The UFC, a promotion that has until now been the undisputed leader in the mixed martial arts (MMA) market, may have a competitor. An attempt to transform into it was made by the PFL structure, which emerged only at the end of the last decade. It acquired the Bellator promotion, which was considered second in rank after the UFC, and experts indicate that thanks to this merger, the new organization can make the calendar of its tournaments much better in terms of the loudness of the names of the fighters participating in them.
Major sports news earlier this week included news of a deal involving two mixed martial arts promotions. PFL, which was founded in 2017 by venture capitalist Donn Davis, who still controls it, acquired Bellator (it's ten years older), which was owned by Paramount Global. The parties did not disclose the transaction amount. However, according to Sportico, it is probably not that high, at around $100 million, which is about five times less than the price suggested in the early stages of negotiations.
However, the deal still looks extremely interesting for obvious reasons. In the rich and constantly growing market of mixed martial arts, the annual income of which various media resources estimate in the range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion, until now there has been too clear a leader. It was the UFC promotion. In fact, this is where my passion for the world of MMA began. The position of this structure became even stronger this year when its owner, the Endeavor Group company, added to its main sports asset the WWE promotion, a leader in the field of wrestling, an extremely popular genre in America at the intersection of sports and circus shows. The value of the conglomerate is believed to be over $20 billion.
Meanwhile, PFL's purchase appears to be an overt attempt to create a competitor for the UFC. In fact, the deal involves two fairly prominent players in the market. Bellator, which, according to the terms of the agreement, will be retained as a brand and at least not completely dissolved into the PFL, generally had a reputation as a solid second in the unofficial hierarchy of MMA promotions after the UFC. Several fighters with star status have contracts with him, including Russians Usman Nurmagomedov and Vadim Nemkov. Analysts have no doubt that many of its champions and highly ranked athletes would perform well in the UFC.
PFL, despite its youth, has also achieved certain personnel successes. For example, it was with him that, having quarreled with the UFC at the beginning of this year, the famous Cameroonian heavyweight Francis Ngannou entered into an agreement, who, however, resumed his career not in MMA, but in professional boxing, having had an excellent fight in October against the British Tyson Fury, the champion of the World Boxing Championship. council (WBC). And in the summer, PFL secured the support of a solid and promising partner. Its minority shareholder was the company SRJ Sports Investments, created by the Sovereign Fund of Saudi Arabia, which has recently become interested in martial arts. Thanks to her, the promotion immediately received investments in the amount of $100 million.
ESPN points out that the takeover, no matter how soft it may be formally, significantly expands the PFL’s ability to fill the calendar with quality tournaments in terms of the composition of participants. In fact, the promotion itself highlighted the simplest option for increasing their level when commenting on the deal. He promised that already in 2024 he will arrange a series of fights in the “champion versus champion” format, that is, between his best fighters and fighters from Bellator. Some of these fights will actually bring together two celebrities - for example, Francis Ngannou and Ryan Bader, Vadim Nemkov and Rob Wilkinson, Usman Nurmagomedov and Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Cris Cyborg and Kayla Harrison.
ESPN also notes that the new structure could be extremely interesting for those fighters who do not have an agreement with one of the promotions, since "money always attracts free agents." And this circumstance will also certainly help the PFL add brightness to the selection of its athletes.
At the same time, Donn Davis seems to be confident that today his structure is ready to compete with the UFC. He told the Financial Times that after buying Bellator, it now has approximately 30% of the total number of fighters in the top 25 in MMA according to the Fight Matrix. The UFC has about the same number.