World Series of Fighting re-emerging as the Professional Fighters League shocked many on its announcement earlier this year.
The most striking contrast between the two banners is PFL’s tournament format. Ray Sefo, former president of WSOF and president of fighting operations for PFL, was forged in tournament style combat events during his time with K-1.
Skepticism remains in the eyes of some in regards to tournament-style mixed martial arts after the International Fight League failed to spark the enthusiasm of the fan base in its run from 2006 to 2008. Yet, Sefo believes that IFL’s team element was the main factor that led to its downfall. Having witnessed the fanfare surrounding the K-1 tournaments during its heyday, Sefo is confident PFL’s format will stimulate MMA’s diehards again.
“I came up within these tournament style formats. Anyone who says it doesn’t work doesn’t know anything about it,” Sefo said.
“I remember talking to Maurice Smith years after K-1 had become the biggest kickboxing promotion in the world. He told me that when he was with Pancrase in the early days, they had the same attitude we see today. They thought that the tournament style could not work.
“K-1 and its tournament style were the biggest things that ever happened in the world of kickboxing. Sure, IFL tried it, but they used teams. MMA is a one-man sport.”
According to Sefo, WSOF 25’s lightweight tournament in November 2015 proved that the format still holds water in the modern game.
“(WSOF) did a one-night tournament to find the No. 1 contender to fight Justin Gaethje when he was with us. Everyone tuned in to watch that and everyone was excited about it.
“Brian Foster ended up winning that tournament, but if you remember, he had initially lost in the quarterfinals. The guy who was supposed to go forward could not continue because of an injury, so Foster got a second chance and ended up winning the thing.
“That kind of thing is exciting.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing that has come to the surface with the PFL is the guarantees that the promotion will put in place for their athletes. According to a press release signed by Sefo himself, PFL will guarantee that:
“Every fighter will have regular fights, no less than three scheduled per year.”
“Every fighter will receive a regular paycheck each month.”
Sefo lost out on “millions of dollars” when K-1 filed for bankruptcy in 2012. As a competitor himself, he knows how the burden of finances can affect fighters. He initially tried to roll out a similar pay system when WSOF first emerged, but is glad that he is finally able to afford fighters some guarantees under the PFL banner.
“Seeing the financial stresses that come along with the fight game is why my colleagues and I wanted to put this kind of deal together. This is exactly what I wanted to do when we first started WSOF, but we weren’t able to put it in place because of how a few things came together.
“Now that the Professional Fighters League has come along, it was very rewarding to put certain guarantees in place for the fighters. Fighters want to be active. It’s one of the biggest complaints you hear from fighters.
“The league promotes that opportunity. If you continue to fight and continue to win, you can get that $1 million and have the belt around your waist. At that stage, the champion will have fought seven or eight times.”
According to Sefo, the reaction to the financial guarantees has been very favorable.
“A lot of fighters I’ve been talking to have been stunned that this is actually happening. They’re excited about it. The guys who are under contract with us right now are super excited about it.
“I’ve talked to some high-level names from UFC, Bellator MMA and One Championship as well, and they’re all excited about it.”
It doesn’t hurt that fighters contracted to the biggest fight organization in the world, UFC, are going through a significant period of unrest at the moment. It seems as though a different fighter voicing their discontent with how the promotion compensates its athletes comes to the forefront each week.
“The timing is definitely right for a framework like this,” said Sefo. “It’s what the sport needs. Things happen for a reason and I think the timing couldn’t be better for a league to take this sport in a positive direction.
“The fact that anyone can fight for a title, provided they win, is huge for the fighters too. In a lot of cases, we don’t see the best fighters competing for the belt in other organizations.
“With the $1 million we have on the line for winning the belt, and with the guarantee of so many fights per season, this is an opportunity of a lifetime for a lot of people. Not a lot of fighters will ever get the chance to compete for that kind of money.
“It’s usually only the very top fighters that earn that kind of money.”
PFL’s inaugural event, a collaboration with NASCAR, will take place on June 30 at Daytona International Speedway. NBC Sports Network will broadcast all four bouts on the PFL: Daytona card. The event will take place in the UNOH Fanzone after the Xfinity Series race.
“The crossover suits us perfectly. We have the same demographics. NASCAR fans like to see cars being pushed to their limits. Fighters are basically doing the same thing with their bodies every time they step into the cage. It’s a very exciting time for us.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first time an MMA promotion has done something on this scale with such a prominent national sports brand.
“There will be 210,000 fans in Daytona that weekend and we’re going to be right in the middle of it all.”