The UFC and Bellator are two mixed martial arts promotions headquartered in the United States. They are the biggest MMA promotions, attracting global audiences and making millions in revenue. However, there are fundamental differences between the UFC and Bellator.
The differences between the UFC and Bellator are:
- The UFC has existed for longer than Bellator.
- The UFC has more fighters than Bellator.
- Bellator and the UFC have different pay structures.
- Bellator exercises less control over its fighters.
- The UFC and Bellator have different formats.
- The UFC is a bigger brand than Bellator.
- Bellator and the UFC have different weight classes.
- The UFC imposes stricter drug tests on fighters.
- The UFC and Bellator use different broadcast systems.
- The UFC and Bellator have different types of presidents.
- Bellator uses a round cage and the UFC an octagon cage.
This article will provide an in-depth look into the above differences. It should give you a deeper understanding of the differences between the two MMA disciplines.
1. The UFC Has Existed for Longer Than Bellator
The UFC started in 1993 as an experiment to see which martial art discipline triumphed over the others. Denver, Colorado, hosted the UFC’s first event.
At this time, the UFC had virtually no rules and no weight classes. This new, lawless fighting league attracted viewers eager to see professionals brawl in the ring.
Eventually, the fighters learned techniques from other disciplines, creating mixed martial arts (MMA).
Having minimal rules attracted viewers, but the lack of structure hurt the UFC. Sometimes, fights went on for too long, causing dissatisfaction among fans.
Gradually, the UFC started incorporating rules, which eventually became the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.
By the time Bellator launched in 2008, it found an established set of MMA rules, which it adopted.
Both companies use the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Although the implementation varies between the two, the main rules remain consistent.
2. The UFC Has More Fighters Than Bellator
The UFC had a 15-year head start in MMA compared to Bellator, and has more fighters as a result.
The UFC is the gold standard for fighters who grew up watching MMA. Most aspiring fighters will tell you that they want to fight in the UFC.
Compared to Bellator, the UFC has no problem attracting fighters; most want to join the roster. It’s difficult to get into some UFC divisions because they are so full.
Consequently, the biggest names in the game, including Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, fight in the UFC.
Bellator gets fighters by signing free agents from the UFC. It also invests in rising fighters who’ve failed to make the UFC grade.
Bellator is a competitive league, but it cannot compete with the UFC’s allure. Until Bellator convinces fighters that it can compete with the UFC, it’s unlikely to build a roster to rival the UFC’s.
3. Bellator and The UFC Have Different Pay Structures
The UFC has more fighters, but compensates them differently when compared to Bellator.
Of the leading sporting leagues in the US, the UFC dedicates the least revenue to fighters. The UFC shares 16% of revenue with athletes compared to the MLB, which shares 54%.
Bellator ranks lower than the MLB, NBA, and NFL, but still outdoes the UFC. Bellator offers 44.7% of its revenue to fighters.
Although some UFC fighters earn millions of dollars per fight, most make just a few thousand per appearance.
The UFC’s compensation structure has caused an exodus of personnel to Bellator. For example, veteran referee John McCarthy left the UFC to join Bellator as a commentator.
Corey Anderson is another figure that moved to Bellator for more pay. Following his decision, Anderson claimed to have made more money with Bellator in two fights than in fifteen UFC fights.
4. Bellator Exercises Less Control Over Its Fighters
Another key difference between the two promotions is that Bellator allows its fighters more freedom. According to former UFC fighter Myles Jury, the UFC’s desire to control fighters can feel constricting.
Jury said that the UFC tries to control fighters with the threat of dismissal. He described Bellator as a more released environment better suited to fighters.
One example of these restrictions is that the UFC insists that fighters only wear Venum gear in the ring. The UFC-Venum deal prevents athletes from displaying other sponsors during all UFC events.
As a result of this exclusivity, brands such as Nike and Adidas are far less likely to partner with UFC athletes.
On the other hand, Bellator allows fighters to partner with their preferred brands. Athletes can wear sponsor-branded clothing in the ring and during Bellator events. These limited restrictions are another key difference between the UFC and Bellator.
5. The UFC and Bellator Have Different Formats
The UFC and Bellator both started with tournament-style formats. However, as UFC fighters adopted a similar format, opposition against the format grew.
Furthermore, regulators barred the UFC from allowing fighters to compete more than once a night. This restriction forced the UFC to stretch out tournaments over several nights, which didn’t appeal to fans.
Eventually, the UFC ditched tournaments. It adopted a format where the UFC itself picked fights between competitors.
It’s unclear how the UFC creates matches between titleholders and challengers. Some fans speculate that matches seem formulated for commercial benefit.
As a result, the UFC’s system attracts criticism from fans who feel like deserving fighters get left out.
Unlike the UFC, Bellator still uses the tournament format. The tournament format allows the best fighters to challenge for titles. Compared to the UFC’s format, this system often feels more fair to fans dedicated to the MMA world.
6. The UFC Is a Bigger Brand Than Bellator
The UFC is a far bigger brand than Bellator. A closer look at their values and revenue reveals how close the UFC is to knocking Bellator out of the industry.
Endeavor, the current owners of the UFC, bought the promotion for $4 billion in 2016. Shortly thereafter, Dana White revealed that an undisclosed buyer bid $5 billion for the UFC.
The UFC’s revenues for 2020 exceeded $800 million. Seeing as 2020 was a year ravaged by a global pandemic, such revenues were remarkable. Dana White set UFC’s value at around $9 billion.
Bellator, on the other hand, values between $50 and $100 million. In 2020, the brand pulled $100 million in revenue, eight times less than the UFC.
These value and revenue disparities between the two biggest MMA promotions in the world are enormous. It makes one understand why fighters join the UFC, despite it paying far less than Bellator.
7. Bellator and the UFC Have Different Weight Classes
The UFC has 12 weight divisions:
- 8 men’s divisions
- 4 women’s divisions
Bellator has nine divisions:
- 7 for men
- 2 for women
Compared to the UFC, Bellator lacks two divisions: the men’s flyweight and women’s flyweight and bantamweight divisions.
Fighters can swap promotions, but few prime fighters move from the UFC to Bellator. MMA fans often criticize Bellator for its lack of competitiveness and alleged match-fixing.
Valerie Loureda joined Bellator in 2019 and pulled fans due to her martial arts background and looks. For her first fight, Bellator tried to pair her with Anastacia Bruce.
Loureda would have obliterated Bruce; such was their skill difference. However, Bellator desperately needed a Loureda victory to boost ratings, so it tried to field a mismatched pair.
Many MMA fans disapprove of such actions. They feel that if Bellator wants people to take it seriously, it must refine its act.
8. The UFC Imposes Stricter Drug Tests on Fighters
The UFC imposes strict drug tests on fighters. The company works with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which has a reputation for thorough drug testing.
Before partnering with the USADA, the UFC placed a low value on drug testing. Failing to prioritize such testing led to claims about its fighters using drugs. Introducing the USADA helped the UFC improve its image.
The USADA can ask for a sample to test for drugs at any time, which forces UFC athletes to refrain from drug use during their professional careers.
Bellator has a more relaxed attitude towards drug tests. It uses the state athletic commission to test fighters 24 hours before a fight. This allows fighters to use drugs, but stop using them before the fight.
The system has received criticism, but Bellator appears resistant to change. Bellator’s focus is on attracting fighters, which can be hampered by intensive drug testing.
9. The UFC and Bellator Use Different Broadcast Systems
The UFC has used the Pay Per View (PPV) model since its inception. This model allows fans to view matches on TV stations. However, viewers still have to pay to watch big matches. The UFC reaps big rewards by using this system, especially when it comes to big matches.
Meanwhile, most Bellator fights air on television, free of charge. Bellator also uses PPV, but far less frequently than the UFC.
As a result, Bellator earns a large chunk of its cash from TV stations. This is a major difference between the two companies; the UFC makes more from PPV sales than from television.
Bellator has also gradually expanded its viewership by striking deals with worldwide broadcasters.
Bellator earns little from its broadcast system, but the current setup helps the brand build exposure. As it gains popularity, the company can introduce more PPV events.
10. The UFC and Bellator Have Different Types of Presidents
The Presidents of UFC and Bellator are polar opposites.
Dana White, president of the UFC, is outspoken and controversial. He often quarrels with fans, fighters, and referees.
Some suspect that Dana fakes his contentious side to attract attention to himself and, consequently, the UFC. His eccentric behavior draws headlines, making him one of the UFC’s best marketers.
However, some view his pompous attitude with disdain, dismissing him as a figure unworthy of attention.
Scott Coker, president of Bellator, prefers to work behind the scenes and rarely appears on media headlines. He reportedly cares about his fighter’s welfare.
11. Bellator Uses a Round Cage and the UFC an Octagon Cage
Perhaps the most apparent difference between the UFC and Bellator is the type of cage used by each company.
The UFC uses an octagon cage with varying sizes. The original version is 30 feet (9.1 meters) across, and the newer version is 25 feet (7.6 meters) across.
Bellator uses a circular cage that’s 36 feet (11 meters) in diameter.
Fans seem to prefer the smaller UFC cage. The tight space brings fighters closer together, increasing the chances of an entertaining encounter.