The UFC and Bellator are the two most popular MMA promotions in the United States. The UFC is the most well-known brand globally. Still, Bellator is a strong second in the United States, and One FC has a more prominent presence in Asia. But we’ll only cover the first two today.
The main differences between the UFC and Bellator are the roster of fighters and the brand awareness of the two companies.
Bellator was only known to hardcore MMA fans for the first few years of its existence, but they have won the hearts of both MMA fans and casual observers in recent years. If you have even a passing interest in the sport of MMA, it’s good for you to know the differences between the two leading promotions, so continue reading.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is what gave birth to the modern sport of mixed martial arts. The first event was held on November 12, 1993, in Denver, Colorado.
The idea was to try and replicate the excitement of the mixed challenges organized by the Gracie family to showcase the superiority of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in a fight with other styles.
The first editions were raw and brutal “no holds barred” events with very few rules. The sport’s image turned a lot of people away, and MMA was stigmatized as barbaric.
From UFC 15 to 21, the organization implemented mandatory gloves, banned moves like air pulling and fish hooking, introduced the 5-minute rounds, and many other aspects we know from the sport today.
The big turn came when the Fertita Brothers bought the UFC and their business partner and longtime president of the UFC, Dana White. What followed was a meteoric rise unlike any seen before. As of February 2022, the UFC is estimated to be worth a whopping $5 billion.
Major fighters such as Connor McGregor, Israel Adesanya, Ronda Rousey, and many others have become household names that have transcended the sport’s audience.
Bellator is a lot younger than the UFC. It was founded in 2008 by businessman Bjorn Rebney. The name is derived from the Latin word “Bellator,” which translates as “warrior.” For the first few years, the California-based organization operated solely as a tournament format.
Some of the early tournament winners, such as Eddie Alvarez, Ben Askren, Alexander Shlemenko, and many others, became some of the most successful fighters in MMA. In 2015, Rebney stepped aside. The CEO position was assumed by longtime fight promoter Scott Coker, who ditched the tournament format and made Bellator into a traditional fight night format, like the UFC.
In this short timeframe, Bellator managed to come out of the shadow of the UFC and create quite a name for itself. They are a concrete second in the American market. Some of their most successful events reached more than 2 million viewers.
Difference Between UFC & Bellator
Now that we are done with the history lesson let’s see some of the key differences between the UFC and Bellator.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the UFC and Bellator is the roster of fighters. Each fighter has a contract with the respective organization and cannot fight under other banners. Not so long ago, every fighter’s dream was to fight in the UFC, the pinnacle of the sport.
But the growth of Bellator and other originations made them more competitive. Still, the UFC is the undoubted leader and the place to be at the highest level. Usually, the smaller organizations build up prospects until they are ready to hit the big league.
There is movement in the other direction as well. Some UFC fighters can negotiate a better deal with Bellator. In contrast, others switch later in their careers when they are no longer performing at their peak. Still, others are forced to leave the UFC due to suspension or being cut while on a losing streak.
In any case, the UFC has the biggest MMA stars globally. There are some individual exceptions, like Bellator champions Vadim Nemkov, the Pitbull brothers, or Ryan Bader. Still, in general, the UFC is the place to be.
After the final adoption of the Unified Rules of mixed martial arts in 2009, all American promotions used them with slight variations. The official weight classes, medical standards, illegal techniques, and judging criteria, for example, are all the same.
Usually, each event is interceded by the local athletic commission in the respective state. One difference in the rules between the UFC and Bellator is the time limit. Bellator fights are 3 x 5-minute rounds, except for championship bouts fought in 5 x 5-minute rounds.
The UFC, on the other hand, uses 5 rounds for each of its main events, regardless of whether a title is on the line.
A point of conflict in the UFC arose when mandatory fight kits for all fighters and cornermen were required after the UFC and Reebok finalized their deal in 2014. This was a big blow for fighters because it forbade them to display any other sponsors on their apparel. For many, this was the primary source of income.
Reebok distributed some money to each fighter, but significantly less than they were making before. In 2021, Venum replaced Reebok as the official brand of the UFC, but the terms for fighters are generally the same.
In Bellator, each fighter is free to choose their own apparel. This opens up the market for many different sponsors to display their brand on the big stage and pay the fighters who represent them handsomely.
The eight-cornered cage called the Octagon has been the trademark of the UFC since their very first edition. They created the standard for MMA, and the cage has been imposed as a far superior arena for MMA than a ring.
The octagon is 38 feet (11.5 meters) wide on the exterior and 30 feet (9 meters) inside. The height from the canvas to the top of the fence is 1.8 meters. (5 feet 9 inches). In some events, the UFC uses a smaller version of the Octagon with a fighting space of 25 feet.
Bellator also uses a cage, but the shape is circular. It is also much bigger at 36 feet inside space. There is a complete lack of corners which further makes moving around easier.
Fighter pay has long been a topic of public debate, and the UFC has a bad reputation for underpaying its fighters. Things are improving over time, but there are still fighters who claim to earn significantly more in other organizations, owing primarily to sponsor pay.
The disclosed payment in the UFC is higher overall. Stars like Khabib, Mcgregor, Porier, Kamaru Usman, and Nate Diaz, for example, are paid millions of dollars for a fight, but only the biggest draws get this. The lower levels are paid quite a modest amount of money for the dangers they are subjected to.
Even the biggest names in Bellator, such as Fedor Emelianenko, Michael “Venom” Page, Vadim Nemkov, and Yoel Romero, are paid between $150 000 and $350 000. The real game-changer, however, is the sponsorships they receive.
Fighters in Bellator can choose their own sponsors and negotiate their terms, which allows them to amass large sums of money. Many former UFC fighters claim they make significantly more money after leaving for a “smaller” organization.
The unified rules determine the weight class limits, but the organizations are not forced to have everyone. The UFC currently hosts 8 divisions for men and 4 for women. UFC:
- Heavyweight: 265 lb (120.2 kg)
- Light Heavyweight: 205 lb (102.1 kg)
- Middleweight: 185 lb (83.9 kg)
- Welterweight: 170 lb (77.1 kg)
- Lightweight: 155 lb (70.3 kg)
- Featherweight: 145 lb (65.8 kg) (male and female)
- Bantamweight: 135 lb (61.2 kg) (male and female)
- Flyweight: 125 lb (56.7 kg) (male and female)
- Strawweight: 115 lb (52.5 kg) (women only)
As we’ve already mentioned a few times in the article, the UFC is the most popular organization on the planet. So much so that not so long ago, the terms “UFC” and “MMA” were interchangeable in the minds of the casual public.
This is entirely understandable given that the UFC was the first, has been on the market the longest, and has the most money to spend on marketing.
Bellator has done an admirable job and has quickly grown in popularity. The overall growth of the sport creates space and opportunities for more players to enter the market. This is great for us as fans and great for fighters, who have more options and bargaining power to get paid what they are worth.
While the UFC and Bellator a similar in that they are both MMA organizations, they have vast differences in operations regarding uniform, pay, and even the cage design. They are competitor organizations competing for the best MMA fighters in the world.