Saudi-Backed Professional Fighters League Buys Bellator From Paramount Global, Says Roster “Now Equal In Stature To UFC”

Mixed martial arts outfit Professional Fighters League (PFL) has acquired Bellator from Paramount Global, saying the deal includes top fighters and creates “a roster now equal in stature to UFC.”

Financial details weren’t disclosed. The deal comes after Paramount announced last month it plans to shut the sports operations at Showtime by the end of the year in an ongoing overhaul of the network.

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All newly acquired Bellator fighters will become part of the PFL platform and available to compete in PFL fight franchises. As a result, the league said, PFL and UFC now both showcase rosters that are 30% comprised of fighters who are top 25 independently world-ranked in their weight-classes, and PFL with Bellator now has the best roster of women’s fighters in the world.

UFC is owned by Ari Emanuel-led Endeavor through TKO Holdings, a new public company that houses UFC and WWE. PFL launched in 2018. Saudi Arabia invested a reported $100 million in the league in August through its sovereign wealth fund’s new vehicle, SRJ Sports Investments.

During a Q&A on TKO’s first earnings call earlier this month, Emanuel and COO Mark Shapiro played down any threat from PFL, noting their own Saudi partnerships including bringing UFC Fight Night to Riyadh in March. “Competition’s not new for the UFC,” Emanuel said. “We don’t see it as a zero-sum game.”

PFL will continue the Bellator brand. Bellator will be the “one-off” event product from PFL. PFL will launch a reimagined Bellator product in 2024 led by the Bellator International Champions Series — consisting of eight fight events each year hosted in major cities across the globe. Each Bellator event will feature two compelling co-main fights competing for championship belts.

Bellator becomes one of five live fight franchises of the Professional Fighters League: PFL League Season, PFL PPV Super Fights, PFL Challenger Series, PFL International Leagues, and Bellator.

Overall, the league said, it can now meet fan and media demand by producing and programming a year-round calendar of live fight content with 30 premium MMA events per year. PFL is also staging PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions next year. Details of Bellator events, distribution, partnerships, and management will be announced will be announced later.

Donn Davis, PFL Chairman and Founder, and Peter Murray, PFL CEO, continue to lead and operate the combined company. “PFL is now a global powerhouse in MMA,” said  Davis. “Our Bellator acquisition turbocharges PFL’s mission to innovate the sport and become the industry co-leader.”

“The combined PFL and Bellator fighter rosters are second to none in MMA,” added Murray. “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.”

MMA with 650 million global fans has the third largest fan-base of all sports worldwide and its $1.75 billion in annual revenue is projected to grow 10% annually to $4 billion by 2032.

Citi and LionTree served as financial advisors to PFL. Sidley Austin LLP served as legal counsel.

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