Big changes are coming to the MMA industry as, after months of speculation, the PFL made its acquisition of Bellator official on Monday.
PFL founder Donn Davis announced the purchase was a done deal, which could prove to be a game changer to the MMA industry as a whole. Although the announcement put to bed one question, it also created new ones.
Later on Monday, Davis spoke to Ariel Helwani on “The MMA Hour” to shed more light on the deal and what it would entail moving forward. Below are seven key aspects of the PFL’s acquisition, as explained by Davis.
How the PFL-Bellator deal originated
Rumors have swirled as to how the idea of a merger even started. Some reports suggested that Paramount wanted out from Bellator, but we later learned that Showtime wanted out of combat sports, including boxing, altogether.
Davis claims the idea of the deal was original, and it originated in house.
“We started in January of this year,” Davis said. “We called them (Paramount) for the same reason we talked about publicly: Athletes in any sport, whether it’s NBA or MMA, they are the foundation of everything. The more quality athletes, the deeper and better the product. PFL, great vision. PFL, great capability. PFL has done great so far, but we need more and better athletes, and there was only one company that, at one time, could put us on equal footing with the UFC, and that was Bellator. …
“I called them and said that that was the one big company move that overnight we can have a roster with quality on par and on stature with the UFC, so I asked how we could get that done. That’s the reason why I made the call.”
How much did PFL pay for Bellator?
How much is Bellator worth? In recent weeks, UFC CEO Dana White made fiery comments questioning why anyone would pay money to acquire Bellator. Well, technically, money wasn’t a big part of the deal, maybe not even at all.
“What they (Paramount) saw with PFL was the opportunity to be part of a leading company moving forward,” Davis said. “This was a stock deal, not a cash deal. They are a small minority moving forward. So instead they said, ‘We don’t really want to sell low. We want to sell low and have an opportunity to make it high,’ therefore a deal was made.”
Bellator brand continues, but how will that work?
PFL’s news release stated that PFL will continue to run as a separate brand under the PFL umbrella. But what exactly will that look like? It’s hard to say since it’s a work in progress, but PFL has a solid idea of what it wants it to be.
“Fans really want to see (certain fights), but in the season it may never happen because we don’t make the fights at PFL,” Davis said. “The fighters make the fights. The Bellator brand in the PFL portfolio will stand as a one-off event product. We will have eight events a year. We call it the Bellator International Series. These are one-off event products from the PFL platform. So whether you’re a PFL fighter or Bellator fighter, you’re all now PFL fighters. You’re all in the pool. To take one of our own fighters, ‘Showtime’ Pettis (for example): That season product wasn’t great for him. He’s probably better fighting twice a year on the one-off events, just to take one of our own. Fans love him, and he can get ready for that. A season is too hard at this stage in his career. The season is the toughest test in MMA, so he’ll probably be great for that (Bellator) product.
” We’ll talk to managers and fighters and say, ‘What’s the best product for you? What’s the best product for the fans? They’ll either fight twice a year on the Bellator International Series, or you’ll fight in the PFL league season. Your choice.’ The Bellator belts will still be at risk. The champions remain. PFL season is exactly what it was. Those products will both run during the year. We’ll have two big signature products.”
Where will Bellator broadcast? What about PFL renewing with ESPN?
“We will announce that in January,” Davis said. “One thing that Bellator, unfortunately not their fault, is that they moved around so much in the last three years in terms of distribution with Paramount. There wasn’t a consistent home for fans. We will get them a consistent U.S. home and consistent international homes. But it will be premium and mostly free, just like PFL. We’ve always been on ESPN in the U.S. and 20 media partners.”
PFL’s deal with ESPN is set to expire after its 2023 Championship event this Friday. Davis revealed a new deal is done, but the promotion won’t announce it until after the event. He also said Bellator will likely have a separate broadcast partner but is not ruling out falling under the same home.
Will there be any cuts from the Bellator roster?
Davis revealed all Bellator fighters will remain under contract and even the employees can stay if they choose to.
“Two hundred and 10,” Davis said, regarding the number of fighters under contract with Bellator. “All of them will be coming over. Obviously it would’ve been better for PFL to only take certain fighters, but we thought it was better for the sport and better for the fighters to take them all. Every fighter will start the season, but over time just the PFL, we’ll upgrade the rosters. … Those who don’t win or don’t perform or fans don’t respond to, they likely won’t be there over time. … This was a rough time in the industry for Bellator, and we wanted to not only bring the fighters but the employees. Everyone that wants to be part of this new mission, come on over.”
Davis also added that he hopes for Scott Coker and Mike Kogan, who were the leading men of Bellator, to remain with the company and help run the new vision for Bellator.
Is Cris Cyborg vs. Kayla Harrison happening?
Arguably the biggest fight possible now with this PFL-Bellator deal is Cris Cyborg vs. Kayla Harrison. They have history, and these two are arguably the best female fighters on the planet.
“I’ve been wanting to see this Kayla Harrison vs. Cris Cyborg fight since I was a little baby,” Davis said. “That may be on a pay-per-view next year.”
Davis also confirmed that Harrison becomes a free agent after the 2023 Championship this Friday, but he’s confident she’ll stay with PFL.
“She is, but we have understandings, and I’m pretty confident she’ll have a new deal,” Davis explained.
As far as Cyborg, she also has a lengthy deal and will be available to fight. Davis said he mended his with relationship with Cyborg, as the two have had tension given Davis past comments promoting Harrison.
“She’s on a long-term deal,” Davis said regarding Cyborg. “I always separate public personas from reality. We’ve had good breakfast together six months ago. I’m so supportive of our fighters and PFL, and now she’s one of our fighters.”
Will Bellator International Series get uniforms like PFL?
How much will the Bellator look be altered. Davis assures that changes are coming in the production quality and presentation, but the uniforms will not be enforced like they do in the PFL.
“They are different brands and different products, and they all have different dimensions to them. They all have their own elements. … This is a league (PFL). There are uniforms just like the NBA. This (Bellator) isn’t a league. It’s a one-off event product. You can wear what you want.”