Bellator MMA: BBC iPlayer to show mixed martial arts shows in 2021

By Simon HeadMMA writer

Bellator MMA will be shown exclusively live in the UK on BBC iPlayer throughout 2021.

In addition to the live shows, on-demand highlights will be available after each event.

The announcement follows the broadcast of Bellator's event in Paris last October - the first major MMA event to shown live by the BBC.

Here's everything you need to know.

What is Bellator MMA?

Bellator is a US-based MMA promotion considered by many to be the closest rival to the UFC.

The organisation has its own world titles and boasts a roster of fighters including some of the best mixed martial artists on the planet.

Who competes?

Long-time UFC fans will recognise former octagon stars including Cris Cyborg, Gegard Mousasi, Yoel Romero, Anthony Johnson and Ryan Bader, while the roster also features a host of homegrown Bellator talent, including two-division champion Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire, welterweight champion Douglas Lima and rising featherweight star Aaron Pico.

There are also plenty of British and Irish fighters involved - including England's Michael 'Venom' Page, Saul Rogers and Fabian Edwards, Northern Ireland's Leah McCourt, Wales' Brett Johns, Scotland's Chris Bungard and Ireland's James Gallagher.

Is it different to the UFC?

The sport itself - mixed martial arts - is exactly the same, but the way Bellator do things is slightly different from the UFC.

For starters, the cage has no flat walls. Unlike the UFC's eight-sided octagon, the Bellator cage is a consistent circular structure, which means there is no way a fighter can "cut off the cage" and force a fighter into a tight spot.

But the biggest difference fight fans will see during Bellator's 2021 events is the use of tournaments, rather than just one-off fights.

Bellator has had huge success with its grand prix tournaments, with the top eight fighters from a weight class being placed in brackets, with bouts taking place over the course of a year to decide the tournament champion.

Bellator still holds the more traditional single bouts too, but the grand prix tournaments hold additional intrigue, as the top fighters in a division have their route to glory mapped out in advance.

What's in store in 2021?

Bellator held a virtual news conference in New York earlier this week, at which it unveiled the eight-man field for its 2021 light-heavyweight grand prix.

Former UFC stars Romero and Johnson will fight in one quarter-final match-up, while former two-division Bellator champion Bader will face ex-UFC light-heavyweight champion Machida in another.

The Bellator light-heavyweight title will also be contested throughout the tournament, with Russian champion Vadim Nemkov set to kick off his campaign against former title-holder Phil Davis in the other half of the draw.

Corey Anderson, another ex-UFC contender, completes the line-up as he takes on Turkmenistan's Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov, who arrives in Bellator on a six-year, eight-fight winning streak.

Also in tournament action, Bellator featherweight champion Freire will put his 145lb title on the line in the semi-final of the ongoing featherweight grand prix, when he takes on Emmanuel Sanchez. The winner will move on as champion and take on the unbeaten AJ McKee in the final later this year.

In addition to the tournament bouts, there will be a host of regular match-ups and title fights, with bantamweight champion Juan Archuleta set to put his belt on the line against top contender Sergio Pettis.

Four events have been confirmed for April and early May, with more to follow in due course.

What's on?

Friday, 2 April: Bellator 255

Patricio Freire v Emmanuel Sanchez (Bellator featherweight title, featherweight grand prix semi-final)

Friday, 9 April: Bellator 256

Ryan Bader v Lyoto Machida (light-heavyweight grand prix quarter-final)

Anthony Johnson v Yoel Romero (light-heavyweight grand prix quarter-final)

Friday, 17 April: Bellator 257

Vadim Nemkov v Phil Davis (Bellator light-heavyweight title, grand prix quarter-final)

Corey Anderson v Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (light-heavyweight grand prix quarter-final)

Friday, 7 May: Bellator 258

Juan Archuleta v Sergio Pettis (Bellator bantamweight title)

More events will be announced over the coming months.

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