Here’s a brief history of Bellator MMA

Adam Piccolotti celebrating his win over Jake Smith (photo by Bellator MMA)
Adam Piccolotti celebrating his win over Jake Smith (photo by Bellator MMA) /

Bellator is the second biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the United States, and arguably the world. For new fans, it’s worth knowing its history.

Bellator is a mixed martial arts promotion based out of Hollywood, CA. It launched in 2008, under the guidance and ownership of California born Bjorn Rebney. He brought the promotion together with the help of Plainfield Asset Management and before long, Bellator MMA became a reality.

The promotion became known early on for their season-long tournaments. The tournaments were used to crown their first world championships, and then to determine top contenders for the champions. The format was phased out in 2014 after six years of failing to make major waves under the idea.

During that time, Bellator aired on a number of cable networks, bouncing around from ESPN Deportes, Fox Sports Net, MTV 2, Epix. While on MTV 2, the channels parent company Viacom, bought a majority share of Bellator and eventually moved the promotion to a bigger, more watched channel in Spike TV. That channel, Spike TV, is now known as Paramount Network, where Bellator resides to this very day.

The move to Spike TV came with more than just a move to a new network, as Viacom would eventually make the decision to remove Rebney from his position after failing to make a bigger impact in the market place after about a year as president. Rebney wasn’t too popular during his time running the company, resulting in a lot of top MMA names like Eddie Alvarez, Ben Askren, and Vitaly Minakov feuding with and eventually leaving Bellator.

With Rebney out, Bellator and Viacom turned to former Strikeforce president Scott Coker to take over the reins of the promotion. Under the presidency of Coker, Bellator started to gain more steam. Big names, some past their prime, came into the promotion as a way to bring the spotlight onto younger fighters which the promotion would build around. Using the established names, younger fighters started to become more noticed and started to ascend in the ranks of MMA.

Coker’s run as president would also see some of the younger and biggest free agents in MMA start to join the promotion. Fighters in their prime, with name value, started to see how beneficial Bellator was for their careers. The influx of new, top talent, would also help elevate the brand, helping the promotion land their first pay per views, and eventually a massive streaming deal with DAZN, that was reportedly in the nine figures.

Bellator and Coker would eventually start to adopt long-abandoned ideas, such as Grand Prix’s, which are long tournaments that would see the top fighters in different divisions fight for a cash prize and sometimes the division’s championship. Each of the three current Grand Prix’s has been met with fan and critic praise. The Grand Prix’s arrived alongside a deal with Japanese MMA promotion Rizin, which would see talent exchanges between the promotions.

Coker has lead Bellator to it’s the most successful period of time in the promotion’s history, securing the brand multiple partnerships, sponsorships with major brands, all while making waves in the marketplace and forcing the sport to be seen as more than just a one-promotion sport.

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