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The 9 biggest MMA promotions in the world right now

There are many outstanding MMA organizations all around the globe. Some promotions offer outstanding rewards and financial safety for the winners and their families for the rest of their lives, while others are a great springboard en route to the top.

For example, there are promotions with a better roster than Bellator or UFC. It is rumored that many Dagestani fighters who don’t compete at M-1, ACB, or Brave CF could fight toe-to-toe against some of the greatest names in the world because of their superb wrestling.

It seems like some of the big organizations don’t want to sign them because they want fighters from different areas of the world.

When we ranking the best MMA promotions in the world, we look at things like the level of glory, achievements, monetary rewards, and the quality of fighters as parameters.

Yet, we respect different opinions, as some organizations are growing rapidly. The market changes because new companies appear every year.

These are the best MMA promotions right now (ranked):

1. UFC

number one MMA promotion - UFC
Image credit: John Locher, Associated Press

The UFC gathers the best fighters in the world. The first event took place in 1993. We watched style vs. style bouts for a while and there were no weight classes. Rules have changed over the years, now there are eight male and four female weight divisions.

Over the years, the majority of fighters turned into excellent all-around Octagon warriors, and now more than 40 percent of fights go to judges’ scorecards or decisions.

The head honcho of the top MMA promotion, Dana White, started the UFC dream as a hobby, but it quickly became one of the fastest-growing sports promotions.

Many great commentators, especially Joe Rogan, pushed their impressive growth. The popularity skyrocketed in 2006 when the promotion decided to increase the number of PPV and fight night events per year.

As mentioned above, there are eight male and four female weight classes, so there’s a fight for every viewer. The most popular champions are very influential fighters with a huge social media presence who can earn a fortune.

But here’s a downside – the star payout heavily depends on the number of PPV buys, so the most successful names aren’t necessarily the richest.

The most popular names are great fighters with a huge number of followers on social platforms who have great trash-talking skills.

Fighters who take part in UFC for the first time and the company’s gatekeepers (fighters with a very low ranking, UFC waits for their first loss to release them) usually get 10-12K per fight, while Performance of the Night and Fight of the Night bonus varies from 50K to 75K.

The same amount of money is given for The Knockout and The Submission of the Night award.

Win bonuses vary from fighter to fighter. You can’t forget sponsorship money and weigh-in miss penalties. Take a look at this UFC 269 earnings table, rewards are different.

1.1. Dana White’s Contender Series

Dana White's Contender Series
Image credit: Jeff Bottari, DWCS LLC, Zuffa LLC

Well, you can’t exactly call this “a promotion”, this is a springboard for the UFC, as fighters who finish their opponents in front of Dana White get their UFC contracts.

No prize money is given, but you’ll get a chance to be a part of the top MMA promotion.

If the amazing fight goes the distance, Dana White sometimes makes an exception and rewards one or both fighters with a UFC spot.

It always takes part at the same place – UFC Apex Center, Las Vegas, Nevada. It took place for the first time in 2017.

2. Bellator

Fedor Emelianenko during Bellator fight night
Image credit: Dave Mandel, USA Today Sports

Bellator kicked off as a promotion that gathered disgruntled UFC fighters. Today, Bellator is the second on the list of the best MMA promotions in the world.

Its president Scott Coker has done a fantastic job building the company. His biggest success in the last few years may be when he enabled a cross-promotion tournament with the Japanese promotion Rizin.

Coker is very open-minded and willing to give a shot to everybody, even to the fighters from the areas of the world where nobody knows about MMA.

Some fighters transition to the UFC after a title win, others win belts and stay for the rest of their career.

The promotion’s popularity skyrocketed after bringing the former UFC, Strikeforce, Invicta CF, and now-Bellator female titleholder Cris Cyborg in 2019.

Fighters get less money for participation in the tournament, win bonuses are smaller. Their biggest attraction to fighters is that they offer a chance to get noticed by the best of the best. Please look at Bellator 268 salaries.

Another downside for Bellator is that they only have seven male and only two female weight classes.

3. ONE FC

ONE Championship mixed martial arts organization
Image credit: ONE FC

ONE FC is the greatest mixed martial arts organization in Asia. Founded in July 2011 by Chatri Sityodtong, it quickly became the most popular name in the Asian MMA circuit. Interestingly, there are nine male and four female divisions.

This promotion allows knees to the head of a grounded opponent, which is something the diehard fans of old-school MMA love to see.

It also prohibits extensive weight cuts and forces Octagon warriors to fight at their walking weight. The rule changed in 2015, after Yang Jian Bing’s death.

Fighter payouts are classified but it seems Ben Askren and Demetrious Johnson couldn’t keep their mouth shut.

Also, the promotion is extremely popular on social media, its YouTube channel has over four million subscribers.

Look at the rankings and you’ll see that ONE FC is a real promotion for fans of all martial arts.

4. PFL

PFL American mixed martial arts league
Image credit: PFL

PFL is significantly different than all other MMA promotions. Fighters compete in the smart cage, where every single strike is scored by a computer. Judges focus purely on grappling, wrestling, and cage control.

Yet, this ruleset leads to many controversial calls where some fighters feel they were robbed of a victory (for example, Gleison Tibau vs. Rory MacDonald outraged 99% of fans).

The tournament system awards the winner with one million dollars, and many fighters gladly choose to stay here instead of trying the UFC dream.

The league was created in 2018, but it quickly escalated to one of the tops spots among MMA professional leagues.

There are only six weight classes, and the first four fighters from each division qualify for the playoffs. There’s a female 155-pound division where Judoka Kayla Harrison demolishes everybody.

The payout is awesome. You can read this article for more info.

5. Rizin

Rizin Japanese MMA organization
Image credit: Rizin Fighting Federation

It is believed that Rizin is the inheritor of the old-school Pride FC, the promotion that prohibited elbows but allowed kicking to the head of the grounded opponent. Those strikes made Mauricio Shogun Rua famous.

Founded in 2015, Rizin is the most brutal on the list of top MMA promotions nowadays.

Nobuyuki Sakakibara, Rizin CEO, is doing a great job promoting and bringing some of the best names here. For example, the former Bellator champ Kyoji Horiguchi kicked off his career here.

Rizin contracts allow fighters to compete in other promotions and get all kinds of sponsorships. There are only five weight classes. Salaries are, largely, unknown but this company definitely provides a lot of entertainment.

This is a superb choice for diehard fans of the most brutal strikes. Fighters can fight at contract weight if the promotion agrees.

6. Cage Warriors

former Cage Warriors fighter Conor McGregor
Image credit: Cage Warriors

Cage Warriors is the best English-based MMA promotion. They’ve been the starting point for many big UFC names. For example, legendary Conor McGregor and Michael Bisping made their debuts there.

Cage Warriors also allowed fighters like Gegard Mousasi, Antonio Silva, Jeff Monso and many others to establish themselves.

It was founded in 2002. It’s led by Graham Boylan at the moment.

There are two female and eight male weight classes. Cage Warriors pays bonuses for extraordinary finishes, but fighters earn significantly less money than in other promotions.

Social media stars and “cash cows” get special treatment – Paddy Pimblett is a great example.

Champions usually get an opportunity to fight for the UFC, the biggest MMA organization in the world, so a gamble might pay off in the end.

7. KSW

KSW Poland-based MMA promotion
Image credit: KSW

KSW (Konfrontacija Sztuk Walki) is the best Poland-based MMA organization. It is in the public eye because of many unorthodox details – fighters tattoo their sponsors, there’s very little or no doping control, judges usually favor Polish fighters.

The promotion offers the same ruleset as UFC but many fighters complain. The majority of champions refuse to test their skills in better promotions because of good KSW payouts and potential positive tests on banned substances.

Dricus Du Plessis, a former champ, said he was told that “the champ would have been tested“.

There are so many giants with huge muscles in KSW, it is pretty suspicious. Yet, KSW produced some good UFC names – Jan Blachowicz, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Mateusz Gamrot.

There are eight male divisions (no flyweight, only super heavyweight – fighters at 265+ pounds), There’s no doubt that Pudzianowski is a super heavyweight. There are also two female weight classes.

Fans like to call KSW battles “freak show fights”; it’s easy to guess why.

It seems the financial aspect of the game rocks for a popular, top-level fighter.

8. Brave CF

Brave Combat Federation
Image credit: Brave CF

Brave CF’s home is in Bahrain. It was created in 2016, but its owner, Mohammed “The Hawk” Shahid, invested a lot of money into the sport’s development and bringing the best competitors.

The promotion offers eight male weight classes, but some current UFC fighters fought there in the past – Carlston Harris, Ottman Azaitar, and even the former flyweight UFC competitor Jose “Shorty” Torres.

It is the most influential mixed martial arts promotion in the Middle East. They pay very well, you can find more details on their website.

9. ACA

ACA Russian MMA promotion company
Image credit: ACA

Formerly known as ACB, ACA is believed to be the most powerful MMA organization in Russia.

It’s the home of many great wrestling specialists and a wonderful place to test your skills before competing at DWCS (Dana White Contender Series) or UFC.

Eight weight classes, and no bad fighters here. It’s a joy to watch these guys showing the greatest secrets of wrestling and grappling at each event.

Petr Yan, UFC 135-pound champ, kicked off his MMA career here.

The payout is unknown.

Honorable mentions

M-1 is another great name on the list of Russian MMA promotions, while Eagle FC is led by the former UFC undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (no ring girls here because Khabib calls them “useless”).

LFA (Legacy Fighting Alliance) and Titan FC are US-based promotions and offer a great option if your goal is to fight in the UFC or DWCS. These two promotions closely cooperate with Dana White and UFC officials.

Combate mostly gathers fighters from Latin America but the events generally air in the USA.

Jungle Fight is the most popular Brazilian promotion. For example, UFC fighter Amanda Ribas kicked off her career here.

EFC is, at the moment, the best African MMA organization (with its headquarters in South Africa), while Ares FC is the new Euro-African promotion that is slowly taking over the market (its president is Fernand Lopez, Ciryl Gane’s coach).

We mustn’t forget TKO Major League MMA, an up-and-coming Canadian mixed martial arts organization, and excellent AFC, the Australian MMA promotion that created legendary champs Alexander Volkanovski and Israel Adesanya.

Conclusion

The UFC is still the most famous MMA organization in the world but mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world.

A lot of money is invested so this list might change in the years to come. The new MMA League is announced for 2023, and it looks like a very promising project at the moment.

For example, ten years ago, Portugal and Spain were known for soccer. Now Manel Kape sends flyweight fighters to the canvas, while Andre Fialho has inked a UFC contract recently.

Spanish Octagon warriors Joel Alvarez, Juan Espino, and Chris Barnett are tricky choices for anybody.

The sport is constantly growing and developing, so please, if we forgot to mention any of the top MMA promotions, let us know!

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