For the first time since the death of promoter Scott Coker’s Strikeforce MMA in 2013, the TV network Showtime is back in the MMA business. Coker, the head of Bellator MMA since 2014, and Showtime Sports head Stephen Espinosa announced the exclusive deal on Feb 9.
An End to Bellator-DAZN Partnership
Bellator will resume events starting Apr. 2. Viacom-owned Bellator is making a shift from the CBS Sports Network — also owned by Viacom. The CBS Sports arrangement started in October 2020 after Bellator’s future with the streaming service DAZN became unclear due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What was to be a five-year deal worth nine figures has ended.
“We’ve been interested in MMA for quite a while,” Espinoza said during the announcement. “We have a long history with MMA that goes back for 15 years to the days of Elite XC and Strikeforce. We built some big names and stars: [Daniel] Cormier, [Luke] Rockhold, [Ronda] Rousey, [Gilbert] Melendez, and on and on.
“And of course, we’re the first to bring MMA to a national televised network and of course that was CBS way back in 2008. The time just felt right to combine forces. Bellator has matured and elevated itself at a point where it now belongs in premium television network.”
Aside from Strikeforce, Showtime had worked with Elite XC which folded in 2008. Espinoza was also involved in making the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather boxing bout a reality along with UFC President Dana White. Espinoza said occasional talks with Coker had been taking place since Coker joined Bellator.
Current 2021 Schedule
As mentioned, Bellator returns to action on Apr. 2 with the semifinals of its featherweight grand prix. Emmanuel Sanchez takes on 145 and 155-pound king, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. The winner then faces A.J. McKee in June, although an exact date was not announced. The winner will receive a $1 million prize and the championship.
Bellator 256 and 257 will each feature two bouts that are part of a light heavyweight grand prix. Those events will air on Apr. 9 and Apr. 16. The light heavyweight tournament features former UFC title challengers Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero clashing for the first time — it will be each man’s promotional debut.
A bantamweight title fight between champion Juan Archuleta and UFC veteran Sergio Pettis on May 7 will finish the current schedule.
“This is really a full-circle opportunity,” Coker said. “When I look at the past, like Stephen said, with Strikeforce, we created so many great champions, we created so many great fighters that really have led the way for the history books and the legends of mixed martial arts fighters moving into the future.”
Coming This Week
Bellator will regularly air events on Friday nights. This allows for back-to-back nights of fights. The network also airs responsible Showtime Championship Boxing, which dates back to 1986. Coker said the launch of “something” concerning international broadcasts will be announced later this week. He did not discuss the impact of the deal on non-U.S. viewers.