Bellator MMA’s bid to compete on equal footing with UFC gained major traction Tuesday when it announced a nine-figure, multiyear deal to stream fights on the new DAZN over-the-top service.
The deal with Perform Group’s platform will launch with a Sept. 29 Bellator card in San Jose that will feature a main-event meeting in which middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi will defend his belt against welterweight champion Rory MacDonald, and a heavyweight scrap between mixed martial arts legends Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Wanderlei Silva.
That opening card will additionally mark the beginning of the expected eight-fighter Bellator welterweight grand prix.
Although none of the participants are yet signed to that tournament, the DAZN investment is expected to lure all of the division’s major players, including MacDonald, and there’s interest in starting the grand prix with a trilogy meeting between former champions Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov.
DAZN, pronounced like “The Zone,” is planning seven exclusive U.S. fight cards annually, and 15 total, counting joint broadcasts that can also be seen on cable as part of Bellator’s existing deal with the Paramount Network.
A second card will come between October and November as the welterweight grand prix continues. The strong Bellator division also includes unbeaten Michael “MVP” Page and rival Brit Paul Daley along with Riverside’s Lorenz Larkin.
The Viacom-owned Paramount Network is additionally increasing its financial backing of Bellator in an ongoing push to boost its stable after luring former UFC title challenger MacDonald and top-five contender Mousasi with an eye on other pending free agents.
To stand as an equal with the UFC during the life of this deal is the initiative, said Juan Delgado, chief executive of Perform Media, DAZN’s parent company.
“Our objective is that … we wouldn’t have done this deal if we wouldn’t have looked each other in the eye and agree to a plan to super-charge the Bellator offering,” Delgado said.
“We feel this is a transformational deal for Bellator and DAZN. This gives Bellator the opportunity to truly challenge UFC, and there’s a great opportunity to put on interesting fights and go after talent, whether it be UFC talent or to develop Bellator’s existing talent.”
Aiming to be the “Netflix for sports,” DAZN currently exists in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Japan and Italy, and will launch a $1-billion deal with boxing promoter Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing to stream boxing cards beginning Sept. 22, with a show expected to originate from New York, followed by a planned October card in Los Angeles.
Though the monthly subscription cost has not been set (some industry insiders are bracing for a $10 to $15 price tag, more than double the $4.99 for the ESPN+ app that will begin airing UFC content in January) DAZN’s push shows it’s bullish on the prospect of combat sports.
“We understand current major sports are locked up in existing rights deals. Until that time, we needed to find an opportunity to penetrate the market and build a subscriber base for when the bigger rights come up. What we found is that fight sports is that category to start with,” Delgado said.
“Public data shows pay-per-views are starting to come down, but the price point is coming up. The interest is still there and we believe you’ll be better off as a consumer with this as fight sports are growing as a category, and therefore should be offered in a subscription acquisition vehicle for a service like DAZN. Hence, we’ve put $1 billion behind our boxing venture and a nine-figure investment behind Bellator.”
DAZN will carry the second chapter of the World Boxing Super Series eight-fighter tournaments in the 140-pound junior-welterweight and bantamweight divisions later this year, and there’s intrigue to see if Hearn will place his unbeaten, three-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua in the debut September card against mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin of Russia.
“There isn’t a top promoter that controls the boxing landscape right now,” Delgado said. “By us funding this venture, we think we can control or own boxing in the U.S.
“The challenge of the market now is that while Eddie is working on rounding up the talent, we are on track for some interesting fight cards later this year. I don’t see much of a challenger in putting on quality boxing and quality MMA, and the strong [fight fans’] shared interest will help that appetite … pay once and get all the fights.