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Saudi-Backed PFL Buys Rival Bellator in Landmark MMA Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Mixed martial arts company the Professional Fighters League has bought rival Bellator MMA, in a bid to take on the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s giant new sports fund, Washington, D.C.-based PFL held its first event in 2018, making it a relatively new combat sports upstart. Its champions in each weight class earn $1 million in prize money.

The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed in a statement on Monday. Bellator is currently owned by Paramount Global.

The PFL first put forward a potential deal in January, PFL’s founder and chairman Donn Davis said in an interview. Paramount has been looking to cut costs by selling off or shutting down a number of properties. Showtime Sports, one of the biggest boxing broadcasters of the last 40 years, is set to end at the end of the year.

Saudi Arabia’s SRJ Sports Investments took a minority stake in the PFL in August. SRJ is a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the organization that owns LIV Golf.

In a funding round in 2022, the PFL was valued at $500 million, with investors including Alex Rodriguez, Ares Capital, and media investment firm Waverley Capital.

Bellator is the best-known MMA league in the US after the UFC, although there is a considerable gap between the two in terms of recognition. The Bellator brand is set to continue following the deal, becoming one of the PFL’s five live-fight events.

There will also be the launch of the Bellator International Championship Series, located in major cities across the world, and an event that will pitch PFL’s champions against Bellator’s.

“We saw true parity of equality in the fighter roster,” said Davis.

The PFL believes the acquisition places it in prime position to compete against the UFC. It recently signed former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and YouTuber turned-professional boxer Jake Paul. Ngannou recently competed in an exhibition boxing match that saw him lose a controversial decision to Tyson Fury. The event took place at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh and attracted a large audience.

Read More: MMA Star Ngannou’s $10 Million Boxing Payday Continues Shakeup

Peter Murray, Chief Executive Officer of the PFL, has signaled an interest in potentially collaborating with the UFC.

“When the very best champions of PFL plays against the very best champions of UFC, those are fights the fans want to see,” Murray said in an interview. “We are certainly interested in it but it takes two parties to bring that together.”

After UFC 295, UFC CEO and president Dana White said he was not interested in a tie-up.

PFL’s upcoming championship will take place in Washington, DC, on Nov. 23, where heavyweight fighters including Kayla Harrison, Bubba Jenkins and Chris Wade will compete. The organization is also in talks to stage the next championship in Saudi Arabia in November 2024, according to Murray.

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