The best promotions not named UFC
With MMA in the spotlight thanks to UFC's ESPN deal, promotions all over the world have been able to benefit. From local promotions like CES MMA and Cage Warriors to larger ones like Bellator or ONE, mixed martial arts is everywhere and fighters now have more options than ever before to make a living doing the sport they love. The Scrap has put together a list of promotions you should be watching, that are not named UFC. Click the right arrow to read our top four MMA promotions.
4. Rizin Fighting Federation (Rizin FF)
Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan
The unfortunate truth, despite the war cry still often heard today, is that PRIDE died a long time ago. But from its ashes rose Rizin Fighting Federation! With several of the same key players in place, and with a similar format and feel, Rizin FF is as close to a modern day PRIDE event as we are going to see. They debuted in 2015 with a two-night extravaganza that featured such fighters as Fedor Emelianenko, Bob Sapp, and King Muhammad Lawal.
Since then, Rizin has taken a quality over quantity approach to doing business, as they only put on about 5-7 events a year. But you can expect those cards to be loaded with fan favorites, Japanese icons, and absolute freakshow fights. While Rizin is technically just a regional promotion, only hosting shows in Japan, they have a worldwide audience proving that there is very much still interest in Japanese MMA in 2019.
Notable Fighters: Shinya Aoki, Kyoji Horiguchi, Gabi Garcia, Rena Kubota, Takanori Gomi, Damien Brown, and many more.
3. Professional Fighters League (PFL)
Headquarters: Washington, D.C., United States
The Professional Fighters League comes in at number three on this list for several reasons. Instead of weekly or monthly events throughout the year, the PFL features seasons with several events spaced out over three months, followed by several playoff events later in the year, and then a final or "Championship event" on the last day of December. The winners of the championship event fights are rewarded with that season's divisional championship as well as a 1 million dollar purse.
The company was initially founded in 2012 as World Series of Fighting; while under that banner they produced several UFC contenders, but ultimately it did not stand out amongst the rest of the lower-tiered significant promotions. WSOF was acquired by MMAX investments in 2017 and rebranded as the Professional Fighters League with the current format. The current season, the second for the PFL, is broadcast on ESPN+ and ESPN 2 and features fighters from multiple weight classes, including the newly formed women's lightweight division, a first for a major MMA promotion in the modern era.
Notable Fighters: Satoshi Ishii, Vinny Magalhaes, John Howard, Kayla Harrison, Sarah Kaufman, Lance Palmer, Andre Harrison, and many more.
2. ONE Championship
One Championship is genuinely one of a kind… It's a misnomer to call it an MMA promotion because it is so much more. Aside from featuring high-level MMA, One also features elite Muay Thai and has, at times, featured boxing and various forms of grappling competitions as well. Founded in 2011 by businessmen Chatri Sityotdong and Victor Cui, Sityotdong envisioned a place where the martial arts were appreciated, where the traditions were honored, and where the fighters showed respect before, after, and during the fights.
Today, One Championship hosts around 20-25 significant named events, as well as another 15-20 minor events promoted as One: Hero series and One: Warrior series. They are backed by several big financial investors, including the government of Singapore, and they seem to be controlled by a moral and passionate ownership group.
Notable fighters: Brandon Vera, Aung La Nsang, Vitor Belfort, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Sage Northcutt, Shinya Aoki, Garry Tonon, Masakatsu Imanari, Angela Lee, Demetrious Johnson, and many more, including Muay Thai fighters.
1. Bellator Fighting Championships
Headquarters: Santa Monica, California
Bellator was founded in 2008 by Bjorn Rebney and stands today as the second most crucial promotion in the world. Bellator, under the direction of Scott Coker since 2014, already has a stellar roster as well as a significant U.S. television deal and the backing of a major media giant (Viacom). Bellator runs roughly twenty events a year, all over the world, and while they offer high-level action, they also provide "freak show" style fights, and bouts featuring fighters who might still have a name, even if their skills have deteriorated.
In recent years they have become a competitor with the UFC in the free agent market, and with the backing of Viacom, they are one of the few promotions backed by more than just a few well-intentioned investors. It's difficult to say if Bellator will ever rival the UFC on the business side of things, but as of now, they provide a reliable product, and for that reason as well as the others listed above, they come in at number one on this list.
Notable fighters: Ryan Bader, Roy Nelson, Gegard Mousasi, Rory MacDonald, Paul Daley, Michael Chandler, Ben Henderson, Patricio Pitbull, and many more.