By Nat Wilkins, Brooklyn, NY, 6/5/18–This Thursday night, BrooklynFights will be on hand for the Professional Fighters League inaugural season debut at the Theater at MSG in New York City. It’s a significant event in the world of MMA and more broadly, combat sports, because PFL’s approach is different and arguably purer than the usual.
First and foremost, PFL takes the politics out of advancement with a recurring-season league format where 72 fighters compete head-to-head for a $1 million purse in each of six weight classes. Second, PFL may quickly achieve considerable scale – it’s free for fans to watch on Thursday nights, with star-studded live broadcast coverage to be provided via NBC SN and Facebook, touted to reach “300 million fans.” Not to mention, MMA fans will have an opportunity for emotional investment in the league and its contenders because of the weekly broadcast frequency crescendoing with enticing March Madness style playoff brackets.
We caught up with league president, Carlos Silva, a career sports media professional with AOL and NBC in his executive background, who gave us some insights on what to expect when the season kicks off Thursday.
What’s in a Name
PFL isn’t an entirely new promotion. It’s a descendant of WSOF, or World Series of Fighting. “It’s as much a new format as it is a new name—Professional Fighters League,” noted Silva. “We’re professional at the highest level; it’s all about the fighters; and it’s a new league format.”
Indeed, the format is closer to what you see in major team sports like basketball than the loosey-goosey matchmaking typically associated with traditional combat sports approaches. Of the 72 fighters who compete in the regular season, the top 8 in each weight will “face-off in single elimination playoff fights on Saturday nights in October.” The season is set to conclude with a December 31st finale, venue TBD, with “six championship bouts back-to-back with a $10 million prize pool.”
“It’s really interesting that we’re going to own Thursday nights in MMA, which we’re really excited about.”
“The structure of the league is very much about bringing these fighters and letting them control their destiny by winning. If they win, they advance,” Silva told BrooklynFights. “Each of them will fight two times during the regular season between June and August. At the end of each of their bouts, they’ll get points for wins and losses, knockouts and submissions.” He continued, “If the two of us were fighting each other and you knocked me out in the first round, you’d get three points for your win and you’d get three points for your first round knockout. And so you’d leave with 6 points, and I’d leave with zero points.” 45-60 days later, it would be time to face my second opponent. Lose, and I’d finish the season with just my 6 points from the first fight. Win by a third round stoppage, and I’d get four additional points (three for the win, one for the 3rd round stoppage), finishing the season with 10 points.
At the end of the regular season, the top 8 by points in each weight class advances to the playoffs. “Those top 8 get placed into the playoffs like a traditional bracket. They fight in the quarter-finals and the semi-finals in the playoff night. They fight two rounds in the quarters, then the winners advance to the semis. They fight three rounds in the semis.” He concluded, “And the two winners in that weight class will be our finalists,” who face-off in the December 31st championship fight.
“We’ll have six championship bouts on New Year’s Eve, and on New Years Eve, we’ll crown 6 million dollar champions,” added Silva.
The idea is that the same general pool of fighters will compete again next season. “They’ll all come back to try and claim the title for 2019,” he added. Silva also told us the 2019 season may be longer, beginning as early as March, and may be expanded with more weight classes (beyond 2018’s 145, 55, 70, 85, 205 and heavyweight divisions).
International Fight Nights
As for international expansion, while the matches can be viewed worldwide right off the bat, fans outside the US may have to wait a bit to see one in person. “We’re focused on US for 2018 and most likely 2019, but with the kind of roster we’ve got of folks from Russia, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, just to name a few, I think there’s a real opportunity. But for right now we’re concentrating on our US venues for 2018 and 2019, but I think after that we’ll look at some global opportunities,” Silva told BrooklynFights, adding that fighters from 14 different countries are set to compete in 2018.
East Meets West
While all of the PFL season one events scheduled thus far are in east coast arenas, don’t fret if you’re out west. Silva told us, “It made sense to be east or central as the doors open in the arena on Thursday nights. As we move into the playoffs and championship, we shift to Fridays and Saturdays. We haven’t announced our playoff and championship venues yet, but I think you’ll see us, especially in the playoffs, heading out towards Arizona and California and Las Vegas, just to name a few.”
PFL: It’s a Mindset
We asked Silva how to expect the PFL format and frequency to affect fighters and how they train.
“We had them all together in a fighters’ summit in Orlando a few weeks ago. I think they’re all thinking about and training for a season of sport as opposed to just a fight.”
“We got some interesting feedback from them that this is really the way they were brought up. If they happen to come from a wrestling background, as one example, they’re used to that sort of structure where they’ve got their fights laid out, and they understand the season and even the format that they’ll be fighting through, because that’s how they grew up.”
“They’re all thinking about how they train and how they stay in shape between June and December. I think that’s something great. We’re hoping that will keep them from yo-yo’ing between weight quite as much and they’ll stay in shape longer because they are going to be fighting again 45 to 60 days later.”
The 2018 PFL season kicks off June 7th at Madison Square Garden. PFL events of the regular season, playoff events and the championship event are scheduled as follows:
Thursday, June 7: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Thursday, June 21: Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL
Thursday, July 5: GWU Smith Center, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, July 19: Nassau Coliseum, Long Island, NY
Thursday, August 2: Nassau Coliseum, Long Island, NY
Thursday, August 16: Ocean Resort Casino, Atlantic City, NJ
Thursday, August 30: Ocean Resort Casino, Atlantic City, NJ
Friday, October 5: Playoff Event (Venue and City TBA)
Saturday, October 13: Playoff Event (Venue and City TBA)
Saturday, October 20: Playoff Event (Venue and City TBA)
Monday, December 31: Championship Event (Venue and City TBA)
The PFL broadcast team includes Randy Couture, Bas Rutten, Yves Edwards, Caroline Pearce and Todd Harris, covering all PFL live events and pre- and post-event shows. A roster of the 72 fighters is attached as a PDF:
Stay tuned for more from New York and beyond, fight fans.