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Evolve Media.
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The announcement that Bellator
MMA and the
Rizin Fighting Federation will be collaborating again on New
Year’s Eve makes a lot of sense for both parties. For Bellator,
featuring its top stars in front of a big Japanese crowd with
world-class production makes its brand look major league. The odds
are also good that its fighters come out on the winning side of
most of the matchups against Rizin, making Bellator look good and
giving its fighters momentum heading into their next stateside
assignments. Bellator President Scott
Coker is the single MMA promoter most fond of working with
other companies, and it has tended to go well for him over the

For Rizin’s part, a big hook of Japanese combat sports has always
been its athletes and promotions testing themselves against
athletes and promotions from other parts of the world. Even if they
fall short, the Japanese public tends to admire and reward their
fighting spirit. Japan has also gotten less of that type of
competition the last couple years, with tighter COVID-19
restrictions limiting the number of foreign athletes and
entertainers entering the country. Plus, it’s not as if Rizin is
placing its top drawing cards in the fights against Bellator. It’s
an additional hook to supplement Rizin’s usual year-end
festivities. So, if Bellator-Rizin is a win-win arrangement for
both parties, why are promotional collaborations such a rarity in

The first and most obvious answer to that question is that the most
powerful MMA companies tend not to want to cooperate with others.
This is obviously true at present with the
Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is so dominant over every
other MMA promotion that there is no need or desire to co-promote
with anyone else. The UFC doesn’t want to share the profits,
knowing it brings in much more of the money, and it doesn’t want to
give the other promotion the publicity. This was the case even when
UFC stood to profit handsomely from cooperation, such as in
negotiations to bring a Brock
Emelianenko bout to fruition.

It’s important to note this is not a trait unique to the UFC. Back
Pride Fighting Championships was the dominant global brand, the
UFC wanted to collaborate with Pride and even sent fighters such as
Liddell and Ricco
Rodriguez to the organization (one caveat: this was before
Liddell became the superstar into which he would later develop and
during a period when the UFC wasn’t particularly fond of dealing
with Rodriguez). UFC President Dana
White proudly spoke on UFC pay-per-view of bringing Pride stars
to the UFC, but Pride never returned the favor. Its stars were more
valuable to Pride in Japan than they were fighting in the United
States, so the UFC’s hopes of a longer-term promotional arrangement
quickly fell apart.

Even setting aside the UFC, the current landscape doesn’t lend
itself to collaboration. The
Professional Fighters League and its tournament format doesn’t
lend itself to one-off fights with other competitors, even if
“Cyborg” Justino-Kayla
Harrison is the biggest makeable collaborative fight in the
sport. One
Championship has its own focus in Asia and isn’t really playing
to the same fans as any of its potential partners. Few players in
the space are looking at competitors as partners with which to

Then there is a final and crucial factor working against
co-promotion in MMA: a lack of fan demand. This isn’t boxing, where
rival promoters would rather protect their fighters than cooperate
to put together the fights that fans most want to see. In MMA, the
average pay-per-view buying fan most wants to see UFC champions
defending against the most deserving UFC contenders. They get

As compelling as the potential matchups may have been, there was
limited demand among UFC fans for Eddie
Alvarez or Michael
Chandler to fight the best in the UFC until they came to UFC
and started proving themselves. Until then, they were off on an
island. The same goes today for A.J. McKee.
Average fans literally don’t know what they’re missing out on.
That’s unfortunate because it works against allowing us to see some
juicy matchups, but it’s just the reality.

Co-promotion isn’t ultimately about some abstract concept of
cooperation; it’s about making everyone money. In a multipolar MMA
world, there will often be times when the biggest fights can be
made by different promotions getting together. That’s the case with
boxing: The best fights get made less often, but when they get
made, it’s more often because of cooperation between rival
promoters. In today’s MMA world, where there is one hegemon and
then everyone else, the biggest fights get made more often, but
when an enticing fight needs co-promotion to get made, that fight
rarely takes place. As such, co-promotions like the Bellator-Rizin
event in December are going to be rarities for the foreseeable

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