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Bellator MMA for sale? ‘They’re on the market’

According to The MMA Hour’s Ariel Helwani, the Bellator MMA promotion could be sold in 2023 ... if Viacom/CBS can find a buyer.

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As 2022 ends and 2023 begins, we’ve seen a lot of awards shows come and go trying to distill the past 12 months of mixed martial arts (MMA) action into far too few categories. Not The MMA Hour, though. The show — which would win “Best Weekly MMA Interview Show” if that was a category anywhere — held its 10th annual awards show on Wednesday with a whopping 27 categories.

Those categories ranged from the obvious “Knockout” or “Submission” of the year varieties to more fun ones like “Social Media User of the Year” (Paulo Costa) and “Betting Underdog of the Year” (Christian Echols at +1200 beating -2400 Patrick Downey). That second award winner came via a Bellator fight, and represented one of two awards involving Bellator. It also won “Best Poster” for its RIZIN X Bellator NYE event.

Even if The MMA Awards gave out an award to “Best MMA Promotion Not Named UFC,” Bellator probably wouldn’t have won that this year, either. Let’s be honest: 2022 was not great for the aging promotion, which has struggled to promote its events in a way that generates traction with mainstream sports fans. The MMA Hour host, Ariel Helwani, basically dubbed the PFL the No. 2 promotion after UFC before dropping a potential bombshell about Bellator.

“There’s two things that I’m really looking forward to or curious about,” he said. “Number one, does PFL really take that next step as the number two? Do they build off the momentum [of 2022]? I think they are, I think they are going to take a big step, so let’s see what happens.

“Also, what becomes of Bellator?” Helwani continued. “There are whispers that ... I’ll just say that they’re ... they’re on the market. They’re on the market. And what becomes of them? What is their future? Where are they going to end up? Can they get back on track? They’ve got the CBS show on February 4th so we’ll see what happens there.”

Bellator is currently owned by Viacom/CBS, which airs the promotion on its Showtime cable channel. On Feb. 4, 2023, the promotion will get a push onto broadcast television with a big event on CBS that hopes to take advantage of a one-week lull between NFL conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Bellator 290 (see fight card here) will feature a rematch between Heavyweight champion, Ryan Bader, and aging legend, Fedor Emelianenko, as the headlining attraction (and possibly marks end of Fedor’s MMA career).

What happens to Bellator will likely be decided after ratings and reactions from that pivotal Feb. 4 card are revealed. Bellator has seen its viewership numbers crumble since moving from SpikeTV/Paramount to CBS Sports to Showtime, which makes sense given Showtime is a “premium” cable channel versus Paramount, which was included in many basic cable packages in the United States.

It’s been hard enough for Bellator to get any Oxygen with UFC’s current oversaturated schedule. Then add in the Showtime paywall and Bellator’s two-year attempt to try and break into Europe (meaning stateside tape-delays), and it feels like Bellator now wanders the desert in search of purpose and personality.

If Helwani is correct, Bellator President, Scott Coker, may end up having his promotion bought out from under him once again. Back in 2011, UFC bought Coker’s Strikeforce, stripping the fight company for fighter contracts. A few years later, and several of those fighters were UFC champions and needle-moving stars.

There’s little chance UFC will do the same this time because it’s currently embroiled in an anti-trust lawsuit over being a Monopsony that allegedly manipulates the fighter market illegally. And with this economy, we’re seeing a shortage of brazen rich dudes having mid-life crises willing to sink tens of millions of dollars into a new promotion.

So, the question we have isn’t so much about Bellator possibly being for sale in 2023, but about who would be interested in buying?

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