Bellator Finds New Home to Stream Fights to Eager Audience

March 21, 2024
3 weeks

There are always some uneasy moments on both sides of a merger. When the Professional Fighters League bought Bellator last year, there was a lot of uncertainty circulating. PFL has a different type of structure than Bellator, so it was hard to see how the two promotions planned to move forward together.

The structure of the PFL is more like a traditional season for a professional sports league. Fighters who want to win a championship have to plan to fight four times in a year. Bellator was structured more like a traditional MMA promotion

Now, the PFL announced recently that it has found a place to stream fights under the Bellator banner. Bellator fights will now be streaming on Max, which was formerly known as HBO Max. This is good news for the PFL and Bellator. All of the PFL’s fights are currently broadcast through ESPN+.

However, the MMA space was becoming overloaded on the platform. The UFC also streams all of its fight cards and pay-per-views through ESPN+. Branching out to another platform may provide Bellator some space to breathe and separate itself from being too closely compared to the UFC.

Why Did Bellator Sell?

Bellator was looking for a new owner after Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, was looking to restructure its offerings for streaming. Bellator had been a long-time partner for Showtime. In addition to Bellator events, Showtime had been a long-time pay-per-view home for many top boxing events.

However, Showtime decided at the end of 2023 to exit combat sports entirely. Online boxing news shows it was a crushing blow for promoters and fighters, who suddenly had to find a new home for their events.

Max’s interest in the space may be due to the void of streaming options available for fight fans. Amazon Prime has gotten involved with ONE Championship, while Netflix has decided to stream a bizarre fight between Jake Paul and Mike Tyson. Netflix has also branched out into professional wrestling, bringing the WWE on board.

Bellator was initially founded in 2008 by Bjorn Rebney. He would sell the company to Viacom in 2011. While Rebney stayed involved for several years, eventually Viacom brought in former Strikeforce founder Scott Coker to run the business. Bellator initially started with a season-like format, but transitioned to a more traditional model under Coker.

HBO Has History With Combat Sports

This announcement was a surprise because HBO had previously left boxing entirely. There have also been a lot of issues with the Max broadcasting platform. This is Max’s first adventure into life sports.

The cable giant launched its streaming service in 2020. As of today, Max has more than 70 million subscribers worldwide. In the United States, there was some confusion because the brand changed its name to Max from HBO Max. HBO made the change as it reshuffled following a merger with WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. in April 2022.

How Has Bellator and PFL Merger Gone?

Well, it depends on who you ask. There haven’t been a lot of events planned since the purchase was announced. The PFL and Bellator held a pay-per-view together in February. It was originally slated to put all of the PFL champions against their Bellator counterparts.

Because of injuries things didn’t work out perfectly to get all of the champions involved. However, the main card still featured six fights that showcased the top talent of each organization. Bellator dominated the event.

If it weren’t for Renan Ferreira’s 21-second knockout win over Ryan Bader in the main event, it would have been a clean sweep for Bellator. Johnny Eblen, Jason Jackson, Vadim Nemkov, Yoel Romero, and A.J. McKee all picked up victories to help show what the Bellator brand was capable of, according to MMA news sites.

Bellator to Host New Events

This Friday, Bellator will return under its own banner as part of the Bellator Champions Series. This event will be hosted in Belfast, and will see Corey Anderson challenge Karl Moore for the light heavyweight championship. Patrício Freire, who is a long-time veteran Bellator fighter, will also be paired with Jeremy Kennedy in a co-main event.

As of now, there are planned to be eight of these events, which should all be streamed on Max. Bellator will have some challenges in match making. Bellator has nine weight classes, but will struggle to showcase the top talent in the women’s divisions.

Flyweight champion Liz Carmouche is set to jump over to the PFL, while Cris Cyborg will be on the PFL pay-per-view circuit. Bellator has seen some of its fighters jump ship as a result of the merger. Michael Page recently made his debut in the UFC. On the PFL side, they have seen some defections as well.

Kayla Harrison, who was one of the faces of the PFL, has decided to jump to the UFC and cut weight to test herself against other top female fighters. 

What is the Timeline for the PFL Season?

As always, the PFL is ready to get moving on its next season to crown new champions. Those events will start April 4 in San Antonio Texas. The regular season will begin for heavyweight and women’s flyweight divisions. 

This is a crucial year for the PFL. The organization acquiring Bellator showed it wants to be a major player in the MMA space. However, truly cracking through to the top will involve trying to take market share from the long-time top promotion, the UFC.

The UFC recently settled an antitrust case with former fighters that had been hanging over its head for the past few years. For any organization to come along and take away some market share, let alone replace it as the top MMA organization, would require developing fighters with real star power to reach the mainstream.

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By Dean McHugh.