MMA-PFL sees itself as number one contender to UFC dominance

Feb 18 (Reuters) - The Professional Fighters League (PFL) announced $65 million in new financing on Thursday and will invest that capital in expanding an international mixed martial arts (MMA) competition built on soccer’s Champions League model.

The PFL, valued at $400 million, is not yet in the same league as MMA kingpins the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which was sold in 2016 for $4 billion and according to its president Dana White is now worth $7 billion.

But the PFL believes that an under served MMA market and a unique league structure make the newcomers the number one challenger to UFC’s dominance.

“What we want to do is become the first true global league,” PFL founder and chairman Donn Davis told Reuters. “What we envision is building the first ever Champions League where championships are earned and not just awarded.

“Around the world we can see PFL Europe, PFL China, PFL Latin America and crowning a true global champion.”

Unlike the UFC which stitches together cards around a marquee fight, the PFL presents MMA in a format where individuals compete in a regular season, playoffs, and championship for a million-dollar prize in each weightclass for both men and women.

After cancelling last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PFL returns to action on April 23 in a quarantine bubble in Las Vegas.

In just three years Davis says the PFL already has 25% of the audience of the UFC which has been operating since 1993.

“UFC has 500 fighters and fans can only name five of them and those five don’t fight on the ESPN contract, they only fight on pay-per-view,” said Davis. “When you tune into the UFC they have bunch of undercard fights that don’t matter.

“Every fight matters in the PFL.”

The PFL roster includes some notable names like U.S. judoka Kayla Harrison, winner of gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. But it has yet to develop a crossover star such as UFC’s Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey.

The PFL may be scooping some viewers and fighters away from the UFC but it is not in the same weightclass when it comes to media rights.

Along with lucrative pay-per-view events, the UFC inked a five-year $1.5 billion rights deal with ESPN that started in 2019.

In the final year of their rights deals, the PFL is bullish about upcoming negotiations.

“For fans the MMA market is big enough for two or three very big companies,” said Davis. “UFC is a great product and the PFL is a differentiated product and fans enjoy watching both of them.

“We’ve already established ourselves as the number two company and just like it says on the rearview mirror in your car ‘objects may be closer than they appear”. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Pritha Sarkar)