For the last 10 years or so, the UFC has held an iron like grip over the MMA market. This grip however has begun to be tested over the last several years with the continued improvement of organizations such as Bellator and ONE Championship and particularly the formation of the Professional Fighters League also known as the PFL. This article explores three reasons as to why the establishment of the PFL should be providing a major headache to Dana White and how the UFC may have found themselves a challenger to their throne.
Three Reasons Why Dana White should be WORRIED about the PFL
History of UFC and Competition
After acquiring Strikeforce in 2011 and eventually dissolving the brand, the UFC eliminated what was the last of their main competitors from the MMA market. UFC owners, Zuffa, had acquired several rival companies during their time as owners of the UFC. This included WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting), Pride FC, and finally Strikeforce. Ultimately the only competition that was left to the UFC were small promotions such as at the time Bellator and overseas which typically drew from a much different market anyway (ONE Championship). This hold over the MMA market has continued till the present day, yet while the UFC still is regarded as the pinnacle of the sport today, the presence of other organizations is the largest it has been in a long time. The continued emergence of Bellator and the formation of the PFL chiefly attributing to that. While Bellator still remains to be in the shadow somewhat of the UFC, there are a number of key reasons as to why PFL has the potential to breakout from the industry giant.
Reason Number 1: Individuality
Part of the reason why organizations such as Bellator, Cage Warriors and countless others have failed to truly challenge the UFC is because they all feel like less polished clones of the UFC. All follow the same structure, rules, and layout, so when viewing one it is hard to shake the feeling that you could be watching a better product if you simply changed the channel to the UFC.
Yet the PFL have shown that they are different in the way they conduct themselves. They are the very first MMA organization to utilize a seasonal format as opposed to the single events put forward by the majority of the competition.
A group of 12 fighters of a particular weight class will take part in a season with each fighter competing twice. Points will be awarded based on the outcome of the bout with 3 being the standard for a victory. Bonus points are awarded based on circumstances such as the round the finish occurred in, as well as penalties being given out due to misdemeanours such as missing weight. The top 4 at the end of the season advance to what is called the “playoffs”. The Playoffs consist of two semi-finals and of course the final. The winner is crowned champion for that year’s season.
Not only does the PFL massively differ from the majority of other MMA organizations in the actual structure of their bouts but even more basic visual differences can be noticed. The lack of an Octagon for example. Instead the PFL utilizes a 10 sided “smart cage”. The smart cage is capable of generating impressive levels of data in real time, analyzing the speed of fighters strikes, power outputted, heart rate and many more.
One of its most impressive technologies is the FPR or Fighter Performance Rating which takes into account the power and volume of strikes thrown, damage received and success in grappling exchanges to determine a particular score out of 100 for each athlete based on their performance that round. This use of technology has never been done to this extent in any other MMA promotions and truly establishes how the PFL is a unique entity and is something different than the UFC rather than just being a lower quality imitation.
Reason Number 2: Money
As crude as it may sound, ultimately there is no other way to look at it. Anyone who wants to take on the UFC is going to need money, and serious amounts of it. Luckily for the PFL they appear to have it by the boatload. Fighter purses are far more than other comparable promotions such as Bellator and in many aspects are similar to the UFC. What is also notable is that the PFL offers a million dollar prize to whoever wins the season on top of their regular purse for the 4 fights it would have taken to get there. Many fighters also in the PFL are earning substantially more than they would be if in the UFC. Often the UFC offers fighters contracts which can be as little as 20k to show up and 20k to win, PFL could offer a fighter 3x times as much in each regard who may only be receiving a 20k/20k contract if signing with the UFC. The financial power of the PFL has already been apparent in the short time that it has been around with top UFC Featherweight Shane Burgos leaving the organization in order to sign with the PFL, citing money as the main reason for doing so.
.@francisngannou 🤝 PFL
Go behind the scenes on the biggest MMA signing in history on the PFL MMA YouTube Channel https://t.co/PixVt9WpvS pic.twitter.com/0c3w6xQOb1
— PFL (@PFLMMA) May 17, 2023
The most obvious example of a fighter leaving the UFC for the PFL can be seen with former UFC Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. Ngannou and the UFC were embroiled in contract negotiations which lasted months with ultimately the two unable to reach an agreement. Ngannou would leave the organization and sign with PFL. In his contract with the PFL now it is reported that Ngannou will be earning a high 7 digit figure from his base purse alone, along with earning a split of the events profits as well as reserving the right to pursue his own sponsorship, participate in boxing matches and even guaranteeing a minimum fight purse for his opponents speculated to be in the millions of dollars. This is substantially more than the UFC would ever have offered Ngannou and while they will unlikely be spending this much money on all their fighters the PFL have shown that they have more than enough financial muscle to attract the big boys of MMA.
Reason Number 3: The Superfights
In the first few days of 2023, the PFL made a massive announcement. They had signed Jake Paul in what was the first acquisition of their new Superfight Division. Online personalities such as Jake Paul, Logan Paul, KSI, and countless others have made strides into the world of combat sports in the last few years and it appears that the PFL aim to capitalize on this. The success of Misfits Boxing, an organization run by KSI and featured on DAZN has shown that successful events of this nature can be produced. These online influencers possess millions upon millions of followers on various social media platforms and if the PFL began to promote MMA bouts featuring these individuals it would undoubtedly expose their brand to millions of people who likely would not have heard of them otherwise.
In the modern marketing world, online presence is absolutely everything when it comes to expanding the brand of a business or organization and this would be a surefire way for the PFL to achieve this. If they become the only MMA organization that participates in this section of celebrity or influencer fighting, then they will develop a likely highly profitable section of the market and will have it all to themselves. If even a small fraction of the eyes brought in by the likes of Jake Paul stayed and decided to watch a regular PFL event, then the company would find its viewership massively boosted. All of this would cause a serious problem for the UFC.
All in all, it should not be understated that the UFC is by far the most premier MMA organisation in the world right now. Both in forms of revenue and prestige. However this article has outlined several possible methods and paths that the PFL can use to expand its sphere of influence even further and eventually result in a real struggle for the top spot between the two promotions.
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