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The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and Bellator are the two biggest mixed martial arts promotions in the world. Most people know that they’re different, but there are some who may not realise this is because they aren’t the same company.
So, in order to try and contrast the two MMA promotions here, we will go through an overview of what defines each one. We’ll also review their historical arc so that you know a little more about the two biggest companies in MMA.
The UFC: A Brief History
UFC was founded in 1993 as the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The first event, which is a one-night tournament, was created by Art Davie on November 12, 1993. The event came under huge critisim, with Senator John McCain describing it as “Human cock fighting”.
Considering that acts like; hair pulling, eye gouging, groin shots were all allowed back in the early 1990s UFC events, it’s not really a surprise that people saw it as abhorrent.
In the early days of the UFC, there were a lot of rules that have ultimately been outlawed. Things such as hair pulling, fish hooks and groin strikes were all allowed.
The UFC has come a long way since their creation, but it really started to grow when the Fertitta brothers bought the UFC with one of its five founding partners, Dana White (who is now President of the company).
Fights became more regulated in order for MMA to be seen as a serious sport. Over time this started to increase the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts as a viable sport.
Today, the UFC has over 15 million followers on Instagram and regularly hosts events in large stadiums around the world.
The UFC has been a force in the international sport of MMA, hosting fights all over the globe . It’s produced famous athletes such as Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones and recently celebrated its 25th year anniversary.
Bellator: A Brief History
Bellator MMA is a comparatively new organization than the UFC, founded in 2008. Bellator MMA president Scott Coker is less well known to society than his rival in the UFC, Dana White (although it’s possible this reflects more on their respective public personas).
Bellator is the second largest fight promotion, rivaling the UFC in many cases. They often win top talent by offering them more lucrative contracts and other perks, such as licensing deals with other organizations or apparel companies for instance.
The company was founded by Bjorn Rebney, with the first one night tournaments before transitioning to the now standard format of 1-v-1 matches on fight nights.
In 2008, Bellator became the first MMA promotion to secure a TV deals with ESPN family (ESPN Deportes).
For a long while, the UFC alone dominated the MMA scene. But nowadays Bellator is more widely known and often seems to get mainstream exposure as well. They feature superstars of their own such as Ryan Bader, Gegard Mousasi, Cris Cyborg Santos, and more.
The differences between the UFC and Bellator
So now let’s do a deeper dive into the long standing debate of the UFC vs Bellator.
One of the key differences between the sport is actually the shape of each promotion’s cage. The UFC originally coined the idea of creating the familiar cage that everyone sees in hundreds of MMA organisations around the world. This was name “The Octagon” thanks to it’s eight sides, unlike the standard square of a boxing ring.
However Bellator have a circular cage, instead of the traditional “Octagon”, this was a stylistic choice of the organisation, and not due to any legal battle.
It’s no secret that every aspiring professional mixed martial artist wants to ultimately end up in the UFC and hopefully go on and fight for the title.
Stars are made on the UFC, but thanks to the rise in Bellator’s viewership numbers, they’re also being made in Bellator.
One of the most notable things is how fighters move from different promotions. Unlike boxing where fighters have the ability to hold multiple titles across different promotions, MMA promotions are insular, meaning you cannot be the heavyweight UFC and Bellator champion at the same time.
Generally, we tend to see fighters float from both promotions, Yoel Romero has moved from the UFC and Bellator and Michael Chandler has moved from Bellator to the UFC.
When Dana White announced that USADA would be doing drug testing for the UFC, the whole scope of the sport changed overnight. Suddenly an organisation that was considered a “dirty” promotion suddenly became clean and it became very apparent that certain fighters were talking performance-enhancing drugs. See “Ubereem” as a prime example of pre and post USADA testing.
However, Bellator take a far more relaxed approach when it comes to drug testing, currently, their stance is that drug testing will be done by the state athletic commission on the day of the fight, this means it’s far easier for fighters to take PEDs and cycle off before their fight.
The USADA drug testing has also been very good at keeping the UFC in the limelight for suspensions, big names in the sport such as Jon Jones, who has been banned multiple times for tainted supplements and various other drugs, and Nate Diaz who has was been banned for marijuana use.
While the UFC is the biggest Mixed Martial Arts organisation in the world, it’s also paying the least to their athletes. Currently, there is a $1.6 billion lawsuit against Dana White due to athlete pay and athletes have often praised Bellator for their generous pay.
On average Bellator will pay a fighter $25,000 just for turning up, whereas the UFC will pay as little as a few thousand dollars. That’s quite the difference for someone who fights for a living.
Bellator also allows fighters to be sponsored by companies, wear companies’ combat apparel and will help them with their career, whereas the UFC force all their fighters to wear their latest Reebok or Venum gear and they are not allowed to display sponsors in the cage.
This is probably one of the biggest things when comparing the two mixed martial arts promotions. The scale of the UFC and Bellator are on two different levels
UFC commentator and podcaster Joe Rogan regularly states the UFC is taken more seriously over Bellator, but there’s obviously going to be some bias there.
When it comes to media coverage, the UFC fighters get far more from press outlets over Bellator fighters, this is thanks to the stars it has created such as Conor McGregor.
The UFC also has a lot of clout in day to day life. A running joke in MMA circles is where beginners state that they’re “training UFC bro”, not mixed martial arts.
Our last difference really comes at the presidents of each promotion and how they treat their fighters and how they like to be seen in the limelight
Dana White is an American businessman who has been President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) since January 2001. White’s net worth was assessed at $500 million, as of August 2019. He is regularly the face of the UFC and is considered by many to be tyrannical and a shrewd businessman. It’s rare that UFC fighters have a good relationship with Dana.
Born in South Korea, in 1962 Scott Coker has lead an interesting life. The Taekwondo practitioner was a former stunt man and a combat sports promotor before eventually founding the MMA promotion Strikeforce.
After Strikeforce was bought by the UFC and absorbed its fighters into its ranks Coker went on to become the current President of Bellator.
Unlike White, Coker likes to work diligently behind the scenes to ensure that the promotion grows rapidly and that all the fighters are treated and paid fairly.
Similarities between the UFC and Bellator
So we’ve had a look at the main differences between the two organisations, so let’s quickly have a look at the similarities
Both the UFC and Bellator follow the unified rules for mixed martial arts. This was a set of rules which were created by an overall governing body that allowed competitors to move from various organisations but not have to get used to new rules. There are promotions such as ONE FC who do not follow these rules and include rules such as “soccer kicks to a down fighter” which is not allowed in either the UFC or Bellator.
Both organisations follow the same MMA weight class system for their mixed martial arts athletes. While many say there needs to be regulation regarding weight cutting, these weight classes have served these promotions well.
Both organisations have three, fiver minute rounds, for their non-title matchups. However there is a difference between the two whereby the UFC will have 5 rounds for a championship or headline fight, and Bellator will have 3 rounds.