Bellator has been a hot commodity behind the scenes.
One of the biggest storylines throughout the mixed martial arts (MMA) world in recent months, if not the biggest, has been surrounding the free agency of former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion, Francis Ngannou. “The Predator” was seemingly in touch with or garnering interest from all promotions imaginable, but Bellator felt quiet and continued focusing on its planned 2023 schedule.
Ngannou wound up signing with Professional Fighters League (PFL), which just weeks before had accrued rumors of it soon purchasing Bellator. The latter of which has been the center of sales rumors for quite some time.
MMA Mania has since heard from multiple sources, debunking the PFL-Bellator purchase rumors. However, Bellator President, Scott Coker, reveals that there have been discussions, at the very least.
“Yeah, there’s been talk about it,” Coker told MMA Planet transcribed from Japanese. “Well, I’m not going to say ‘no comment’ on that question because I can answer that question. For the past five years, it’s been every year that people want to get their hands on Bellator. It was coming to Viacom, and year after year, we said, ‘No.’ Viacom kept saying they would continue to operate Bellator.
“As for this year, I’ve decided to talk to people who want to invest in Bellator,” he continued. “However, I will not sell it. As a financial partner, whether or not you can raise funds. How many financial partners does ONE [Championship] have? What about PFL and UFC? Viacom has historically operated Bellator without such a partner.”
Bellator and PFL have found one big thing in common in recent years, which has been the inclusion of million-dollar tournaments. PFL’s foundation revolves around a seasonal tournament format with the divisional winners receiving a $1 million reward along with the title. Bellator was brought up on tournaments in its early existence as well, but only recently began doing large million-dollar tournaments for a select division over the rough span of one year.
“Finding a partner will speed up Bellator’s growth,” Coker said. “It will also expand the business. Viacom isn’t letting Bellator go. It’s been a solid business, and when the capital increases, the business changes, and that’s what the MMA business is now.
“Everyone has their own way of doing things, and everyone is learning how to push the business forward and moving forward,” he added. “And it takes time to get a deal done, because everyone is learning, and like PFL, it takes time and money to learn.”
In terms of talent, both Bellator and PFL have made real strides to support arguments behind having some of MMA's best fighters across multiple weight classes. In Coker’s mind, he feels that’s an undeniably critical factor when it comes to bolstering the business side of a promotion and where Bellator can go from here.
“Bellator’s growth will accelerate as capitalists and investors step in,” Coker said. “This is because the total capital will increase. But Bellator is different from PFL. The Light Heavyweight division has some of the best fighters in the world. I think Vadim Nemkov can beat the UFC champion.
“Johnny Eblen can definitely beat the UFC Middleweight champion. Welterweight, Yaroslav Amosov, is the undefeated champion. Several world-class fighters are in Bellator. Fighting against the UFC right now is enough. We have just that many players.
“Their fight money is expensive,” he laughed. “If you want to beat the world’s strongest, if you want to win [over] the UFC, you need a fighter who is that strong and you need to pay a lot of fight money. So companies need capital. Bellator knows how to create the best fighters in the world. In order to continue to create a place where the world’s best fighters fight, we need that much capital.”