What PFL purchase of Bellator means for MMA, its fighters and fans

1 week ago 15
  • ESPN

Nov 20, 2023, 02:54 PM ET

The PFL announced the long-rumored acquisition of Bellator MMA connected Monday, with PFL president Donn Davis penning connected the societal media level X that the acquisition creates a "new MMA planetary powerhouse."

What does this woody mean for Bellator, which since being founded successful 2008 has grown to beryllium the second-biggest MMA promotion, down the UFC? The PFL has challenged that No. 2 presumption successful caller years, and with this monolithic transaction determination present is simply a wide alternate to the top-dog UFC.

Davis' announcement noted that Bellator volition not cease to exist, but alternatively volition beryllium relaunched successful a "reimagined" form: a Bellator International Champions Series. What volition that look like? How volition the promotions run broadside by broadside nether a communal ownership? Will Bellator fighters vie successful the PFL and vice versa?

Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi code the questions raised by the acquisition of Bellator, laying retired the facts they cognize and besides speculating what mightiness oregon should hap with the aboriginal of Bellator and the PFL.

What volition Bellator look similar now?

Okamoto: Bellator volition beryllium a spot of a shell, if we're conscionable being honest. The PFL is going to poach the champion parts, arsenic it evidently should. Any jock with intrigue oregon promotional worth is going to apt determination into the PFL cage. It's fundamentally the aforesaid happening that happened erstwhile the UFC purchased Strikeforce implicit a decennary ago.

It sounds similar the PFL volition thin connected an planetary roster, with the enactment of a Bellator International Champions Series. It's a spot for the PFL to fulfill a assortment of contracts and support planetary endowment busy, and if idiosyncratic pops with the fans, great. The bid tin inactive beryllium utilized arsenic a promotional instrumentality successful the bigger picture. But successful reality, it's thing of a hybrid international/developmental league. The champion and astir recognizable Bellator fighters volition not beryllium warring here. And the PFL announcement did not adjacent specify wherever Bellator fights would beryllium televised, with Showtime getting retired of combat sports.

What are the astir appealing fights that present tin beryllium made?

Okamoto: Cris Cyborg vs. Kayla Harrison is the astir appealing. There is simply a communicative determination to push. Ever since Harrison transitioned into MMA aft winning 2 Olympic golden medals successful judo, this has been a imaginable matchup. Yes, Harrison mislaid to Larissa Pacheco successful the 2022 PFL lightweight finals, and if Pacheco wins the 2023 featherweight last this Friday, she deserves to combat Cyborg, the Bellator featherweight champ, erstwhile the PFL puts connected the champ-vs.-champ lawsuit that Davis promised for 2024. But Cyborg vs. Kayla is the bigger fight, and I would expect the PFL to tally with that one.

Davis said arsenic overmuch erstwhile the PFL president spoke to ESPN connected Monday. He said Cyborg vs. Harrison volition "100% happen." Nothing is ever 100% successful MMA, but this is the astir marketable combat the PFL tin marque with this merger and the institution bash its champion to marque it.

Beyond that, immoderate of the astir intriguing matchups see Bellator heavyweight champ Ryan Bader against PFL's recently acquired Francis Ngannou, Bellator lightweight champ Usman Nurmagomedov vs. the victor of Friday's PFL last betwixt Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Clay Collard, and Bellator airy heavyweight champ Vadim Nemkov vs. 2022 PFL champ Rob Wilkinson. And getting distant from champions for a moment, Bellator names specified arsenic AJ McKee and Aaron Pico are going to beryllium precise absorbing to ticker against PFL featherweights and lightweights.

How does the consolidation of the PFL and Bellator impact the equilibrium of powerfulness successful MMA?

Raimondi: This acquisition gives the PFL a broad, heavy roster of highly talented fighters crossed value classes. There are endless fantabulous fights the marque tin present make, involving the likes of Cyborg, McKee, Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, Johnny Eblen, Vadim Nemkov and more. The prime of endowment the PFL present has astatine its disposal is the top assemblage of fighters a non-UFC promotion has had -- possibly ever. At slightest since the heyday of Pride. It volition person much extent than Strikeforce.

There's besides the Saudi Arabia element. When quality broke successful August that deep-pocketed Saudi Arabia had acquired a number involvement successful PFL, the banal prices for Endeavor and WWE some went down. (This was earlier the authoritative merger of the UFC and WWE into TKO.) That was demonstrative of what the marketplace thought of Saudi Arabia having power implicit a UFC competitor. So, fans mightiness not spot the operation of PFL and Bellator catching up to the UFC, but Saudi Arabia being progressive with this level of endowment volition surely drawback the market's attention.

What situation does the PFL look with this influx of talent?

Raimondi: The biggest question present is if the PFL tin pinpoint who the biggest imaginable stars are connected this roster and physique them into morganatic box-office brands. Despite an abundance of talented athletes astatine its disposal, the PFL inactive doesn't person a large pay-per-view gully oregon idiosyncratic who sells a ton of tickets. Bellator's ratings weren't precisely tearing the location down connected Showtime, and the PFL isn't the hottest unrecorded summons successful town, either. Ngannou should beryllium capable to determination the needle, but helium could extremity up boxing for the foreseeable future. And past there's Jake Paul. If helium does combat MMA successful the PFL, it would gully a batch of eyes.

All of that means it volition stay to beryllium seen if this fresh, caller PFL tin truly marque a tally astatine the UFC. Maybe successful the future, the PFL volition beryllium successful presumption to motion apical escaped agents leaving the UFC. But those opportunities are scarce.

"I deliberation their headdress array and their investors are conscionable excessively astute to f--- up," 1 high-profile MMA cause told ESPN recently, nether information of anonymity. "I don't deliberation they'll ever beryllium the No. 1, but I deliberation they'll beryllium competitive."

How is PFL's play format impacted?

Okamoto: As for now, and this could ever alteration by outpouring 2024 erstwhile the play launches, the program is for the regular play to inactive dwell of six value classes. The value classes could alteration from what they are successful 2023, but determination is not a program successful spot arsenic of present to grow into much value classes. The biggest interaction volition beryllium the extent of the classes. The PFL has done a bully occupation successful caller years of signing escaped agents to marque their value classes look antithetic from play to season, but astatine the aforesaid time, immoderate of the matchups had grown stale. We were starting to spot immoderate similarities from twelvemonth to year. With the injection of Bellator's roster, these value classes are going to beryllium exponentially better.

Will this pull high-profile escaped agents to the PFL?

Okamoto: Money attracts escaped agents. Athletes are going to spell wherever they tin marque the astir money, and the PFL has a proven way grounds that successful definite situations, it is consenting to beryllium the highest bidder. In general, the PFL has go an charismatic promotion simply due to the fact that it's getting much recognition. It's becoming much credible with each passing year. Adding this level of Bellator talent, and this overmuch of it astatine once, lone continues that trend. The PFL is not connected an adjacent playing crushed arsenic the UFC, determination is nary question astir that, but it's a realistic, viable level for the apical endowment successful the world. And again, astir importantly, it has shown that it is consenting to wage for the apical endowment successful the world.

Will this woody person implications for the class-action antitrust suit against the UFC?

Raimondi: Potentially. The messaging that PFL has already enactment retired there, that "our combatant roster [is] adjacent to UFC," volition astir surely beryllium utilized by UFC attorneys successful the lawsuit to show that the promotion is not a monopsony and does not person a stranglehold connected the MMA market. The UFC's attorneys person asked for further discovery, specifically accusation from different MMA promotions showing they person marketplace freedom, earlier a imaginable April 2024 commencement day for the trial.

The tribunal doesn't look to beryllium excessively keen connected extending that opening date, but a improvement similar this could alteration things. In immoderate event, the UFC could look to instantly usage the quality of PFL acquiring Bellator arsenic portion of its case. Don't beryllium amazed if the UFC's attorneys besides notation that the Saudis person a number involvement successful PFL and present successful Bellator, too. That is perfectly utile accusation for the defendants successful the antitrust lawsuit. Now, nary of this mightiness person a tribunal of instrumentality that the UFC is not a monopsony, but it could beryllium a boon for the UFC's case.