Scott Coker at Bellator 179 press conference.

In recent past times, the UFC has shown a desire to produce and bring a stacked card on its arrival to the UK, however since the UFC London card was announced and then the show went ahead on March 18th, rival promotion Bellator are in the process of upstaging their counterparts. There has always been a friendly rivalry between the two organisations in which the UFC usually comes out on top, holding the bigger stars and putting on the bigger events. However recently the Viacom promotion is beginning to shift the balance producing a number of cards stacked with global stars of their own.

An example is the Bellator 172 main event, a heavyweight showdown between legendary Fedor Emelianenko and Matt Mitrione which although having the main event cancelled during the show due to Mitrione’s illness, averaged 873k and peaked at 1.2 million per Spike whilst UFC Halifax’s main card had ratings of 907k and peaked with numbers of 1,019,000 viewers. It’s hard to determine what the ratings would have been like had the main event not been cancelled however it was clear to see Bellator had the bigger draw over UFC Halifax despite the latter proving to be the more entertaining card.

Bellator have been recruiting global stars towards the end of their careers in the hope of drawing in more ratings and strengthening their roster and so far it’s working. Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen‘s bout at Bellator 170 helped the card become the third most watched broadcast in their history averaging figures of over 1.3 million viewers whilst the main-event itself averaged at 1.85 million; in comparison to this only five UFC television events done bigger numbers in 2016.

In recent months, Bellator have only continued to intensify their pursuit of challenging the UFC; after announcing that not only will they hold only the second ever pay-per-view event in their history but they will also make their debut attendance in New York City when they arrive at Madison Square Garden. If Scott Coker and Bellator were ever serious about challenging their UFC counterparts then the card they have begun forming for Bellator NYC/Bellator 180 proves just that.

Chael Sonnen seems to be the spearhead of Bellator’s plans after it was announced the three-time UFC title challenger will headline the NYC card in a long-awaited grudge match with bitter rival Wanderlei Silva. In the co-feature, legendary Fedor Emelianenko makes his Bellator debut against Matt Mitrione in a bout that has been rescheduled from February after Mitrione had pulled out with kidney stones on the day of the event.

The pay-per-view portion of the card will also play host to two title fights: new signing, former UFC free agent Lorenz Larkin will face welterweight champion Douglas Lima and lightweight champion Michael Chandler takes on Brent Primus. Not only are Bellator making a name for themselves in the fighting capital of the world, they are now rewarding countries all round the world with stacked cards full of global talent, no more so than when they come to the UK.

The UFC London card sparked controversy after it announced that Jimi Manuwa vs. Corey Anderson would headline the event despite Manuwa himself stating different prior to this. Following the match-up between current UFC Middleweight champion Michael Bisping and one of the ‘GOAT’s Anderson Silva in London last year, British fans were left with high expectations which makes the London card a bitter pill to swallow which has left some fans with a sense of disappointment. Despite being a fairly entertaining card, it lacked the global superstar which left the crowd with a breath of anticipation in the air.

The pressure only intensified on the UFC’s London card when Bellator announced that Paul Daley was booked against former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald in the Bellator 179 headliner which will also take place in London. Daley is one of the most explosive knockout artists in combat sports whilst MacDonald is still considered one of the best welterweights on the planet and was involved in the UFC’s 2015 Fight of the Year against Robbie Lawler. This match-up somewhat eclipses any bout that the UFC contained in their London card and is no doubt the biggest draw out of the two London events.

Flashy striking specialist Michael ‘Venom’ Page vs Derek Anderson was the second addition to the 179 line-up; the undefeated Brit is one of the highest regarded prospects in the sport with a whole load of hype behind him.

Scott Coker recognises the UK market

This was a statement of intent by Bellator and CEO Scott Coker who recently admitted that the UK is “a key market” with “huge stars”, not only is Coker flaunting his “huge” British stars he’s also compiling another stacked show with international names.

After Liam McGeary’s second round TKO victory over Brett McDermott at Bellator 173, the promotion announced that he will now face off against fellow Brit Linton Vassell on May 19 in London. This was the third bout added to the card which now includes some of the biggest British and international stars Bellator have to offer; a name which has also been rumoured with joining these fighters is former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley who has shown his interest in a potential heavyweight bout between himself and Brock Lesnar or Fedor Emelianenko.  The 40-year old looks set to appear at Bellator 179 after learning his next opponent may not be a big name but a UK-based one..

In comparison to Coker’s comments, the UFC seem to now have less intention to bring elite names to the U.K.  It seems as if the UFC has now halted their drive to gain the attention of the British fans; is this due to believing they’ve already captured the attention of the British fans with the recent U.K cards? It’s hard to tell but either way with plenty fights still to announce it looks as if Bellator will be leading the way for once when both promotions return to the U.K.

The public has their say on Bellator vs. UFC in the UK

A poll on twitter ran by Ariel Helwani gives a clear insight into what event the fans here in the U.K are more interested in, not only did the Bellator 179 main-event win the vote, it won by a landslide.

In the past Bellator cards have had a habit of looking the part on paper but not quite living up to expectation and seemingly falling short on fight night. Whether it’s fighters being pulled from the card or fighters just not performing well, at times there is just something that goes a missing to round off a perfect event. Bellator 179 has the potential to be one of the most watched broadcasts in their history aswell and up stage UFC London when the promotion arrives in the UK.