What is the Difference Between the UFC and Bellator?

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What is the Difference Between the UFC and Bellator?

The sport of mixed martial arts is led by two giant organizations: Bellator and the UFC. 

Although there is barely anything that separates them in terms of their competitive values, there have been a few differences between Bellator and the UFC in the decades the two have competed in the MMA space.

Here, we look at the difference between the UFC and Bellator.

What is the UFC?

The UFC is the leading organization in MMA, and while Rizin, Bellator, ONE Championship and the PFL have been increasing in popularity over the past few years, none of them come close to the size of the UFC.

The UFC president has been Dana White since 2001, and he has managed to grow the UFC into a globally popular and billion-dollar enterprise. 

As of 2023, the UFC has held over 600 events across almost 30 years of putting on MMA shows. The UFC is by far the largest and most important MMA promotion company and practically all of the top MMA fighters in the world end up competing in the UFC.

The first event was held in 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. Over the years, the UFC has grown tremendously in terms of competition and rules, following the days of no weight classes and minimal rules that even allowed opponents to kick a grounded opponent in the head.

Over time, the rules have progressed and gotten much safer. Nowadays, UFC fighters have moved from when fighters had one MMA discipline to offer. The growth of MMA because of the UFC sees athletes bring expertise in a variety of disciplines like wrestling, sambo, muay thai, karate, taekwondo, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and more.

The UFC is also closing in on its 300th pay-per-view event, and every time a monumental fight card comes around, it grabs the sports headlines and takes center stage on leading sports channels around the world ESPN or BT Sport in the UK. 

What is Bellator? 

While the UFC leads the way by quite a distance in MMA, Bellator is also a clear second. Bellator MMA was founded in 2008 and is based in Santa Monica, California. 

The organization first held an event in 2009, and they have since gone on to have more than 300 events worldwide. Just like the UFC, however, there are several weight classes that fighters must abide by to fight in Bellator. 

The rules inside the octagon are also very similar, but originally, Bellator focused on single-elimination tournament events rather than the traditional fight card format. They dropped this idea in 2015 and transitioned into traditional single-fight events. 

Both formats have been popular for Bellator, but the idea behind moving to single-fight events was to become more mainstream. Since 2018, the organization has hosted divisional grand-prix tournaments, and in 2022, Bellator competed against Japanese MMA leader, Rizin, as part of a co-promotion.

In 2021, president Scott Coker announced Bellator would use a rankings system to determine the best fighters on its roster, just like in the UFC. 

Ultimately, Bellator has just been playing catchup with the UFC in the past 10 years, and it has only managed to get on a similar wavelength in the last couple of years in terms of structure.

In terms of popularity and fighter ability, however, it will always lag behind the UFC. Most fighters who do well in other promotions end up signing with the UFC. There are a few exceptions down the years, with elite names like Michael Page and Fedor Emelianenko opting to stay with Bellator.

What Does Bellator do Differently to the UFC?

Regarding structure as an organization and rules during a fight, not much separates the UFC and Bellator, giving those who participate in sports betting plenty plenty of opportunities. 

This is because of Bellator’s adaptation and growth over the past decade and how the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts are applied in both organizations. As well as this, the athletic commissions of the states they are in ultimately dictate the rules, too.

Bellator doesn't necessarily pay more than the UFC, but the most popular and successful fighters in Bellator can still make the big bucks, just like those at the top end of the UFC.

The UFC also has a few more weight classes, as it provides competition in eight divisions for men and four for female fighters. Bellator, however, has only seven classes for men and just two for women. 

Another notable difference is the cage size. The UFC's fighting dimension is 30 feet in diameter with a six-foot-high cage, and it has a 750-square-foot area to fight in. Bellator uses a circular cage that is 36 feet wide and has 1,020 square feet area to fight in. 

The UFC has also drastically improved down the years in terms of its testing for banned substances through a collaboration with USADA. Bellator lags behind quite a lot in this sense, as it still relies on the state commissions to test fighters, and it makes for a significantly weaker testing system.

Another difference between the two is Bellator’s grand-prix tournaments. These are hosted throughout the year with all of the top fighters in a specific weight class matched in a tournament that is concluded between the two fighters who have made it to the final, where they then fight for the title of that division.

Ultimately, the main difference between the UFC and Bellator is the ability of fighters. Because of its superior popularity and wealth, the UFC almost always attracts the biggest and best fighters. There have been some exceptions, but this is mainly because of Bellator’s desperation to keep some of the best fighters, so it provides stars like Paddy Pimblett huge contract deals. Even in this case, Pimblett now competes in the UFC, which further explains the difference in popularity and wealth between the two.

Moving from Bellator to the UFC isn’t an incredibly popular move, as the UFC has usually signed fighters even before Bellator offers a contract. However, it is very common for fighters to move from the UFC to Bellator as they age and their ability decreases.

Frank Mir, Yoel Romero, Douglas Lima, Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Johnson and Rory MacDonald are examples of this, while superstar names like Ben Askren and Michael Chandler are two of the few names to make the move from Bellator to the UFC.  

Bellator’s grand-prix style events throughout the years have separated it from the UFC in one regard, but the rules, weight classes and weight cutting are all practically the same. Ultimately, the key difference is the UFC’s significantly better pay for fighters and overall wealth and popularity. At the same time, in most cases, the UFC’s athletes are far better than Bellator’s.

Think of it like the UFC is the English Premier League and Bellator is the division below that, the English Championship. 

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