabia airs on ESPN+ PPV in the U.S. and DAZN in the U.K. and will feature several big-name fighters from both promotions — a fact not lost on Bader.
“Fans want these types of super fights. A lot of organizations don’t want to risk putting their champions out there and have another organization come out and sweep them,” he said.
“I love that we are doing this in Saudi Arabia. The whole card, if you look at it, is stacked. I am ready to claim another belt too. I love it, and I’m ready for this huge opportunity.”
Patricio Freire, a longtime Bellator fighter and current featherweight champion, agrees.
“I have always asked for cross-promotion as it is very important for this sport,” he said. “Everyone wants to see who is the best and which champion is the best in the world. Now we have the opportunity to show who is the best.”
Freire has competed in a Bellator cage since 2010. ‘Pitbull’ is a former lightweight champion with the most wins (22) in Bellator history. He faces Jesus Pinedo on the February card, who shocked oddsmakers by beating 2022 PFL champion Brendan Loughnane, Bubba Jenkins and Gabriel Braga to win the PFL featherweight tournament.
“I know this is a tough fight, but it will be a great victory for me,” Freire told The Sporting News. “I am very confident I will bring this victory back home.”
That featherweight fight is one of three title fights on the card. Other contests include a heavyweight meeting, with champions Renan Ferreira (PFL) vs. Bader (Bellator) and light heavyweight champion Impa Kasanganay (PFL) vs. middleweight champion Johnny Eblen (Bellator).
The card also features Bellator welterweight champion Jason Jackson, former PFL heavyweight champion Bruno Cappelozza, Thiago Santos, Yoel Romero, Clay Collard, A.J. McKee, and boxing champion Claressa Shields.
Several fighters are at the top of their class, including Eblen. The PFL has no middleweight division, but Kasanganay moved in weight to face the wrestling star.
Kasanganay is vocal that the best fighters are in the PFL, and he is ready to prove that on fight night.
“I respect Johnny, and he’s a good fighter, and he’s done great work,” Kasanganay said. “But for me, if you want to be the best, you have got to fight the best wherever they are at.
“He’s been the king of the Bellator middleweight division, and for me, my focus is to be a multi-class champion, and this is my opportunity to do that.
“When you see a great fighter across the ring, that’s what gets me going and gets me excited. It’s a great opportunity and honor. Fighters fight, and that’s what I do.”
The Saudi event reads like a who’s who of MMA stars — something the PFL is proud to showcase, and hopes to make a tradition of year on year.
“There’s a lot of hardware up here. We have PFL champs versus Bellator champs. This is really an unprecedented event in MMA,” PFL CEO Peter Murray said.
“At the end of each year, we will kick off the next season for both PFL and Bellator, a major tentpole event which will be PFL champions vs. Bellator champions. Think of it as MMA’s All-Star Game. This will be long-term.”
Murray also provided the blueprint for the next year of action for the PFL and Bellator. His plans include the PPV division, the regular season, PFL Europe and a separate Bellator schedule.
The addition of the PFL’s women’s flyweight division in the PFL league season instead of a women’s featherweight division has also been announced. The flyweight category, which sits within the PFL Europe system and is home to champion Dakota Ditcheva, is heading overseas.
Before then, though, Murray and Co. are focused on what should be a game-changing night on February 24.
“Many fans have been talking about this for years,” he added. “Other promotions have been talking about this as well. I am so proud that on the heels of the Bellator acquisition, we can now present the very best in MMA.”