PFL - Professional Fighters league, Sutherland v Bably

PFL – Professional Fighters League

In just a short time since its inception, the PFL has altered the landscape of MMA, introducing a unique season format and elevating talent to new heights. This competitive fight league has dared to challenge the norms, creating a dynamic and ever-evolving platform for professional fighters across the globe. First launched in 2018, it rose from the ashes of World Series of Fighting and made a name for itself credited to its unique format.

The PFL follows a regular season, playoffs, and championship — similar to major league sports — offering fighters the chance to compete in a transparent, organized, and equitable structure. This pioneering approach has been an influential step in professionalizing the world of MMA, making the PFL a fascinating organization to follow.

PFL – The 101

But before we get into all that – ah, how we tease you! – we’re going to look at the PFL itself. This tournament is a relatively new feature in the MMA calendar, having been created only five years ago. But as mentioned already, it has taken the fighting world by storm, with a unique format and a distinctive ability to favour the most consistent and ambitious of fighters. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the 101:

  • The Professional Fighters League (PFL) is a new addition to the MMA fighting universe.
  • The fights are held inside a 10-sided MMA cage known as the SmartCage.
  • It takes a seasonal format, meaning it consists of qualification and knockout stages.
  • There are six weight divisions, and in each division, players will have two season bouts.
  • The bouts themselves consist of three rounds, with the winners awarded three points – with bonus points on offer depending on the method of victory, including knockouts and submission win. 
  • If a fighter wins in the first round, they are awarded three bonus points, with second and third-round finishes awarded two and one points.
  •  If a fight ends in a draw, both fighters are awarded one point. 
  • At the end of the season, the top four fighters will move through to the playoffs, with the fighter with the most points playing the fighter coming in at fourth. 
  • The semi-finals are also three-round bouts, with the final itself being a five-round championship fight.
  • The winner of the tournament will be crowned champion and receive a $1 million cash prize.

A Very Brief History Of the PFL

As mentioned before, the Professional Fighters League is still relatively new, having only been around since 2018. It was conceived by investors Donn Davis and Russ Ramsey, who seized control of the World Series Of Fighting (WSOF) in 2017, choosing to entirely rebrand it to make the format more familiar for general sports fans. 

Rather than MMA fighters playing on a year-round basis, this was to become the first MMA event where individual athletes competed in a traditional season – think traditional football leagues, with each fighter playing another twice and then advancing their way to the playoffs. 

The inaugural season was held on June 7th, 2018, at the Madison Square Gardens in New York. Almost immediately, the championship became a success. The equality in prize money was one of the main reasons for this – unlike many other MMA events, and sporting events in general for that matter, female fighters earn the same amount as male champions – but the format itself also played a big part in its appeal. For fans across the globe, while the action from the PFL was almost identical to the action they were used to in the UFC, the seasonal format was more inclusive, more unpredictable… better

Although professional MMA has been around for a long time, this was the first time it was presented in a sport-season format. According to its founders, the idea was to put the emphasis back on the individual fighters, allowing them to control their own destiny. This is evident in the match-ups and champions the tournament has produced so far. Fighters like Bruno Cappelozza, Lance Palmer and Emiliano Sordi have all utilised the format of PFL to spark their growth, with spectators given the opportunity to watch that growth as the year-long season develops. 

Every match-up becomes similarly important, too. As every fighter – from each division – is building towards the same prize, the scoring system means that there are no dead rubbers, and every game is fought as if it were its own UFC final. Pretty entertaining, right? Well, to really knock you over the head with it, let’s take a look at every season so far and the fighters who have flourished under the PFL format:

Professional Fighters League: Famous Fighters 

PFL 2018

As mentioned before, the inaugural season kicked off in the summer of 2018. This was really Ray Cooper III’s year. He had been signed by the PFL after compiling a record of 13-5, and, on his debut in July 2018, he stormed the cage to defeat former Middleweight Champion Jake Shields with a brilliant KO in the second round. Even more impressive, he then performed even better in PFL 2 to play in the October, 2018 semi-finals. 

Here, he defeated Handessa Ferreira and proceeded to the very first grand final. Although he lost this fight to a guillotine choke submission, Cooper was one of the success stories of the inaugural PFL that showed how competitive a season like this could be, as well as how powerful it can be for fighters who were in danger of fading into the background.

PFL 2019

It almost feels like Kayla Jean Harrison was destined for the PFL. While originally a Judo fighter, she showed her prowess as an MMA fighter in 2018, making her debut against Brittney Elkin and winning via submission in the first round. In 2019, she continued to impress, winning in the co-main event of PFL 4 against Morgan Frier – which subsequently led to an extended contract with the PFL. 

Later in the season, she fought to a second-place standing, sending her through to the playoffs, where she would face the number three-ranked Genah Fabian. She won the fight in the first round and then faced Labrissa Pachecho in the Lightweight final. This is where her name really became transmitted around the globe. 

Although already having two impressive PFL runs under her belt, Harisson averted all expectations with an incredibly dominant performance. She won via a unanimous decision,  proving to the world that she was not a Judo athlete in transition to MMA, but she was already a juggernaut of MMA in her own right.

PFL 2021

Due to the pandemic, the 2020 PFL season was postponed, but it came back in 2021, with every fighter having a point to prove. One of these fighters was Bruno Cappelozza, making his debut for the PFL and subsequently winning it in the same year!

 It should have been foreseen, perhaps. Cappelozza had made his MMA debut back in 2010, and he’d certainly made a name for himself, but his performance against UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jiri Prochazka in 2019 left a lot to be desired. This meant that he wasn’t exactly a favourite going into PFL 2021. But, 46 seconds into his first fight, Cappelozza KO’d Ante Delija, and he knocked out Muhammad DeReese just as easily in the second. 

He then rounded off an exceptional championship with a back-and-forth rematch against Delija, where he won by unanimous decision. Coppelezza, then, became the perfect personification of what it means to be a fighter. Despite a potential career-stilting loss in the UFC, he rose back up the ranks, kept his hunger, and took hold of the fighting world once more, all in one PFL season.

PFL 2022

We said we’d come back to it! Here we are, the big one. We started off this article talking about Brendan Loughane because his success story epitomises everything that the PFL is about. Loughane was a boy with a dream, but in the windswept streets of Manchester, he was also seen as a bit of an alien. 

Rather than pursue a career in football, or seek out the safe option of his mechanical engineering degree, he chose instead to pursue a dream of professional cage fighting. In Manchester, the concept of becoming a cage fighter was something of an anomaly. 

MMA wasn’t really a popular thing back then; at least, it wasn’t in Manchester. Several of his friends and family thought it must have been a phase that would (hopefully) die pretty fast; little did they know that, in a few years, hundreds of Manchestians would be flying out to New York to watch Brendan Loughane become a PFL champion and win $1 million in the process. 

In many ways, it was the format of such a championship that worked in Loughane’s favour. Loughton had competed in other tournaments, but not until his signing to the PFL did he really meet his potential and stand as a champion on the world stage. As mentioned before, the PFL format can be likened to a football league, only it’s a team of one, with only your own drive and willpower to set you apart from the rest of the competition. It’s even more fitting that Loughton won his title by using footwork, performing consistent leg kicks to slow down movement in Bubba Jenkins lead leg!

At the end of the day, Loughane took a gamble on an MMA career. His football future was written in the stars, but he managed to transform it into a future which now looks dictated by MMA dominance. Hopefully, the best is still to come. 

Professional Fighters League PFL: DAZN’s Pop Quiz

Now that’s all dealt with, it’s time to get some facts under your belt – before you see who actually wins the next belt. Below are ten of the most popular questions about the PFL and a quick look at what the new 2023  season may bring: 

Q: How Long Did The WSOF Last Before The PFL?

A: The WSOF – World Series Of Fighting – was formed in 2012 after a broadcast deal with NBC. It held over 35 events across the US, Canada, the Philippines, Japan and China. However, in 2017, it was announced that the assets had been acquired by new investors, and the tournament would be restructured into the Professional Fighters League (PFL). This included a change of format, with the introduction of the league model – the first ever MMA promotion to introduce a format like this.

Q: How Many Fighters Are There In A PFL Season?

A: Each PFL season begins with 72 fighters across six weight classes. These include heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, lightweight, and featherweight. There are five men’s weight classes and one women’s weight class.

Q: What Was The First Ever Fight In The PFL?

A: The first-ever fight in the PFL was between Magomed Idrisov and Steven Siler. With a lot of anticipation over the new league, this fight certainly met expectations and then some. Both Siler and Idrisov left it all in the cage in a brutal hands-on display that showed just a teaser of what the PFl would have in store. Despite being knocked down early doors, fitness seemed to be an issue for Idrisov, and the fight ended up being won by Siler via first-round submission. 

Q: What Was The Fastest KO In The PFL?

A: There have been a number of stunning KOs in PFL history, but the fastest took place between Renan Ferreira and Jamelle Jones last year during PFL 2 in Arlington, Texas. Here, Ferreira essentially began the first round with a neatly placed shin to Jones’ chin, leaving him motionless on the canvas. It only took a barrage of punches to finish him off after that. Ouch! 

Q: What Was The Most Impressive Submission Win In The PFL?

A: Although Siler’s first submission win was impressive, there have been many more that could take the crown as the most impressive. These include Kayla Harrison’s submission win over Martina Jindrova last year, as well as Sarah Kaufman’s win at debut in 2019. In our opinion, however, the most impressive has to be the fight between Dakota Ditcheva and Hassna Gaber, where Ditcheva submitted Gaber after just 58 seconds with a shocking – and shockingly good – body shot. 

Q: What Was The Most Impressive KO In The PFL?

A: Once again, it’s hard to state categorically what the most impressive knockout has been in PFL history. Of course, Renan Ferreira’s knockout has to be up there, if only for the speed at which he managed to down his opponent. But in terms of tactical brilliance, Magomed Umalatov’s KO against Jarrah Al-Silawi might have to take the cake. This was a KO formed around aggression, detail and razor-sharp precision. The arm reach alone seems almost inhuman! 

Q: Who Has Had The Most Dominant Season In The PFL?

A: Now, this one does have a definitive answer! Although many fighters have had dominant championships, it’s hard to dispute Kayla Harrison’s unbeaten run from 2018 to 2022. Note she was originally only signed up to the WSOF as a commentator, so she’s certainly come a long way in her career very fast.

Q: What’s Been The Most Controversial PFL Moment?

A: As with all great tournaments, there are plenty of controversial moments that keep the crowd – and the world – talking. When it comes to the PFL, one of the most controversial happened between Fabricio Werdum and Renan Ferreira in 2021. In the first round, Ferreira supposedly tapped during a triangle choke. He then got out of the choke and swivelled to a top position, subsequently performing a ground-and-pound knockout. Of course, speculation ran wild, with some fans saying that there was no tap and others saying it was as clear as day. In the end, the fight was ruled as a “no contest”. So think of that what you will!

Q: What Has Been The Most Entertaining PFL Fight?

A: Once again, it’s quite difficult to nail down the most entertaining PFL fight, as they’re all pretty entertaining! That being said, “Razor” Rob Wilkinson’s entire 2022 season was hit after hit of incredible fights, leading him to earn the Light Heavyweight World Title and that coveted $1 million check. Rightly deserved, too!

Q: Who Has Won Each Season So Far?

A: As mentioned previously, there are six divisions in a typical PFL season, meaning there are six winners every year. These have included:

2018

  • Heavyweight: Philipe Lins
  • Light Heavyweight: Sean O’Connell
  • Middleweight: Louis Taylor
  • Welterweight: Magomed Magomedkerimov
  • Lightweight: Natan Schulte
  • Featherweight:

2019

  • Heavyweight: Ali Isaev
  • Light Heavyweight: Emiliano Sordi
  • Welterweight: Ray Cooper III
  • Lightweight: Natan Schulte
  • Womens Lightweight: Kayla Harrison
  • Featherweight: Lance Palmer

2021

  • Heavyweight: Bruno Cappelozza
  • Light Heavyweight: Antonio Carlos Junior
  • Welterweight: Ray Cooper III
  • Lightweight: Raush Manfio
  • Womens Lightweight: Kayla Harrison
  • Featherweight: Movlid Khaybulaev

2022

  • Heavyweight: Ane Delija
  • Light Heavyweight: Rob Wilkinson
  • Welterweight: Sadibou Sy
  • Lightweight: Olivier Aubin-Mercier
  • Women Lightweight: Larissa Pacheco
  • Featherweight: Brendan Loughnane

A Fresh Season – Professional Fighters League 

When it comes to the PFL, there is so much to look forward to. Right now, PFL is second to the UFC when it comes to popularity, but this could be set to change. As mentioned previously, the PFL has been designed to appeal not only to MMA fans but sports fans in general. The more popular it gets, too, the more world-class fighters will be attracted to the cage, which will only do more to boost the PFL’s popularity. 

The format itself seems to be the winning formula. But what about the winners? Once again, the fights need to be consistently entertaining, and those success stories like Brandon Laughnan need to be a regular occurrence and not just a one-off. Thankfully, there looks to be many more coming when it comes to the PFL 2023.

One of the most talked about fighters going into the 2023 season is Sadibou Sy. Last year, Sy put on a dominating show in the final, finally getting over a personal hump to win Welterweight gold and take home the $1 million prize money. Despite fierce competition, many think he is set to do this again, with Sy himself stating that PFL 2023 is a “new chapter” in his career. 

Magomed Magomedkerimov could also be about to write a new chapter. Having won the Welterweight title in 2018, he hasn’t been able to bounce back and reclaim it since. But his most recent fights have been impressive shows of aggression, tactical brilliance and – most importantly – determination, making him a hotly-tipped favourite this season. 

Lastly, we would be remiss not to mention Brendan Loughnane. The PFL has given this fighter the greatest reward for his childhood dreams. No longer is he training in makeshift cages in a park in Manchester. He is in the real cages. The real battles. And he will want to do everything he can to create even more dreams and even more rewards. 

Whatever happens, however, it is clear that the real winners are MMA fans. So long as fighters like this remain in the competition, and the competition itself continues to grow, the PFL looks set to be creating a new level of entertainment that will only get better and better in the years to come.