Donn Davis Reveals PFL Plans for Bellator MMA, Believes Dana White “Worried”

PFL and Bellator come together with league purchasing their rival, will run both companies, per Donn Davis
Brendan Loughnane, Claressa Shields, Peter Murray, Kayla Harrison, and Rory MacDonald at a press conference in London to announce the PFL going to the UK. Photo: PFL

“There was only one company that at one time could put us on equal footing with UFC, and that was Bellator,” PFL Founder and Chairman Donn Davis explained on The MMA Hour on Monday.

Donn Davis’ highly anticipated appearance on Ariel Helwani’s show came on the heels of the Professional Fighters League purchase of rival Bellator MMA being officially announced. Starting in 2024, the PFL will run both brands, Bellator in eight standalone events mainly focusing on international markets.

Davis revealed that they reached out to Viacom/Paramount, under which Bellator fell, in January of 2023, with no idea that the company would beginning divesting assets in the Spring. It was a slow process, in terms of talks. “Mergers take time,” as Davis pointed out.

Viacom becomes a minority owner in the company. Davis, who built his reputation as an entrepreneur and businessman with America Online, the Chicago Cubs, and his own venture capital firm, revealed the deal was done entirely in stock. “I think what they saw with PFL was an opportunity become part of a big company moving forward. So this was a stock deal, not a cash deal.”

With Paramount a “small” owner and no cash changing hands, it was a “great deal for us,” said Davis, adding he was “very happy” with how things played out.

Asked how close he thought the PFL was to the UFC, Donn Davis took note of UFC President and CEO Dana White being more vocal about the rival promotion recently. The company made waves in 2023 by signing the likes of Francis Ngannou, Jake Paul, Cedric Doumbe, and others.

“Everybody knows Dana well enough that he only dismisses things that worry him, or else he just doesn’t comment. He didn’t comment on the PFL for four years, because he wasn’t worried,” suggested Davis. “He’s commented on the PFL a lot the last six months. He’s worried.”

“What specifically worried him about Bellator is the metrics we put out in the press release. 30% of that roster ranked in the top 25 per Fight Matrix rankings. So this isn’t, Dana gets to rank his own guys, Donn’s ranking his own guys. As you know there’s only one group that ranks all fighters, Fight Matrix, independently. 30% of the UFC roster is top 25-ranked, and now our combined company of PFL and Bellator, 30%.”

The same. Now, to UFC’s credit, if you look at top five in the world, they still own the top five, one through five. So call it PPV cards, we couldn’t compete with them right now, which is why we’re only going to have two, and they have twelve.”

Davis, however, thinks the TV product from the PFL this year will be better. “Our cards are going to be better. Better. Because what they put on this year was ranked 70 and what we’re going to put on next year is ranked 40.” Davis believes that has White talking, questioning why the PFL would buy Bellator, “because he’s smart.”

“UFC ain’t the NFL. We’re not the XFL. But he wants you to think that. And it’s just a matter of time before that starts to get more well-known, and we’re not the number two, we’re a co-leader. He doesn’t want that. That’s what’s going on.”

Later, Davis would make it clear that there’s no axe to grind with the UFC, nor an attempt to take over the MMA market and displace the leading promotion in the sport.

“UFC is a great company and they invented this industry. This is not about taking share or shifting share. MMA is growing. MMA is growing 10% a year, every other sport 2-3%. They’re going to do well. We’re just going to do really, really well,” said Davis. “And I’m excited to have my new teammates at Bellator, I’m excited to have all our new fighters propelling us forward, and we’re going to win. The next time we’re on here, when people laughed that we’re going to be a co-leader, we’re going to be a co-leader. Just like they laughed when we said we’re going to be #2, and we’re #2. And so to me, if you’re on the new Bellator team, if you’re on the new combined team, declare victory.”

In five years, Donn Davis expects to be able to reach that co-leader goal. “We’re the co-leader in MMA, flat out. But we do things different, we think different, we innovate different. We don’t have dogma. We co-promote. We give fighters opportunity, we let them box, we give 50% PPV share, we think different. And we’re the co-leader. They do what they do, fantastic. We do what we do, market’s big enough for two very, very big companies.”

The 2023 PFL Championship takes place this Friday in Washington, D.C. A Bellator vs. PFL champion versus champion card is expected for Q1 2024, said Davis, with TV deals in the U.S. and Canada ready to be announced for the PFL, while Bellator TV deals are in the works. As for Bellator’s Lightweight Grand Prix, Davis couldn’t answer whether it will complete as scheduled or not.