Inside PFL’s rise as no.2 global market leader in MMA

While the UFC continues to reign over the landscape of mixed martial arts worldwide, the Professional Fighters League (PFL) has exploded into the scene and now finds itself right behind the industry leader after just three years.

In an interview with CombatPress.com, PFL founder Donn Davis said that the league had established itself as the number-two MMA company globally on multiple factors, including fighter roster, worldwide audience, distribution, and growth.

“So I think what you’re seeing now, by all metrics, is the PFL is the number-two MMA company worldwide. In terms of fighter roster, PFL is number two. For a worldwide audience, PFL is number two. In terms of worldwide distribution, PFL is number two, and in terms of growth, PFL is number two,” Davis said.

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Season format

But what pushed the PFL out into the front of the pack, alongside the UFC?

Founded in 2017, the league has already been able to put on two massively-successful seasons. Now, they are gearing up for the third season, which kicks off in April.

Notice how the PFL’s year is called a season?

That’s because the league follows a tournament-style format, which is unique in the world of MMA.

The league uses a regular season, playoffs, and finals format, which means the fighters will need to win to advance. At the end of the season, a world champion will be crowned for each weight division, and the winners are awarded one million dollars.

Stacked roster

Making that tournament format all the more exciting for the fans to watch is the stacked roster of fighters that the PFL boasts.

Each of the league’s six weight divisions features veterans and up-and-coming talent from across the globe. The PFL is home to many of the MMA world’s top stars, including PFL Women’s Lightweight Champion Kayla Harrison, two-time PFL Featherweight Champion Lance Palmer, two-time PFL Lightweight Champion Natan Schulte, and many others.

In 2021, the league will have an influx of world championship talent led by Fabricio Werdum, Anthony Pettis, Rory MacDonald, and three-division boxing world champion Claressa Shields, who will be making her mixed martial arts debut.

Top-notch management

While the PFL indeed features an all-star roster of fighters, they also have the number one executive team in sports.

Founder Donn Davis, who was also behind Revolution LLC, has brought together some of the top minds in media, sports, and digital to lead the league to the top.

Leading the charge is PFL CEO Peter Murray, who helped sign some of the biggest names in sports during his time with Under Armour. Executive Producer George Greenberg has over 40 years of experience and is coming off as an Executive Vice President for Fox Sports. President Ray Sefo was the founder of the World Series of Fighting and is a combat sports legend.

Those big names are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the PFL’s executive management roster.

Overwhelming support

The PFL is also backed by a world-class team of investors, including Swan & Legend Venture Partners and Matterhorn Private Equity, and Ted Leonsis, David Blitzer, Mark Lerner, Kevin Hart, Mark Burnett, and Tony Robbins. The league has also managed to secure sponsorships with AB InBev, Socios.com, The Marines, and many others.

The PFL can be seen in the United States via ESPN and in an additional 160 more countries worldwide via various platforms and sports networks.

With all these considered, it’s no surprise that the PFL is already at the top of the MMA mountain, alongside the UFC. With another big year in store in 2021, there’s no telling the heights that the fastest growing sports league in the world can reach.

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PFL’s Peter Murray continues to land, promote big-time stars

The Professional Fighters League remains steadfast in building the best and most complete roster in all of mixed martial arts.

And one of the key figures in putting all of that together is Peter Murray.

Murray has already helped the PFL bring in the likes of Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison, Rory MacDonald and Ray Cooper III while continuing to scour countries all around the world for the next big thing.

Throughout his career, Murray has done just that. His list of “who’s who” includes boxing heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua, MMA legend Georges St-Pierre, swimming icon Michael Phelps, current baseball stars Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw, and so many more.

“Our role in MMA is to reimagine and reinvent the sport — smart data, storytelling. Now, number two in the world,” Murray said in an interview with Combat Press. “The UFC is the leader in the sport. They’ve done the heavy lift. They’ve been doing it for 25 years.

“The similarities are: we have a global reach, and in production value, the PFL is the best. We are second to none.”

While preparing for the start of the 2021 season, the PFL has continued to expand this year. They released an OTT platform that showcases a large fight library along with releasing a number of new series spotlighting the likes of MacDonald, Chuck Liddell and others.

The PFL also plans to expand upon the use of SmartCage technology, which allows viewers to see real-time fighter performance data and analytics. They have also reached new deals in countries such as Russia and India.

“We’re locked and loaded on distribution and expansion outside of the (United States),” Murray said. “We’re creating stars.”

The 2021 PFL season is scheduled to begin in April to its conclusion with six fighters secure million-dollar checks at the end. The promotion is the only one in MMA that plays out through a regular season, playoff and championship format.

PFL plans massive international expansion

MMA, PFL
The Professional Fighters League is eyeing a grand comeback next year including plans of international expansion.

PFL CEO Peter Murray bared that they are targeting an April return in 2021.

“We’re locked and loaded for next year,” Murray told Empire Sports Media in an exclusive interview. “Our broadcast partners are on board including ESPN. We will have more expansive coverage internationally. Our fighter contracts are all locked, our fighters are getting ready for next season which will start in April, a month earlier than the previous seasons.  All our sponsors have renewed, ready to go for next year.”

The PFL will stage its next season at a single location in the US and bring in their fighters from 20 countries all over the world.

“We’re looking at and execute the learnings from the NBA, even what the UFC has done very, very well.  We will have our version of it,” Murray said.  “And should the landscape of Covid-19 change and we hope it does then we are in a position to open up our events perhaps to fans and we look forward to that.”

The NBA has successfully continued its season in Orlando while the UFC has created its own Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

With those as blueprints on how to insulate its product from the pandemic, the PFL is looking to get back on track and build on its momentum after shaking things up in the MMA with its string of innovations.

In 2017, the PFL introduced a season-format where fighters earn points to qualify for the playoffs and compete in championships in six weight classes. They have also capitalized on technology, providing real-time data analytics during fights for a more immersive viewing experience.

“This is the format that worked in the NBA, EPL, NFL, and other major sports and we feel that’s the key differentiator to re-imagine the MMA sports, grow the sport and scale the PFL around the world,” Murray said.

With meritocracy, transparency, and incentivizing athletes at the core, they were able to create an exciting league that is fast catching up with the UFC.

“We’re now in the No.2 market position in the world in just a short amount of time and we have a business plan for the growth of the sport and the PFL as a league. Our view is there’s more room for more than one leader and together, we’ll absolutely grow the sport and this sport has yet to peak. In the next 3-5 years, you’ll see much growth in the US and outside,” Murray said.

Murray also bared that they are holding talks with several countries for potential sites of their season-ender.

“We’re looking forward to our first event potentially outside the US, our year-ending championship. We are in discussion with select countries and destination partners,” Murray said.

“We are focused on the US next season but should the Covid-19 landscape change, we are contemplating our world championship in 2021 to partner with a country and a key destination, put on a fantastic, pinnacle sports entertainment event where each title fight has life-changing money on the line, a million-dollar cheque,” he added.

On top of its ESPN broadcast deal, the PFL is also being distributed in 160 countries worldwide and Murray said they are looking to expand more.

“Russia is an important market. Western Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia are all critically important to us and there’s definitely future growth, massive opportunity in China, and India,” Murray said.

With their season on hold, the league has introduced a lot of original content from their PFL Studios headed by George Greenberg, a 16-time Emmy Award-winning producer, and director.

They have already produced the “Fantastic Finishes”, a seven-episode series that showcased the knockouts and submissions across the PFL’s six weight classes.  Meanwhile, the 10-episode “Inside The Season” provides fans inside access to their 2019 season with never-before-seen footage.

They have also lined up two more series: “A Champion’s Journey” and “The Randy Couture Story”.  The former will give a spotlight on their elite fighters such as Kayla Harrison, Lance Palmer, and Ray Cooper III, and newcomer Rory McDonald, while the latter will navigate the life of current PFL broadcaster and MMA legend Randy Couture.