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The Professional Fighters League has acquired Paramount’s Bellator MMA as the Saudi-backed company challenges Endeavor’s Ultimate Fighting Championship in the mixed martial arts world.

The US-based PFL did not disclose the price of the acquisition but its founder Donn Davis told the Financial Times that Paramount would retain a small minority stake in Bellator and that the deal would create a stronger competitor to UFC.

“This totally changes the MMA landscape overnight,” he said. “You essentially put two number two companies to create a co-leader. The combined PFL Bellator roster now has 30 per cent of its fighters who are ranked top 25 in the world by Fight Matrix. That’s the same as UFC has in their roster.”

PFL was founded in 2017 and is a relative newcomer to the growing sport but attracted a $100mn investment from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund in August. The investment was part of a plan to expand the PFL in the Middle East, with a regional league headquarters in Saudi Arabia set to launch next year.

Saudi Arabia wants to bolster its global presence in sports, investing in everything from football to golf and tennis. The country, which seeks to compete with the neighbouring United Arab Emirates as a regional finance and logistics hub of the Middle East, has hosted multiple high-profile fights in recent months while the UAE hosted UFC championship events.

Saudi Arabia hosted an October match between boxing heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and the mixed martial artist Francis Ngannou, who has signed with PFL, with other matches scheduled for next year.

However, its investment in PFL has drawn derision from the UFC’s president and chief executive Dana White, who said the league was “burning cash”.

The UFC has been at the forefront of securing mainstream popularity for mixed martial arts, generating about $1.1bn in revenue in 2022, but it is being sued by fighters over pay.

Last month Davis said his company raised about $500mn in its last financing round and was in “investment mode and growing mode”.

Although a venerable name in the mixed martial arts world with a roster that includes some of the best fighters, Bellator’s viewership is smaller than the UFC’s according to Davis.

“You revitalise the product, and we will rebuild the global audience,” he said when asked about his plans.

Bellator would continue to operate under its own brand, Davis said, with its own set of fight rules that allowed moves such as elbow strikes, unlike the PFL. However, it would share its roster of fighters with PFL, he said.

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