If we learned anything about Bellator 222, it’s that cross-promotion between major MMA organizations is something that fans can fall in love with.
Opening up the main card on DAZN was an important cross-promotion matchup between Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell and RIZIN champ Kyoji Horiguchi. The two men met at New Year’s Eve in RIZIN, with Horiguchi winning by third-round submission in a ring in Japan. In the rematch, Horiguchi flew to the United States to take on Caldwell in a cage and won a unanimous decision. The win makes Horiguchi the new Bellator bantamweight champion in addition to being the RIZIN champ, opening up numerous possibilities for new and exciting cross-promotion matchups for the Japanese superstar.
Bellator president Scott Coker said that his promotion can now use Horiguchi once a year to defend his Bellator belt, while also having the ability to send fighters from Bellator over to RIZIN to fight him for his belt there. With a KO win on the undercard over Eduardo Dantas, there’s a chance Juan Archuleta could be the man to fly to Japan to fight Horiguchi for his belt there. Fans have taken kindly to this news, and it makes you wonder what other cross-promotion fights that Bellator and RIZIN can book going forward. The possibilities are endless.
You know what else is exciting to think about? The chance of the UFC and Bellator co-promoting. As fun as Bellator and RIZIN co-promoting is, the thought of the UFC getting in there is extremely intriguing. Let’s face it, the UFC has most of the best fighters in the world. Bellator has some great fighters itself. The thought of Bellator sending its top talent to the UFC and vice versa for superfights is very interesting and exciting to think about. Coker says he is open to the idea. The only thing standing in the way of it actually happening is UFC president Dana White, who has been adamant for years the UFC will not co-promote.
The UFC refusing to co-promote was why Fedor Emelianenko, then with M-1, never signed with the UFC a decade ago. The UFC has co-promoted despite White saying it never would, but very rarely, with Chuck Liddell heading to Japan to fight Alistair Overeem in PRIDE 15 years ago and Ed Herman being sent to Strikeforce to fight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza seven years ago. Otherwise, White’s been stubborn about the thought of his fighters competing in another organization, despite the fact there could be some amazing cross-promotion fights out there that he could make a lot of money on.
But until White leaves the UFC, which isn’t happening anytime soon, I can’t see the UFC and Bellator doing a cross-promotion matchup. Coker might be cool with it, but it takes two to tango, and White won’t let it happen. There’s just too much risk for White to send his fighters over to Bellator and possibly see them lose there. Say for instance Daniel Cormier went to Bellator to fight Ryan Bader and lost. Sure that’s a fun fight for the fans, but it would kill Cormier’s value.
To White, there’s too much risk and it’s not worth it. Even if the fans want to see it, there’s little chance White lets this happen anytime soon. The trade between ONE Championship and the UFC of Demetrious Johnson vs. Ben Askren seems like more of a fluke than any sort of future predictor for more cross-promotion. As fun as it is to think of UFC fighters fighting Bellator fighters, it’s something MMA fans can only dream of, at least while White is in charge of the UFC.