What Is the PFL, and How Is It Different From the UFC?

The Professional Fighters League (PFL) has only been around for a few years, but it has already made an impact. The UFC continues to have a stranglehold in terms of MMA dominance, but the PFL is cementing itself as the solid second-most popular MMA promotion. With its unique season structure, the PFL could even grow beyond where it is today.

Origins of the Professional Fighters League

Idris Virgo pictured during a Professional Fighters League (PFL) media event at Live Nation in London, England
Professional Fighters League (PFL) media event | Kate Green/Getty Images

If the PFL is unfamiliar, it might be because of how new the MMA league is. According to Market Realist, the Professional Fighters League started in 2018. MMA fans may be familiar with the predecessor to the Professional Fighters League, the World Series of Fighting. 

Donn Davis and Russ Ramsey gained control of the struggling World Series of Fighting in 2017, and they chose to completely alter the promotion into the PFL. Other investors have joined the PFL ownership group since it became the PFL, including rapper Wiz Khalifa. 

Since the league became the PFL in 2018, it has held seasons annually, including a postponed 2020 season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This annual season structure is one factor that immediately sets the PFL apart from most MMA promotions. Instead of having reigning champions defending their belts throughout the year, the PFL builds up to a grand finale in which new champions are crowned each season.

How the PFL season works

According to ESPN, the PFL is divided into six weight classes, and in a PFL regular season, each fighter participates in two bouts. In a fighter’s regular-season fights, they earn points and the four fighters with the most points in each weight class move on to the playoffs. The winner of the single-elimination playoffs is declared the champion of the division and earns $1 million.

The point system makes individual PFL fights and the overall season interesting. Winning a bout by decision earns a fighter three points, and losing a fight results in no points. Points become interesting in that fighters are incentivized to win fights early through knockout or submission. Sportskeeda states that fighters earn six points for first-round victories, five points for second-round victories, and four points for third-round victories. 

Matchmaking throughout the season is one factor that makes the Professional Fighters League different from other promotions. In most MMA leagues, fights are booked to create cards that draw viewers in, and other behind-the-scenes factors can contribute to which fights actually occur. In the PFL, every fighter has two bouts in the regular season, regardless of how popular they are, and they can only move on if they earn enough points.

How is the PFL different from the UFC?

Even though the season structure makes the PFL different from the UFC, viewers will notice that the action in the cage is what they come to expect from MMA. The Professional Fighters League follows the standard Unified Rules of MMA, so viewers should expect to see the same strikes and holds as they see in the UFC. 

Equality in prize money is one aspect that sets the PFL apart from competitors and makes it appealing to fighters. According to I News, boxing icon Claressa Shields was in part drawn to the PFL because female champions earned the same amount as male champions.

Treatment of fighters has been one of the main selling points for the PFL. Bleacher Report recounted an instance in which the PFL rescheduled a fight for MMA veteran Andre Harrison so that Harrison could be at his daughter’s birthday party. This is a small moment, but it highlights how the young fighting promotion stands out and what could propel it forward in the coming years.

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