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When Professional Fighters League (PFL) acquired Bellator MMA in late 2023, most expected for the promotion to combine both companies together to form a nice, healthy roster to shake things up for all parties involved. After all, that’s the route Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) took when it gobbled up PRIDE FC and Strikeforce, allowing Dana White and Co. to control the largest stake in the sport with the biggest and most talented roster in the game.

Instead, PFL officials revealed that the two promotions would still run as separate entities, while introducing the Bellator Champions Series. Along the way, the powers that be promised that the best of each promotion would eventually cross paths to pit the respective champions from each company against each other.

The first of the “Champion vs. Champion” fight cards took place earlier today (Sat., Feb. 24, 2024) as “Seize the Throne” invaded Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in what was truly a historic event.

And it didn’t take early for the tone to be set by Bellator.

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Kicking things off on the main card was a Lightweight bout between former Featherweight champion, A.J. McKee, facing off against Clay Collard, resulting in a first round submission win for “Mercenary” (watch it) after Collard made a business decision to tap to an armbar as opposed to risking have his arm injured and losing anyway.

The second fight of the night between two aging veterans in Yoel Romero and Thiago Santos was a bit more competitive, though it was “Soldier of God” who did enough to walk away with a split decision win. Soon after, Bellator went up 3-0 after Vadim Nemkov submitted former PFL Heavyweight champion, Bruno Cappelozza in the second round of what was the Russian’s debut in the division.

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In the fourth fight, Bellator’s Welterweight champion, Jason Jackson, disposed of Ray Cooper III via second-round technical knockout. In his defense, Cooper III did not have a long enough training camp to prepare for this fight after he agreed to step in to replace the injured Magomed Magomedkerimov.

In the first true current “Champ vs. Champ” fight, Bellator’s Middleweight roost-ruler, Johnny Eblen, had to survive a very game opponent in Light Heavyweight kingpin, Impa Kasanganay, who dropped the 185-pound champion in round two. But, Eblen made the proper adjustments and did enough to earn the split-decision.

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Going into the headlining title fight between PFL’s Renan Ferreira and Ryan Bader, Bellator was sitting pretty in the driver’s seat up 5-0. But, Ferreira didn’t let the pressure of saving the day for PFL get to him because he put an end to the fight as quickly as it began, tagging Bader with his first punch of the night, which sent him crashing to the canvas. A few seconds and follow up shots later, the referee was pulling “Problema” off “Darth.”

Despite Ferreira preventing the clean sweep, with a score of 5-1 Bellator proved that it is clearly the No. 2 promotion in mixed martial arts (MMA) behind Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). And let’s not forget that the promotion went 5-0 against RIZIN in Dec. 2022, too.

Much of the credit has to go to Mike Kogan and Rich Chou, who served as Bellator’s matchmakers and built the roster from the ground up, with the help of former company CEO, Scott Coker.

Granted, three of PFL’s champions didn’t compete on the card, including Welterweight king, Magomed Magomedkerimov, Featherweight title holder, Jesus Pinedo, and women’s 145-pound champion, Larissa Pacheco. On that note, Patricio Pitbull and Cris Cyborg were missing from the other side, as well, so it would’ve taken a lot from the absent PFL champions if they wanted to help even the score.

Despite the near-shutout suffered by his PFL group, company CEO, Peter Murray, was encouraged by what he saw from all combatants.

“Tonight the Professional Fighters League and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were at the center of the MMA world,” said PFL CEO Peter Murray via a press release. “PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions was the first-ever PFL PPV Super Fight global event and delivered electrifying action from the best fighters in MMA. The PFL remains committed to delivering premium MMA experiences to our fans around the globe.”

What the future holds for potential “Champion vs. Champion” events after Bellator’s dominance remains to be seen, but one can’t help but to wonder if PFL officials aren’t considering going in a different direction and combining both rosters into one once and for all sooner rather than later.

It’s playing its own gamefor better or worse.

For all the latest PFL and Bellator MMA news and notes click here and here.

Author: Staff

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