PFL’s Donn Davis vows league will be MMA’s ‘co-leader’ after Bellator buy, calls Dana White ‘worried’

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Donn Davis believes that the PFL just took its next step toward greatness.

The league officially announced Monday that it has acquired Bellator MMA’s roster and assets, a move that greatly strengthens the PFL’s standing in the MMA world. As the founder of the PFL, Davis couldn’t be more thrilled with the possibilities that lie ahead for his organization, especially in regards to how the acquisition could accelerate the league’s growth.

Davis appeared on The MMA Hour shortly after the PFL-Bellator news broke to discuss a number of topics, including whether he feels UFC CEO Dana White has been feeling the heat with acquisition rumors circulating for several months. White was recently dismissive of the PFL and Bellator when asked about the potential news, which Davis sees as a sign that he and his team are pushing the right buttons.

“Everybody knows Dana well enough that he only dismisses things that worry him or else he just doesn’t comment,” Davis said. “He didn’t comment on the PFL for four years because he wasn’t worried. He’s commented on the PFL a lot the last six months. You’re worried.

“What specifically worried him about Bellator is the metrics we put on the press release. Thirty percent of that roster ranked in the top 25 per Fight Matrix rankings. This is not Dana gets to rank his own guys, Donn’s ranking his own guys. There’s only one group that ranks all fighters, Fight Matrix, independently. Thirty percent of the UFC roster is top 25-ranked and now our combined company of PFL and Bellator, thirty percent. The same.

“Now, to the UFC’s credit, if you look at top 5 in the world, they still own the top 5, one through five. So pay-per-view cards, we couldn’t compete with them right now, which is we’re only going to have two and they have 12. But if you say I’m turning on TV on ESPN Saturday night or I’m going to tune in Friday night to watch this Bellator International Series or PFL, our card’s going to be better. Better. Because what they put on this year was ranked 70 [on average Fight Matrix ranking] and what we’re going to put on the next year is ranked 40. That’s why he said, ‘I don’t know why in God’s green Earth anybody’s buying this,’ because he’s smart and he knows that.

“UFC ain’t the NFL. We’re not the XFL. But he wants you to think that. And it’s just a matter of time before that starts to get more well known, then we’re not No. 2, we’re co-leader. He doesn’t want that. That’s what’s going on.”

For years, there has been much debate over the second-biggest organization in MMA behind the UFC. Bellator was long considered the default answer in North America, with the PFL later claiming the spot and ONE Championship arguing its presence on the Asian market made it the de facto No. 2 combat sports promotion.

With the PFL and Bellator joining forces, it appears that debate is closed.

While Davis is enthusiastic about Monday’s news, he’s not resting on his laurels, and he made it clear that the goal is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the UFC someday, not just settle on following behind.

“As a founder of a company you always go back to day one,” Davis said. “Day one, people said, ‘This whole season format thing ain’t going to work. UFC’s an 8,000-pound gorilla, hundreds of companies have tried.’ So on a day like this, you just think, another chapter. Our first goal is to be No. 2. That was really our first goal. Check, we did that. Now our next goal is with new assets and new capabilities and great fighters, how can we become co-leader?

“So kind of as an entrepreneur, you’re never, ever done. You never really sit back, instead you say, ‘What’s next?’ So what’s next for us is, OK, No. 2, check. Now let’s go try to be co-leader.”

In explaining his unbridled optimism, Davis quoted mentor Ted Leonsis, most famously known to sports fans as the owner of a trio of Washington sports teams, the Wizards, the Capitals, and the Mystics. Davis said that one phrase Leonsis was famous for was, “declare victory,” a mantra that was meant to be employed frequently in business and in life.

The way Davis sees it, winning isn’t about the PFL beating the UFC, but in the UFC making room at the top for another major player.

“What’s fantastic is the UFC is a great company and they invented this industry,” Davis said. “This is not about taking share or shifting share. MMA is growing. MMA is growing 10 percent a year, every other sport two to three percent. They’re going to do well. We’re going to just do really, really well. And I’m excited to have my new teammates at Bellator, I’m excited to have all our new fighters propelling us forward and we’re going to win.

“The next time we’re on here, when people laughed that we’re going to be a co-leader, we’re going to be a co-leader. Just like they laughed that we’re going to be No. 2, and we’re No. 2. So to me, if you’re on the new Bellator team, if you’re on the new combined PFL team, declare victory.”