Bellator vs UFC: What’s the Difference? (10 Key Differences)

Are you wondering what differences there are between the UFC vs Bellator?

Short answer: UFC and Bellator are both MMA promotions and the main difference is in the roster of fighters, the divisions they have, and the size of each promotion.

But that’s not all, and in this article, we’ll explore the 10 key differences between the UFC and Bellator MMA.

Bellator vs UFC – What Are the Main Differences?

Here’s a list of all the main differences between the UFC and Bellator with a short description for each:

  1. History – The UFC is an early pioneer of MMA and was founded in 1993 while Bellator is a modern promotion founded in 2008, 15 years apart.
  2. Fighter Rosters – They have different rosters as fighters can only fight in one promotion at a time as per their contracts.
  3. Weight Class Divisions – The UFC has a total of 12 divisions and Bellator has 9.
  4. Rules – Both operate under the Unified Rules of MMA but the two promotions have slightly different rules regarding rounds.
  5. Event/Competition Format – The UFC uses only regular matchmaking, while Bellator uses this but also incorporates “Grand Prix” tournaments.
  6. Rankings – The UFC ranks the top 15 fighters per weight class division, while Bellator only ranks the top 10.
  7. Ownership – The UFC is owned by Zuffa, which is a subsidiary of Endeavour Group Holdings, while Bellator is owned by Paramount Global.
  8. Cage – The UFC uses an eight-sided ring known as the octagon, whereas Bellator uses a circular cage.
  9. Anti-Doping – Bellator uses the standard testing performed by the commission of an event, whereas the UFC use commissions but also uses USADA as a third party to test their fighters.
  10. Size in Numbers – The two promotions vary widely in their brand and business numbers, with the UFC being at least 10 x bigger.

1. Difference in History

The first difference is in the inception of the two promotions. The UFC was founded in 1993 and Bellator was founded in 2008, meaning the UFC were early pioneers of MMA and built the pathway for other MMA organizations such as Bellator MMA. 

The UFC started out trying to identify the most effective martial art in a no holds barred format, meaning there were minimal rules. They were implementing more rules along the way but it wasn’t until 2000 that they adopted the Unified Rules of MMA

The UFC was essentially operating on trial and error and the criticism their no holds barred tournaments received was a major catalyst for commissions creating these new rules.

On the other hand, Bellator has always operated under the unified rules and has used the UFC as a reference for how they could set up a profitable and functioning MMA promotion.

Due to the 15-year headstart, the UFC has had a total of 608 events, compared to Bellator’s 289, meaning the UFC has a huge history and a lot more experience in the promotion of MMA events.

2. Difference in Fighter Rosters

Another difference is in the fighters each promotion has, as fighters can only fight with one promotion at a time, as per their contracts. As the UFC has a long history and is a huge brand name in the MMA world, it can attract the best fighters as the earnings potential and global exposure is highest. It’s the home for fighters wanting to make a name for themselves amongst the legends that fought before them.

The UFC is the bigger promotion and signs already proven elite fighters and young fighters with huge potential, from other large MMA promotions such as Bellator. Many former Bellator champions have made the switch to the UFC, such as Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler, and Alexander Volkov; as well as one of the UFC’s biggest legends, Jorge Masvidal.

However, there are also great fighters that have left the UFC to join Bellator, such as Phil Davis, Cris Cyborg, and Yoel Romero. Although the switches go both ways, leaving the UFC for Bellator is seen as a step-down and mostly happens when a fighter has a contract dispute with the UFC, or when they’re past their best but want to continue fighting (free agents).

In the past, the UFC had barely any competition in luring the best fighters and could offer less pay than a fighter was worth, but with legitimate growth of other promotions such as Bellator, the UFC has to pay competitive rates as Bellator can now offer good contracts for fighters. 

As an example, Phil Davis had 13 fights in the UFC and was seen as a future title contender, who said moving to Bellator was a business move.

Still, the UFC is better positioned and is the first choice for most fighters. Overall, the UFC has a much larger roster and is full of quality, and while Bellator has some excellent fighters at the top of their divisions, the average quality of fighters is much lower.

3. Difference in Weight Class Divisions

The UFC has a total of 12 divisions, 8 are men’s and 4 are women’s. On the other hand, Bellator has 9 divisions, 7 are men’s and 2 are women’s. The extra weight class divisions the UFC has are a men’s flyweight division (125 lbs), a women’s strawweight (115 lbs), and a women’s bantamweight division (135 lbs).

The only reason Bellator doesn’t have these divisions is they haven’t decided to create them yet. They’re a smaller promotion and have fewer fighters, capital, and employees to be able to manage more weight class divisions. Starting and building new divisions can take a lot of time and resources, and Bellator doesn’t feel they’re viable at this time.

This is evidenced by how long it took the UFC to build out its divisions. For the men’s divisions, the bantamweight and featherweight divisions were introduced in 2010, while the flyweight division came in 2012. For women, the first was the bantamweight division introduced in 2012, and the next was the strawweight division in 2014. Finally in 2017 came the featherweight and flyweight division.

4. Difference in Rules

Both promotions adopt the Unified Rules of MMA, and the only difference is the UFC uses five-round main events no matter the context, while Bellator only uses five-round fights for championship title fights and sometimes in their tournaments. The UFC has also had five-round fights for nonmain, nontitle event fights and was first used in Leon Edwards vs Nate Diaz (UFC 263).

5. Difference in Events/Competition Format

Both promotions use regular matchmaking where they pair two fighters from the same weight division and of similar ranking. A UFC event is split into early preliminary, preliminary, and main card fights, and features between 3-6 fights for each card. Bellator uses the same format but doesn’t use early prelims as their events usually have fewer fights.

Bellator also has single-elimination, “Grand Prix” tournament events, similar to the tournaments the UFC first used in the 1990s. Bellator Grand Prix tournaments are usually between 8-16 fighters and tournament fights are normally held on the same nights as other regular fights. 

This is because the tournaments are not held over one night and are usually months apart. The last Bellator light heavyweight tournament had its semi-finals in October 2021, and the final in April 2022 (6 months apart).

While the UFC had its last tournament in 2012 when introducing the men’s flyweight division, Bellator is regularly using tournaments, and starting in 2022, Bellator has announced an eight-man Grand Prix bantamweight tournament, with all of the bouts set to five rounds and a $1 million prize awarded to the winner.

Moreover, in the past, Bellator has held hybrid events (Bellator 142: Dynamite 1), which featured MMA and kickboxing cards, as well as a one-night, four-man light heavyweight MMA tournament.

These have not been held since 2016 but highlight how Bellator is willing to do hybrid events and cross-promotions with other MMA organizations (Dynamite 1 was with Glory kickboxing), whereas the UFC stands alone.

6. Difference in Rankings

The difference here is the UFC ranks the top 15 fighters per weight class division, while Bellator only ranks the top 10.

Also, the UFC started to use the media-generated ranking system for fighters back in 2013, while Bellator only incorporated this ranking system in 2021.

Thirdly, both promotions’ fighter rankings change as a result of regular matchmaking, but Bellator’s Grand Prix tournaments also affect a fighter’s ranking.

Lastly, the UFC’s ranking system is updated weekly, while Bellator’s is updated after each event, regardless of frequency.

7. Difference in Ownership

As of 2021, the UFC is 100% owned by Endeavor Group Holdings, after they bought out the remaining shareholders during their IPO for a total of $1.75 billion.

Meanwhile, Bellator MMA are owned by Paramount Global since their purchase in 2011 from founder Bjorn Rebney, supposedly for around a fee of $50 million.

8. Difference in Cage Used

The UFC is famous for its eight-sided cage known as the octagon, which was once trademarked so no other MMA promotion could use it, but now only the name is trademarked.

The UFC uses two sizes of octagons, with the original being 30 feet across (9.1m), and 6 feet high (1.82m), with the inside measuring 746 square feet.

The smaller octagon is 25 feet (7.6m) in diameter, with the same height, and a total space of 518 square feet. The smaller octagon is not used too often and is only used for smaller events.

This is different from Bellator’s only cage, which is a circular shape measuring 36 feet (11m) across with a total space of 1018 square feet; therefore making it around 35% bigger in space than the UFC’s octagon.

9. Difference in Anti-doping

The main difference is the UFC use USADA as a third party to clean up the sport and the UFC’s roster. Meanwhile, Bellator is content to use only the necessary testing procedure as performed by the commission for each event. This is only a single test before a fight and many have criticized Bellator for not being stricter on testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

USADA is a strict testing agency that tests fighters at random times, leading to many more UFC fighters being suspended and stripped of their titles for the use of illegal substances.

The exact costs of having USADA test all fighters are unknown as it’s undisclosed information. However, Bellator likely can’t afford to pay for the service as they’re a smaller promotion, and they can’t afford the repercussions of having busted fighters, such as expenses of finding new fighters and the resulting poor company image.

On the other hand, perhaps Bellator is simply choosing not to pay, as preventing performance-enhancing drugs is not their priority and they believe having them makes their promotion more interesting. Without USADA buzzing around your fighters, drugs are out of sight and out of mind.

10. Difference in Size and Numbers (Brand & Marketing, PPV, Revenue, Worth, Pay Structure)

The UFC and Bellator are the two biggest MMA promotions but their numbers differ greatly. Here are 4 ways they differ:

Brand & Marketing

The first mover’s advantage the UFC has experienced has been overwhelming and is the reason laypeople often confuse the UFC as a sport, even though it’s only an MMA promotion. The UFC has more or less monopolized the MMA market and has bought many of its biggest competitors, such as Strikeforce, WEC, and Pride.

As they’re so much bigger and ahead of their competition, they spend large amounts on their content creation, whether it be live events, Youtube, or expanding their huge content library on UFC Fight Pass; they’re out on their own in terms of content and promotion.

UFC Fight Pass shows how huge they are in the MMA space, as they showcase live events from many different MMA promotions, as well as non-MMA combat sports promotions. Not only live events, but they have many promotions’ full fight libraries on there, as the UFC can afford to purchase rights to have them.

Conversely, while Bellator is known as the second-biggest MMA promotion to fight fans, it’s relatively unknown to casuals and people not following the sport. 

Also, Bellator doesn’t have a designated content library and some of their fights can be found in random destinations – 10play seems to be advertising Bellator’s past events library but it’s for Australians only. The Bellator MMA Youtube channel and website have many previous Bellator events, but not all of them.

Overall, in terms of branding, sponsorships, and content creation, the UFC is leaps and bounds ahead of Bellator. They have a lot more money to spend and they reinvest profits into continually expanding the promotion, while Bellator is smaller and has to reinvest most of their profits into luring fighters.

PPV numbers

The UFC’s biggest PPV event was UFC 229 in 2018 featuring Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, which had 2.4 million PPV buys. Bellator’s biggest PPV event was Bellator 120 in 2017 featuring Quinton Jackson and Muhammed Lawal.

As of 2022, the UFC has 19 PPV events with 1 million buys or more, and 77 PPV events with 500,000 + PPV buys, while Bellator has only 2 events above 30,000 buys.

Revenue and Valuation

The UFC continues to see steady growth and over the past three years, they’ve recorded annual revenues of $860 million (2019), $890 million (2020), and $1 billion (2021).

In terms of valuation, in the middle of 2020, Dana White said the UFC was valued between 9-10 billion dollars. Fast forward two years to the middle of 2022, and the company is likely worth 15 billion dollars (15x revenues); especially when you consider the 12% revenue growth the promotion posted in 2021.

In comparison, Bellator’s revenues are much lower and also harder to find as they’re undisclosed, however, they posted annual revenues of $35 million in 2018, and had expected annual revenues of $50 million in 2019 and $100 million in 2020.

Even if Bellator hit these targets or managed $100 million in 2021, they’re at least 10 times smaller than the UFC in terms of revenue. Valuations for Bellator are harder to make as their numbers aren’t public. 

If they managed to hit $100 million in revenue, they could be valued at a maximum of $1 billion, which is 10x revenues – this is generous given their profit margins are a lot lower than the UFC’s due to the revenue percentage they pay to fighters. 

Pay Structure & Fighter Earnings

With UFC fighter pay being a huge topic from 2020 onwards, it still remains that the UFC is the highest payer to MMA fighters. The criticism comes from the UFC’s pay structure for fighters, which over the past 11 years has consistently been around 20% or lower of the total revenue the promotion makes.

In comparison, the latest reported numbers show Bellator is paying around 44% of its total revenues to fighters.

On top of this, fighters in the UFC have to wear Venum wear as this is the UFC’s sponsor. This sponsorship is a tiered system where fighters are paid for each fight according to the amount of UFC fights they’ve had. 1-3 fights earn them $4000, 4-5 earn them $4500, 11-15 earn them $11,000, and so on. Champions earn $42,000 and challengers earn $32,000.

This tiered system has been criticized ever since the UFC signed the sponsorship deal with Reebok in 2014, which also disallowed fighters from wearing other sponsored clothing during fights, fight week, and weigh-ins (same as Venum).

On the other hand, Bellator allows fighters to wear their own sponsored clothing inside and outside of fights, meaning a fighter can make a lot of money this way. 

This is one of the ways Bellator can lure fighters, as if their contracts with fighters are paying similar to the UFC, a fighter will earn substantially more when factoring in sponsorship deals.

These deals are undisclosed and different for each Bellator fighter, but you can be sure they’re just as good or better than what the UFC’s lower and mid-tier fighters are receiving from the Venum sponsorship.

Bellator vs UFC – The Bottom Line

There are many differences between the two MMA promotions, and while the UFC has enjoyed somewhat of a monopoly over the past decade, Bellator under the stewardship of Scott Coker continues to slowly enjoy more market share with each passing year and offers an alternative to fighters.

Still, despite Bellator’s growth, they’re an extremely small fish compared to the UFC, and their first mover’s advantage and huge brand will likely see them ahead for many more decades.

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