The long-rumored deal has been announced.
The Professional Fighters League has officially acquired Bellator to form one of the largest and most formidable combined mixed martial arts organizations in the world.
Founder, chairman and co-owner Donn Davis took to X with the announcement on Monday morning.
The official terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but I spoke to PFL CEO Peter Murray via phone for more details and perspective. “This is a monumental for PFL and combat sports,” Murray said. “Acquiring Bellator accelerates the global vision for the PFL and the sport of mixed martial arts. Bellator will operate separately, distinctly, but as a part of the PFL infrastructure.”
The deal is an exciting one for mixed martial arts fans. The merger will set the stage for dream fights such as Cris Cyborg vs. Kayla Harrison, which both Davis and Murray called a near-done deal for 2024. Francis Ngannou’s first PFL bout could take place against a Bellator fighter.
According to Murray, PFL and Bellator’s combined roster is now “second to none.” How deep is the roster for PFL with Bellator in the mix? According to Fight Matrix, the combined group now boasts 36 fighters ranked in the Top 15 across all MMA weight classes. This merger removes all doubt. PFL is now the world’s second-largest mixed martial arts organization behind the UFC. The PFL’s season structure for 2023 culminates on Black Friday with their champion’s night event from Washington, D.C. Will Bellator fighters be included in the season format moving forward?
According to Murray, non-Bellator champions will be eligible for PFL’s season format, but a significant focus for the brand will be international competitions. In 2024, the Bellator International Champions Series will consist of 7 events. All but one will take place outside of the United States. The one stateside event may take place in San Jose, California. “We like the base and set up there in California,” Murray said. Dublin, Ireland, London, England, Japan, and Saudi Arabia are some of the other likely locations for the other BICS events.
Perhaps the most exciting Bellator-related event of the year will be the PFL vs. Bellator night, which has champions from both promotions competing against each other. According to Murray, the PFL would like this event to occur as soon as February 2024.
It would give the victors from the events on November 24 time to recover and prepare to meet the likes of Vadim Nemkov, Ryan Bader, Usman Nurmagomedov, and others in one of the most significant mixed martial arts events of the first quarter–and perhaps all of 2024.
In addition to the expanded roster, Murray broke down the massive increase in yearly events from promotions under the PFL’s umbrella. “When you think about the number of events,” Murray said. “We started with ten events six years ago. We added the Challenger Series to go up to 18 events. In 2023, we had 22 events. Next year, with the addition of Bellator, PPV, PFL MENA, and more, we’ll hit 38 total events.”
The television and streaming details weren’t disclosed, but it would seem Bellator events will still need a home. PFL has deals with ESPN and DAZN, but things are unclear with Paramount
I asked Murray about the distribution plans for Bellator events, and he said, “We will be there expanding distribution in 2024, but more details to follow.” Bellator president Scott Coker and his staff have been offered an opportunity to remain on board, but the long-time face of the promotion hasn’t had a comment.
The acquisition announcement comes just days ahead of the 2023 Championship Finals in Washington, D.C. Expect more related announcements through what is likely the biggest week in PFL history.