Professional Fighters League

The Professional Fighters League (PFL) is an American mixed martial arts league founded by venture capitalist Donn Davis in 2017 and launched in 2018,[3][4] following the acquisition and restructuring of the former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) promotion in 2017 by MMAX Investment Partners.[5][6] It is the first major MMA organization in which individual athletes compete in a regular season, post-season and championship, rather than on a year-round basis.[7]

Professional Fighters League
Current season, competition or edition:
Current sports event 2024 in Professional Fighters League
SportMixed martial arts
Founded2018; 6 years ago (2018)
FounderDonn Davis[1]
Owner(s)PFL MMA, Inc.
CEOPeter Murray[2]
CountryUnited States
TV partner(s)ESPN

The PFL currently puts on fights across six weight-divisions: featherweight, women's lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. In addition to this, there is also a ‘Super Fight’ division, which isn't defined by weight, but instead is based on the status and name value of individuals who compete in it.[8][9] The PFL's matches are held inside a 10-sided mixed martial arts cage known as the SmartCage, and adhere to the unified rules of mixed martial arts, with the exception that the PFL prohibits all elbow strikes.[10][11][12]

The PFL's inaugural event took place on June 7, 2018, at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. At the end, each champion of the six weight classes won a championship prize of $1 million each.[13][14]

History edit

Founding and WSOF acquisition edit

Professional Fighters League event in 2018

The World Series of Fighting (WSOF) was formed in 2012, after signing a broadcast deal with the NBC Sports Network. Soon after WSOF's first event was announced, it would be confirmed that Bas Rutten and Michael Schiavello would serve as commentators.[15] Jazz Securo was the official voice and Ring Announcer of WSOF.[16] The WSOF held over 35 events in multiple countries including the United States, Canada, Japan, China and the Philippines,[17] and was best known for featuring fighters such as Justin Gaethje, Marlon Moraes and Lance Palmer.[18]

In 2017, MMAX Investment Partners, a group of McLean, Virginia investors, which included financier Russ Ramsey, Mark Leschly, businessman Ted Leonsis, Washington Nationals' owner Mark Lerner and future Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, acquired the assets of the WSOF.[19][20][21][22] It was announced that the WSOF would be restructured as the Professional Fighters League (PFL), with owner Davis as founder and with the inaugural season taking place in 2018.[23] After the restructuring, WSOF CEO Carlos Silva and WSOF president and co-founder Ray Sefo joined PFL. Silva as president of PFL and Sefo as president of fight operations. Sefo was previously an MMA fighter and a six-time Muay Thai world champion.[24][25] In January 2018, former National Football League executive Peter Murray was appointed CEO of the league. That year, in its inaugural season as the PFL, the promotion introduced a league model, the first MMA promotion to do so.[26][27]

2020–2021 edit

The former WSOF/PFL logo (2012-2018)

Following a partnership with blockchain reward app in October 2020, PFL launched a fan non-fungible token (NFT) and became the first sports league to launch such a token.[28]

In February 2021, PFL announced a $65 million financing round which expanded the total funding to $175 million. The funding round was led by Ares Capital, Elysian Park Ventures, and Knighthead Capital.[29][30][31][32]

In March 2021, Hall of Fame American football player Ray Lewis joined the PFL athlete advisory board.[33][34]

In April 2021, former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch and rapper Wiz Khalifa both became PFL investors. Lynch joined the ownership group, while Khalifa serves as an advisor.[35][36][37][38] That same month, DraftKings was named the first official sportsbook and daily fantasy partner of the PFL. DraftKings would sponsor the league's pre-fight shows and use their in-fighting technology and capturing real-time data for future prop bets.[39][40]

In August 2021, PFL announced a long-term partnership with Legends Hospitality, with the company purchasing a minority ownership stake.[41][42]

2022–present edit

In April 2022, games publisher Rival Games signed a partnership with PFL, its first with an MMA company. The deal was intended to create a gaming community for PFL and allow fans to host tournaments.[43] In that same month, PFL signed a deal with social platform for group/party streaming.[44] In May 2022, PFL revealed that they completed a $30 million equity round to aid in global expansion efforts and a new Pay-per-view division.[45][46] Baseball player Alex Rodriguez was involved the raise and, with Daniel Leff, joined PFL's board of directors.[47][48] That same month, Murray told daily newspaper the New York Post that PFL was coming back to New York City for its 2022 playoffs, with the first playoff held at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on August 5, 2022.[49] Later that month, Live Nation Entertainment signed a deal with PFL to broadcast the 2022 playoffs in the UK, as PFL planned to host playoffs in the Cardiff International Arena in Cardiff and the Copper Box Arena in London in August 2022, following a first event in New York City.[50]

In June 2022, PFL fighter and two-time lightweight champion Kayla Harrison was nominated for an ESPY award.[51] In July 2022, PFL announced plans for a European league, starting in 2023.[52] The regional league will be called PFL Europe.[53]

In January 2023, the PFL announced a new division, known as Super Fight, with events on pay-per-view, co-founded by major influencer-turned-boxer Jake Paul.[54] Paul's title is Head of Fighter Advocacy. Super Fight participants will earn at least 50 percent of the pay-per-view revenue, significantly higher than the 20 percent earned by fighters in the UFC.[55]

After ten PFL athletes – including former champions – failed their drug tests during the first half of season 2023, the organization decided to hire USADA to oversee and test their athletes for banned substances, much akin to what their rival UFC has already implemented.[56]

In late August, 2023, the promotion announced that it had sold a minority stake for $100 million to SRJ Sports Investments – a branch of Public Investment Fund – to invest into creating PFL MENA (Middle East and North Africa) regional league. Following the deal, the previously published PPV super fight series events will be hosted in Saudi Arabia.[57]

Acquisition of Bellator MMA edit

On November 20, 2023, it was announced that the PFL had acquired its competitor Bellator MMA.[58]

Fight format and point system edit

The PFL's matches are held inside a 10-sided mixed-martial arts cage known as the SmartCage and adhere to the unified rules of mixed martial arts, except that the PFL bans all elbow strikes.[59][60] Some have speculated that the prohibition is meant to avoid serious injuries that could delay future matches in the season.[61] Notably, contenders for the championship are chosen using a proprietary outcome-based elimination system.

Unlike most promotions, PFL fighters compete for points across a season. Each regular season fighters compete in two, three-rounds bouts. Each win awards a fighter 3 points and up to 3 bonus points for a finish (knockout or submission). Draws awards both fighters 1 point. Fighters are awarded 3 Bonus points for a first round finish, 2 for a second round finish, and 1 for a third round finish.[62] For example, a fighter who finishes their opponent in the second round would get a total of 5 points, while a decision would earn a total of 3.[63] If a fighter is overweight at weigh-ins They will be deducted a point and can not receive any points, even if they win their fight.[62] [64]

  • Win: 3 points
  • Loss: 0 Points
  • Failure to make weight at Weigh Ins: -1 point (and cannot earn any points from the bout)
  • Bonus points for Finish by KO or Sub
    • Round 1: 3 points
    • Round 2: 2 points
    • Round 3: 1 point

At the end of each regular season fighters from each division are ranked by point totals and the four highest ranked advance to the playoffs. In the semi-finals, the first ranked faces the fourth ranked and the second ranked faces the third ranked. The winners of these fights then face off other in a 5 round championship fight which carries a $1,000,000 prize.[65]

Prior to 2021, PFL Playoffs consisted of the 8 highest ranked fighters. In the women's lightweight division, the top four fighters make the playoffs, similar to the 2019 rules.[65] The four fighters who make the playoffs advance directly to the semifinals in each division. There are no longer any quarterfinals, nor a situation where a fighter must compete twice in one night.[65]

PFL Challenger Series edit

PFL Challenger Series is an American mixed martial arts series. Young and up-and-coming male and female MMA fighters will compete for a slot in the PFL tournament season and a chance at $1 million. Each week, the PFL Challenger Series will consist of a celebrity guest panel featuring personalities in film, athletics and sports. In the 2021 debut airing of the PFL Challenger Series, the celebrity guest panel included NFL stars Ray Lewis and Todd Gurley and entertainers Jeremy Piven and Wiz Khalifa.[66][67][68][69]

The inaugural PFL Challenger Series streamed on FuboTV and Fubo Sports Network from February 2022 to April 2022.[70]

PFL Europe edit

Starting in 2023 PFL Europe will feature the top emerging European MMA fighters, and will be broadcast during prime local hours with all events staged in Europe.

The first event took place on March 25, 2023 in Newcastle, England.[71][72][73]

Roster edit

For each season, the PFL roster begins with 72 fighters in six weight classes: five men's weight classes and one women's weight class. PFL additionally signs fighters to development contracts from the PFL Challenger Series. These fighters occasionally appear as alternates in the league season or as showcase fights opening the league events.[74]

For the 2018 season, the PFL roster included 72 fighters in six weight classes.[75] The 2019 roster included 68 fighters in six weight classes, including a new Women's Lightweight division.[76][77]

Champions edit

2018 World Champions edit

Division Upper weight limit Champion Date
Heavyweight 265 lb (120 kg; 18.9 st) Philipe Lins December 31, 2018 (PFL 11)
Light Heavyweight 205 lb (93 kg; 14.6 st) Sean O'Connell December 31, 2018 (PFL 11)
Middleweight 185 lb (84 kg; 13.2 st) Louis Taylor December 31, 2018 (PFL 11)
Welterweight 170 lb (77 kg; 12 st) Magomed Magomedkerimov December 31, 2018 (PFL 11)
Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Natan Schulte December 31, 2018 (PFL 11)
Featherweight 145 lb (66 kg; 10.5 st) Lance Palmer December 31, 2018 (PFL 11)

2019 World Champions edit

Division Upper weight limit Champion Date
Heavyweight 265 lb (120 kg; 18.9 st) Ali Isayev December 31, 2019 (PFL 10)
Light Heavyweight 205 lb (93 kg; 14.6 st) Emiliano Sordi December 31, 2019 (PFL 10)
Welterweight 170 lb (77 kg; 12 st) Ray Cooper III December 31, 2019 (PFL 10)
Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Natan Schulte (2) December 31, 2019 (PFL 10)
Featherweight 145 lb (66 kg; 10.5 st) Lance Palmer (2) December 31, 2019 (PFL 10)
Women's Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Kayla Harrison December 31, 2019 (PFL 10)

2021 World Champions edit

Division Upper weight limit Champion Date
Heavyweight 265 lb (120 kg; 18.9 st) Bruno Cappelozza October 27, 2021 (PFL 10)
Light Heavyweight 205 lb (93 kg; 14.6 st) Antônio Carlos Júnior October 27, 2021 (PFL 10)
Welterweight 170 lb (77 kg; 12 st) Ray Cooper III (2) October 27, 2021 (PFL 10)
Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Raush Manfio October 27, 2021 (PFL 10)
Women's Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Kayla Harrison (2) October 27, 2021 (PFL 10)
Featherweight 145 lb (66 kg; 10.5 st) Movlid Khaybulaev October 27, 2021 (PFL 10)

2022 World Champions edit

Division Upper weight limit Champion Date
Heavyweight 265 lb (120 kg; 18.9 st) Ante Delija November 25, 2022 (PFL 10)
Light Heavyweight 205 lb (93 kg; 14.6 st) Rob Wilkinson November 25, 2022 (PFL 10)
Welterweight 170 lb (77 kg; 12 st) Sadibou Sy November 25, 2022 (PFL 10)
Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Olivier Aubin-Mercier November 25, 2022 (PFL 10)
Women's Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Larissa Pacheco November 25, 2022 (PFL 10)
Featherweight 145 lb (66 kg; 10.5 st) Brendan Loughnane November 25, 2022 (PFL 10)
2023 PFL World Champions edit
Division Upper weight limit Champion Date
Heavyweight 265 lb (120 kg; 18.9 st) Renan Ferreira November 24, 2023 (PFL 10)
Light Heavyweight 205 lb (93 kg; 14.6 st) Impa Kasanganay November 24, 2023 (PFL 10)
Welterweight 170 lb (77 kg; 12 st) Magomed Magomedkerimov (2) November 24, 2023 (PFL 10)
Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Olivier Aubin-Mercier (2) November 24, 2023 (PFL 10)
Featherweight 145 lb (66 kg; 10.5 st) Jesus Pinedo November 24, 2023 (PFL 10)
Women's Featherweight 145 lb (66 kg; 10.5 st) Larissa Pacheco November 24, 2023 (PFL 10)
2023 PFL Europe Champions edit
Division Upper weight limit Champion Date
Light Heavyweight 205 lb (93 kg; 14.6 st) Jakob Nedoh December 8, 2023 (PFL Europe 4)
Lightweight 155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st) Jakub Kaszuba December 8, 2023 (PFL Europe 4)
Bantamweight 135 lb (61 kg; 9.6 st)" Khurshed Kakhorov December 8, 2023 (PFL Europe 4)
Women's Flyweight 125 lb (57 kg; 8.9 st)" Dakota Ditcheva December 8, 2023 (PFL Europe 4)

Fighter signings edit

In November 2020, two-time Olympic gold medalist and #2 pound-for-pound women's boxer[78] Claressa Shields signed a three-year contract with the Professional Fighters League to compete in the women's lightweight division.[79] Shields plans to compete in both boxing and MMA.[80] In December 2020, former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis joined the Professional Fighters League ahead of the 2021 regular season, departing from the UFC promotion where he fought for nearly a decade.[81] In May 2023, former Glory welterweight champion Cedric Doumbé signed a contract with the Professional Fighters League and is expected to attend the PFL Europe Playoff in September 2023.[82] After leaving the UFC in January 2023, Francis Ngannou joined the organization in May 2023.[83][84]

Events edit

Event history edit

2018 edit

The inaugural season had 72 fighters in six weight-classes, competing in seven regular season events on Thursday nights in June, July and August. The top eight in each weight-class faced off in bracket-style, single elimination playoff fights on Saturday nights in October. The PFL 2018 season concluded on December 31, 2018, with six championship bouts back-to-back with a $10 million prize pool.[74] The first season was headlined by a fight between Andre Harrison about Jumabieke Tuerxun and featured bouts in the featherweight and heavyweight divisions.[85][86]

In 2018, the seven regular-season events were held at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, the Chicago Theatre, GWU Smith Center, Nassau Coliseum and Ocean Resort Casino.[87] The playoff events was held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the Long Beach Arena, and the St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena. The championship event was held at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.[88]

2019 edit

The PFL 2019 regular season consisted of six weight classes and six events spanning from May to August. Playoffs consisted of three events and the season culminates with the Championship Event on New Year's Eve 2019.

2020 edit

The PFL 2020 season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[89] As a measure to relieve the financial pressure of the athletes, the organization decided to hand out monthly stipends to the contracted fighters.[90] Reactions to the stipend were mixed, with fighter Lance Palmer complaining about the amount of the stipend and with fighter Natan Schulte applauding the monthly stipend. According to multiple fighters, the stipend was $1,000 per month.[91][92]

In September 2020, PFL introduced a new series called "Inside the Season," produced in partnership with the United States Marine Corp, that detailed the journey fighters go on through training, regular season, playoffs and championships. The series is narrated by actor John C. McGinley and airs on ESPNews.[93]

2021 edit

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and top pound-for-pound women's boxer Claressa Shields signed a three-year contract with the Professional Fighters League to compete in the Women's Lightweight division and former UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis who joined the Professional Fighters League ahead of the 2021 regular season.[94][95][96]

PFL's 2021 roster included 60 fighters competing across six weight classes. The late additions to the season were the welterweights Gleison Tibau, Alexey Kunchenko and Jason Ponet, featherweights Chris Wade and Anthony Dizy, women's lightweights Kaitlin Young and Taylor Guardado and light heavyweight Nick Roehrick.[97]

In December 2021, PFL announced a multi-year partnership for its new PFL Challenger Series with streaming television provider fuboTV on its Fubo Sports Network.[98] Set to debut in February 2022, the new event will see fighters competing for a chance to earn a PFL contract and will incorporate a celebrity judging panel, a fan vote, sports betting and gamification.[99]

2022 edit

2023 edit

Broadcast edit

On January 29, 2018, the League announced it had reached a multi-platform distribution deal for the inaugural 2018 season with NBC Sports Group and Facebook.[100] Within the United States, NBC Sports Group established a live Thursday night PFL franchise, presenting seven regular-season live events in prime time exclusively on NBCSN beginning June 7, 2018, through the end of August 2018. Events televised by NBCSN also streamed on and the NBC Sports app. All regular season events had encore telecasts on NBCSN later the same night. Outside the U.S., Facebook streamed up to six hours of live coverage for each event. Facebook also opened each event with a live 30-minute pre-fight show and closed each with a live 30-minute post-fight show. In the U.S., fans were able to watch the first three hours of undercard coverage of each event on Facebook prior to NBCSN's presentation of the main bouts.[101]

Beginning in February 2019, the PFL's events are broadcast by ESPN in the United States and TSN in Canada.[102] PFL events and playoff matches air on ESPN+ and ESPN2, with the Championship Event on New Year's Eve airing exclusively on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.[103][104]

The PFL international distribution is handled by combat sports rights distributor Fighting Spirit.[105] PFL airs on Claro Sports in Hispanic America, Combate in Brazil, MMA TV in the United Kingdom, MMA TV in Nordic countries, Match TV and Boets TV in Russia, JSBC in China, beIN Sports in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and ESPN in sub-Saharan Africa.

In August 2020, the PFL launched an over the top (OTT) platform via its mobile app. In October 2021, the PFL signed a distribution deal with sports media company[106][107]

As of 2021, the PFL is broadcast in 160 countries, through media partners like ESPN in the United States, Globo in Brazil, Bild in Germany, RMC Sports in France, Eurosport in India, and Telesport in Russia.[108] In January 2022, it was announced that PFL and ESPN struck a multi-year contract extension for broadcasting rights in the United States.[109]

In October 2022, the PFL is broadcast by Fast Sports HD in Pakistan[citation needed]

Broadcast team edit

PFL's 2018 broadcast team for live events and pre- and post-event shows included Randy Couture, Bas Rutten, Yves Edwards, Caroline Pearce and Todd Harris. Harris provided play-by-play while Couture provided color commentary. Rutten and Pearce conducted pre- and post-fight interviews and Edwards offered video breakdowns and fight analysis.[110]

The 2019 broadcast team for live events and pre- and post-event shows included 2018 PFL light heavyweight champion Sean O'Connell, Randy Couture, Caroline Pearce and former UFC lightweight Yves Edwards, with former WWE ring announcer Lilian Garcia as in-cage announcer.[111][112]

The 2021 broadcast team included Randy Couture,[113][114] Kenny Florian,[115] Sean O'Connell,[116] Lillian Garcia[117] and Chael Sonnen.[118]

The 2022 broadcast team includes Randy Couture, Kenny Florian, Sean O'Connell and Lilian Garcia.[119]

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