Bellator MMA will move into a new territory on October 10 with an event in Paris, France, with mixed martial arts taking place there for the first time after years of opposition to the sport.
On Thursday night, through MMA journalist Ariel Helwani, ESPN announced that the organisation owned by media giants CBS/VIACOM, would be hosting a card there, the first event from a major MMA organisation to be held in that country.
The sport was legalised at the beginning of 2020 in France, Roxana Maracineanu, France’s lead minister on sport, having ratified MMA, setting up an advisory committee on having events there, bringing to an end the long struggle to legalise the sport.
MMA has been permitted in France for a two-year period in the first instance, with full government backing in a complex power struggle with opposition from the committees of Olympic combat sports.
Bellator, through its president Scott Coker, is expected in a “special announcement” later today to release more details, as the fight league continues its European expansion which has already included multiple events in cities in the UK, in Italy, with moves to include other countries such as Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands. The promotion has also had a number of events in Israel.
The news comes as Bellator’s fighters are poised for a two-day, double header event taking place at Mohegan Sun Resort, Connecticut, the sprawling casino which has been the hub of Bellator’s return since the coronavirus pandemic took its grip on live sport with no audiences.
The two events, today and tomorrow – live on Sky Sports in the UK – feature a raft of Bellator’s major names with new signings also making their debut. Tonight’s event, Bellator 245, is headlined by light heavyweight standouts Phil Davis and Lyoto Machida, battling for the right to face newly-crowned 205lb division champion Vadim Nemkov.
The young Russian fighter dethroned Ryan Bader three weeks ago at the same venue, by second round knockout, receiving a massive reception on returning home to his country, having become the first Russian fight to claim a major title in the light heavyweight division. Both Davis and Machida, elite fighters for many years, insisted this week that they are on the title trail.
Davis has already lost by decision to Nemkov, and defeated Machida seven years ago in Rio de Janeiro in what he has described as “one of the most poignant victories of my career”. Victory tonight is crucial for the careers of both fighters.
Bellator also bloods its newly-signed female stars in Cat Zingano and Liz Cartouche, respectively at featherweight and flyweight. Cartouche fights on Saturday night against DeAnna Bennett, while at its 245 event Zingano faces Gabby Holloway, who was staggeringly five pounds over the 145lb weight limit yesterday on the scales in Connecticut.
The women’s 145 pound Bellator roster is buoyant, with Cris Cyborg – the current champion, also being linked with a crossover boxing fight with Irish star Katie Taylor – heading a strong line of fighters. Bellator is certainly growing its roster at 145, with former champion Julia Budd in the wings intent on proving her defeat to Cyborg was a blip in her career. Zingano adds spice to the roster.
Zingano, a former UFC bantamweight title challenger, has been a headliner, and is a fan favourite. She also has on her resume a victory over the current UFC champion Amanda Nunes.
Zingano, now 38, this week expressed her relief at no longer having to making the flyweight limit she once boiled her body down to compete in. “I used to fight at 125 and I was gigantic. I’m pretty sure I almost died a couple times making weight. It made it natural to go up to 135,” Zingano said.
“As you get older and your body gets naturally thicker, it’s harder to cut weight over and over again. It made sense to go up [to 145], because I was still a really big bantamweight too.”
Zingano had watched Budd and Cyborg early in her career. “Budd is a beast, and she knows what she’s doing in there. She was strong and big, right when I noticed her was around the same era that I noticed Cyborg. As a young fighter at the time, I was looking at both of them as: ‘I want to eat that, I want to fight that, I want to be there.’”
Carmouche, who famously fought Ronda Rousey in a high profile fight in the UFC, almost submitting the former Olympic judoka, has a fascinating path ahead of her if she proves victorious against Bennett: a title shot against close friend and current flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane. The two women train daily against each other at their home base gym in San Diego.
Last year, minutes after Macfarlane had defended her title against Briton Kate Jackson in Hawaii, the reigning flyweight champion told The Telegraph that she would face her team-mate from San Diego. Ditto Carmouche, an outstanding individual, who served five years in the Marine Corps as an aviation electrician, which included three tours of duty in the Middle East.
The men might not be able to stomach fighting team-mates, but for the women, it’s a whole different ball game.