Bellator brings MMA into mainstream with BBC deal, Paris fight card
By Philip O'Connor
(Reuters) - Mixed Martial Arts Promotion Bellator continues efforts to bring the sport to the mainstream on Saturday at the Accor Arena in Paris with the first major card in France since the sport was legalized and a streaming deal with the BBC.
MMA was described as "human cockfight" by US Senator John McCain in 1996 and is growing in popularity. The deal to stream the 10-Fight map on BBC iPlayer is another turning point, Bellator's European boss David Green told Reuters.
"It gives us a little more legitimacy," he said in a telephone interview from Paris. "We've talked about it for a long, long time and we're very, very pleased to have access to such a large platform."
Spearheaded a welterweight bout between England's Michael "Venom" Page and Ross Houston of Scotland, the map features six French fighters who will be able to fight on home soil following a decision in February that places the sport under the French Boxing Federation.
Although Bellator is second fiddle to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the US, he has made a concerted effort to establish himself in Europe by signing a number of fighters and staging cards in major European cities.
Following the recent legalization of sport in France, the promotion was swiftly implemented and the Paris Card will be the first top-level event held in the country.
For fighters like Leah McCourt of Northern Ireland, whose bouts were only available on cable television, the BBC deal marks a paradigm shift for the sport that combines a variety of punching and grappling techniques in often bloody fights.
"It's revolutionary for us, it's a huge step forward for MMA and a huge step forward for Bellator ... and it's about time we were on the platform we deserve," she told Reuters.
The 28-year-old featherweight temporarily swapped the grain of the cage for the glamor of the comment booth while recovering from shoulder surgery. McCourt will be at the Accor Arena with a limited number of fans when the show takes place.
"It (the BBC deal) will get more eyes and more audiences and educate the general public about how fantastic our sport is and how great the athletes who fight in MMA are," she said.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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