Bellator Paris will be broadcast live on BBC iPlayer on Saturday night
The BBC will broadcast cage-fighting for the first time this Saturday with coverage of a Mixed Martial Arts event in Paris.
The 11-fight Bellator card will run live on the iPlayer as part of an ongoing deal to cover the sport that was signed off on Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement represents a huge breakthrough for the sport after years of campaigning, given the huge audience reach of the BBC’s digital platform.
Eight out of 10 of the UK population – 49.9 million – watched Sport on the BBC across 2019, higher than any other UK broadcaster.
Eleven bouts from the event will be available to watch live on the iPlayer in the UK and Ireland from Saturday afternoon at 4.30pm, with Londoner Michael “Venom” Page, a former eight-time freestyle kickboxing world champion, facing unbeaten Scotsman Ross Houston in one of the headline bouts.
The final fights of the night were also be live on Channel 5 from 10pm.
It is the first time that an MMA event has been licenced in France, with Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu having lifted restrictions that have been hanging over the sport in that country since its inception in 1993.
The headline act is heavyweight Cheick Kongo, born in Paris, a stalwart mixed martial artist who has fought 43 times in seven countries on three continents over 19 years as a prizefighter. He will finally fight in his hometown against the American Timothy Johnson.
Kongo told Telegraph Sport: “This is like a world championship for me. I have waited years for the opportunity to step in and fight in the city I was born in, and I am proud to show my nation how our sport has grown to a level of global acceptance.”
In the United States and Brazil among other countries, MMA is already regarded as one of the major sports.
Scott Coker, President of Bellator MMA, which is owned by media giant CBS/VIACOM in the United States, has overseen the growth of MMA in Europe over the last three years with events in London, Birmingham, Newcastle in the UK, and in Ireland and Italy with plans to have its European series expand to Holland and other countries in 2021.
“This is a really exciting broadcast partnership between the BBC and Bellator MMA, as our presence in the European market goes from strength to strength, ” said Coker. “Having just put on three events in Milan and now heading to Paris to make history there, we are committed to providing fight fans across Europe with regular events, featuring the world’s best fighters, which are easily accessible to them via our first-class broadcast partners. We have signed more big names to our roster this week and are looking forward to an action packed 2021.”
David Green, Head of Bellator Europe, added: “We are thrilled that we will be bringing live action from our first ever show in France to fans across the UK and Ireland via the BBC iPlayer. The BBC is unparalleled in its reach with millions of people tuning in to its sports content every week. We therefore look forward to servicing our existing fans better than ever before, but also to attracting new fans who will be able to tune in to this historic event. The card is stacked from top to bottom so those watching at home are in for a real treat come Saturday night.”
Live broadcast starts on BBC iPlayer at 4:30pm BST and will run through until 10pm BST. Viewers in the UK will then be able to switch over to Channel 5 at 10pm for live coverage of the final two fights of the night.