Five Proposals To Help PFL Surpass UFC
The Professional Fighters League (PFL) is attempting to challenge the UFC and become the world’s premier MMA promotion. The company has bought Bellator MMA and has one of the top rosters in MMA. The promotion even has backing from a Saudi Arabia public investment fund.
The league has a great base to seriously challenge the UFC; however, the league’s structure significantly undermines the organization’s potential for growth. This post should be considered a message to PFL Chairmen Donn Davis. I am just looking to help.
For what it is worth, I am not going to state the obvious–sign talented prospects and build for within will not be listed because it is a given.
Abandon The Regular Season Format:
The regular-season format has to be scrapped. I know it is fun to be different and the structure is unique to the PFL, but it not working.
Let’s start with the fighter health concerns. Obviously, fighting is dangerous, but the regular-season format makes those concerns more pronounced. The current format forces fighters to fight in rapid succession. If a fighter makes the finale, they fight four times in eight months. That is absurd.
I have two examples of why this is malpractice. Let’s start with Marlon Moraes, who entered the 2023 regular season with five consecutive finish losses. In his first regular season bout, on April 1, he was stopped via leg kicks. Moraes then returned to competition two months and seven days later.
Is that enough time to recover from a leg kick TKO and complete a training camp? I don’t think so. In his return, he was finished in the first round.
The second example is Clay Collard. Collard is competing against Olivier Aubin-Mercier in the lightweight finals on Nov. 24, his fourth fight in 2023. Previously, he fought on April 24, June 23 and Aug. 23.
It should be noted that his August bout was a war with Shane Burgos. In that fight, despite winning, Collard received a lot of damage. Now, he is being thrust back into the cage.
While we are on the topic of Collard vs. Burgos, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. Burgos was not supposed to make the playoffs. Nathan Shulte was supposed to have the No. 4 seed, which would have placed him against Collard; however, he earned the spot with a boring win over Raush Manfio. It was deemed the bout violated “the standards which all PFL fighters agree to uphold in competition.”
The catch is that Shulte and Manfio are incredibly close friends. In fact, Schulte is the Godfather of Manfio’s daughter. In summary, the PFL booked friends to fight, got upset the fight was boring, pulled the winner from the playoffs, and gave the spot to Burgos.
That move undermines the entire point of using the playoff structure to fairly determine which fighters should compete for the belt. For comparison, could you imagine if the NFL pulled a team from the playoffs because they clinched the playoffs with a boring win?
Lastly, the PFL does not need to reinvent the wheel. The UFC is evidence of the model that works best in combat sports. Yes, the promotion has flaws, but it is clear that the regular season is not a needed commodity. If the PFL detaches itself from the regular season model, it can work to book the fights the fans want to see.
Currently, the format produces a lot of heavy favorites and rematches. Neither of which creates the best product. A sitting champion, a formal ranking system and a big event every month is the best formula.
The following proposals should take far less explanation than the previous one. That begins with revisiting the elbow rule. Currently, the PFL does not allow elbows. That is blasphemy.
I believe you would be hard-pressed to find an actual MMA fan who wants elbows banned. The core foundation of MMA was to figure out which combat sport was most effective. That’s impossible when you remove one of the core four striking weapons.
I understand why it is illegal. In the regular season format, if a fighter gets cut, they will not be able to return for their next bout. That is just another reason the regular season format should be dropped.
In the current landscape of MMA, hardcore fans are upset that knees to a grounded opponent are illegal. That has led to ONE Championship gaining viewers as they are the top promotion that allows the move. In addition, fans want 12-6 elbows legalized. Meanwhile, PFL is going in the opposite direction as long as elbows remain illegal.
Expand Your Weight Classes:
This change is fairly self-explanatory. The PFL needs to add weight classes. The promotion currently has six weight classes: featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight, and women’s featherweight. In comparison, the UFC has 11, ONE has 11 MMA weight classes, and Bellator has nine.
PFL clearly needs to add weight classes. That begins with bantamweight and middleweight. It is ridiculous not to have a bantamweight weight class when it is one of the most talented divisions in the sport. It is far easier to build that weight class than many others. As far as middleweight goes, it is not the most talented division, but your organization looks silly when it randomly skips a weight class. It seems childish, and you will never convince the public you are a premier organization if you do not have a 185-pound weight class.
Thankfully, PFL just acquired an organization with a bantamweight and middleweight weight class. Furthermore, the bantamweight division is red hot. Patchy Mix is legitimately one of the best in the world, Sergio Pettis is well-known and exciting and Rafufeon Stots is popular and has a brewing rivalry with Danny Sabatello.
That said, the Bellator MMA middleweight division needs to work, but Johnny Elben is a solid champion.
As for the other weight classes, they are high-risk moves. I do think it would be worth trying your hand at flyweight or women’s strawweight. The reason is that the divisions have talent, but you could also compete with the UFC.
The UFC has recently invested in the flyweight division, which has increased its status, but PFL could follow. As for women’s strawweight, that is likely the most talented women’s division worldwide.
Do Not Protect Your Champions:
A piece of the Bellator MMA acquisition is that there will be a champion vs. champion event between the two promotions. This has to be done right. PFL can’t be protecting its champions.
If we are going to do a PFL vs. Bellator MMA event, it should be done the right way. In all honesty, it likely does not favor PFL. It is tough to forecast the exact matchups as the PFL champions will be crowned on Friday.
Bellator MMA still has the edge. For example, Vadim Nemkov, Usman Nurmagomev and Patricio Pitbull will likely be heavy favorites. Meanwhile, the bouts that PFL could win should be relatively close matchups.
The lesson here is that PFL should embrace that its roster just got better. In the championship bouts, one fighter’s stock will rise and the others will drop. Regardless, you have both under contract. Embrace the best talent regardless of organization, which is how you show fans you have an elite roster.
One final note: The champions vs. champions event will likely prevent PFL champions from competing in the regular season tournament. That hurts the quality of each division. That is just another reason to ditch the regular season structure.
Do Not Fall Into The PPV Trap:
Finally, do not fall into the pay-per-view (PPV) trap. In 2023, PPV is not a sustainable product for a variety of reasons. The important note is that people are not buying PPV events unless a massive star is the headliner.
That is not repeatable for PFL; at the moment, who can you depend on to sell PPVs? Francis Ngannou and Jake Paul? That is not the most sustainable plan.
For the PFL to grow, it needs to prove that it is a legitimate product that is enjoyable to watch. Putting your content behind a paywall does not accomplish that.
I will admit. I am not a financial expert and I do not have access to every event’s PPV numbers. That makes it a tad harder to fully prove my point, but the goal for PFL should be to create lifelong fans. The PPV model makes it hard for prospective fans to give your product a try.
For full transparency, I am an advocate for the UFC to abandon its PPV model as well. This is not a PFL-specific issue. I believe it would be far better for fans if combat sports were on a subscription service. Once again, ONE is an example of this. That promotion has been growing in the United States because you can watch it with it on Amazon Prime Video.
In short, it is difficult to put a heavy paywall in front of your product and expect to increase viewership.
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