The decade-and-a-half run of Bellator running live MMA events in the United States has come to an end.
On Monday, Professional Fighters League (PFL) founder Donn Davis announced that the PFL had acquired Bellator, which would live on as the “Bellator International Champions Series.”
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
More details are available at MMA Fighting, which includes plans for champion vs. champion fights at a future event. Bellator fighters under contract can also compete in future PFL events.
As of now, Bellator will continue to operate as its own promotion under a “reimagined” system at PFL called the Bellator International Champions Series.
Bellator fighters currently under contract with the promotion will be available to compete in the PFL, which includes the season-long tournaments as well as the upcoming “superfight” series on pay-per-view that launches in 2024.
As part of his initial announcement, Davis also stated that there will be a “mega event” in 2024 with plans to promote a card pitting PFL champions against Bellator champions.
Bellator debuted on ESPN Deportes back in 2009 as a tournament-centric promotion. It jumped networks early in its run, moving to Fox Sports Net and MTV2 before landing at Spike, one of the UFC’s previous cable homes. Viacom purchased Bellator in 2011 and the company transitioned away from its tournament format at the end of 2014. Earlier that year, founder Bjorn Rebney was ousted from the company in favor of Strikeforce founder Scott Coker.
In 2018, Bellator signed a media rights deal with DAZN, which was eventually voided during the pandemic. That led Bellator to the Corts Network in 2020 and Showtime in 2021. October’s announcement that Paramount would be shuttering the Showtime Sports brand at the end of 2023 put Bellator’s future in question, with rumors about a purchase by the PFL circulating.
The PFL debuted in 2018 after the World Series of Fighting promotion was purchased and restructured. After an initial media rights deal with NBC Sports, the PFL jumped to ESPN in 2019, where it has aired ever since. Notably, the UFC’s broadcast partner in the U.S. is also ESPN, which now gives the company a stranglehold on the American MMA landscape.
Earlier this year, the PFL sold a minority stake to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, with plans to launch a league in the Middle East and North Africa. Could this be the mooted “Bellator International Champions Series,” or could the PFL look to rebrand its new “PFL Europe” series of events under the Bellator name?
Regardless of what ends up happening with the Bellator brand, it’s the end of an era for American MMA. Bellator has been a fixture on the American MMA landscape for so long, and it will be strange for Bellator to not be part of the conversation anymore when talking about alternatives and competitors to the UFC.
On the bright side, at least neither promotion has been purchased by the UFC (yet, at least). Dana White’s MMA tombstone doesn’t need any more names on it.