PFL announces acquisition of Bellator in major MMA landscape shakeup

Professional Fighters League and Bellator MMA are now one.

PFL announced Monday it had acquired the rival mixed martial arts organization from Paramount Global, merging the rosters of the second- and third-biggest entities in the sport.

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“The foundation of any sport, whether you’re a fan of the NBA or MMA, is the quality and depth of the athletes,” Donn Davis, PFL co-founder and chairman, told The Post on Monday. “And overnight, PFL now has, with this acquisition, an equal-talent roster of fighters to UFC. … Here we go: a true competitor.”

Terms of the deal were not announced, but ESPN reported Paramount would continue on as a minority owner.

Davis said that talks to acquire Bellator began in January.

According to a news release, Bellator’s roster will be folded into PFL, although the Bellator branding will not be going away.

Instead, Bellator will be “reimagined” and continue operating as Bellator International Champions Series going forward.

The new iteration of Bellator will operate similarly to how it used to and how traditional MMA promotions hold events, as one-offs, a contrast to the main PFL season format.

A view of the canvas before Bellator 301 on Friday in Chicago, the promotion’s final event with TV partner Showtime.
Bellator MMA

In 2023, Bellator MMA held 13 events; that number would trim to eight Bellator International Champions Series events.

The events would be expected to run mostly in international cities, although Bellator International Champions Series “may include a few U.S. cities,” said Davis.

Elbows strikes, which are not allowed as part of the PFL season format, will be legal strikes as part of Bellator International Champions Series the same as they were in Bellator’s previous form.

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The Bellator championship belts will not be going away, either, and they will be defended at those events.

Bellator International Champions Series joins PFL’s other brands — PFL League Season, PFL PPV Super Fights, PFL Challenger Series and PFL International League — in providing 30 “premium” events per year, according to the release.

Cris Cyborg, the Bellator women’s featherweight champion, now potentially has several new options for superfights.
Bellator MMA

Davis said the Bellator events would debut in March, a month before its 2024 season commences in April.

The number of events is “likely” to grow in 2025, Davis said.

For 2024, PFL will keep its number of weight class seasons at six, but Davis said “we’ll probably add to those in 2025.”

A one-off crossover event pitting PFL and incoming Bellator champions against one another is also in the works for next year.

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

The crossover event, which Davis said would be “for bragging rights between the champions” of the two once-separate organizations, will feature seven weight classes.

Professional Fighters League launched in 2018.
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The PFL season champions in their six shared weight classes — heavyweight, light heavyweight, welterweight, lightweight, and both men’s and women’s featherweight — will be determined during Friday’s season-ending PFL World Championship pay-per-view event in Washington, D.C., with the broadcast running on ESPN networks as the league has since striking a 2019 partnership.

Additionally, Davis told The Post the seventh weight class will be middleweight, which PFL once utilized as part of its season format during its first year.

Davis was not ready to reveals how PFL’s representative at middleweight would be determined.

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Incumbent Bellator champions are Ryan Bader (heavyweight), Vadim Nemkov (light heavyweight), Johnny Eblen (middleweight), Jason Jackson (welterweight), Usman Nurmagomedov (lightweight), Patricio Pitbull (men’s featherweight), Cris Cyborg (women’s featherweight), Patchy Mix (bantamweight) and Liz Carmouche (women’s flyweight).

More details of Bellator events, distribution, partnerships and management will be announced at a later date, the release said.

Francis Ngannou, the former UFC heavyweight champion, signed with PFL earlier this year.
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PFL, which launched in 2018 after a restructuring of World Series of Fighting, has operated using its season format, with two legs of its regular season determining the top four fighters in six weight classes to compete in the playoffs and, ultimately, vie for a $1 million season championship.

Bellator, which has promoted events since 2009, abandoned a season-based, tournament-centric format in 2015 — as well as ongoing $1 million grand prix brackets for select weight classes — with Bellator 301 on Friday representing its final show with broadcast partner Showtime.

At Friday’s event, Alexander Shabliy had earned a spot in the Bellator World Lightweight Grand Prix, but Davis told The Post the future of the tournament remains to be determined.

Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen would also figure to compete in the champion vs. champion event despite PFL not having a middleweight season since 2018.
Bellator MMA

With PFL and Bellator now united under one roof, the collective rosters of their got a whole lot deeper.

According to Fight Matrix, a website that tracks MMA statistics and rankings, the UFC still possesses a majority or plurality of the top 50 of those men’s weight divisions and a high concentration of the top 10 in each.

But when accounting for male fighters whose most recent bout or scheduled upcoming bout involved either Bellator or PFL, there are now 17 heavyweights, 15 light heavyweights, 11 welterweights, 17 lightweights and 13 featherweights all contracted to the same promotional umbrella.

That excludes lineal heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou, who is fresh of a shocking near-upset in his pro boxing debut against lineal boxing heavyweight champ Tyson Fury last month, as well as Pitbull, whose most recent fight was under the Rizin banner as part of a cross-promotional event.

Larissa Pacheco won the 2022 PFL women’s lightweight season.

Other than global leader UFC, no promotion in more than a decade has gathered so much upper-level talent in one place.

PFL also now has a near-monopoly on the women’s featherweight division, with 11 of the top-25 from Bellator joining the nine who’s been competing for PFL to allow for a robust 145-pound weight class.

The doors are now open for superfights between all-time great Cyborg and PFL standouts Larissa Pacheco and Kayla Harrison, who each will compete in separate bouts as part of Friday’s season-ending PFL World Championship pay-per-view event in Washington, D.C.

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