What’s Gone Right for the Professional Fighters League

By Pressley Nietering Jul 19, 2018

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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The Professional Fighters League on Thursday returns to New York for its fourth event of the 2018 regular season. It features featherweights and heavyweights at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale.

The PFL is not just another run-of-the-mill MMA promotion -- a problem it experienced in its previous iteration as the World Series of Fighting -- as it has introduced a novel playoff system in which fighters accumulate points based on wins and finishes during the season. The top eight fighters in each weight class are then seeded and bracketed in a traditional tournament format. It serves as an interesting hook and separates the Professional Fighters League from other organizations.

As with any new promotion, there have been bumps in the road. However, there is a lot to like about the PFL. Here are some of the positives through three events:

REAL-DEAL POTENTIAL: The Professional Fighters League seems dead-set on making two-time gold medalist Kayla Harrison a featured part of its second season. While the company could run into problems in creating a division for her, the American judoka’s MMA debut could not have gone better. Sure, she faced an opponent with a 3-4 record who had not fought outside of the regional circuit, but Harrison did what she was expected to do and submitted Brittney Elkin in the first round. After one fight, her future remains as bright as ever.

A WORKING MERITOCRACY: There was concern prior to the 2018 season that prohibitive favorites would run through the competition, thus eliminating plausible doubt and suspense. Through three events, that has not been the case. Jake Shields, Abubakar Nurmagomedov, Jason High and Eddie Gordon -- all favored to do well in the PFL format -- have fallen to less-heralded opponents. If any of them lose their next fight, chances are good they will not qualify for the playoffs. That would be the ultimate sign that the PFL format is working.

HIGH FINISH RATE: The PFL system was designed to encourage the pursuit of finishes by awarding additional points to winners based on stoppages and the round in which they occur. Whether by design or due to mismatches, the first three events have produced a high rate of finishes. So far, roughly 71 percent of the fights have ended in a knockout, technical knockout or submission.

REF CAM: Referee cameras were a staple of Pride Fighting Championships but have since fallen out of favor. That is a real shame, as they offer fans a different perspective of what goes on inside the cage. Technology has also vastly improved, leading to smaller cameras that can retain their clarity. The Professional Fighters League has brought those cameras back, and MMA is better for it. While it remains a bit jarring when the production crew switches to a referee camera mid-fight, they work wonders for highlights and replays.

ROUTINE: Bellator MMA staged events on back-to-back days, July 13-14, but will be off the grid until Aug. 17. Most of its cards fall on Fridays, though a few “tentpole” events go down on Saturdays. That leads to confusion for some of us. I have to set a reminder on my phone for Bellator shows, which says a lot about me and the Scott Coker-led promotion. The Ultimate Fighting Championship runs a fairly stable schedule, with the majority of its events occurring on Saturdays. However, the UFC takes random weekends off and throws in the occasional Friday or Sunday offering. There is something to be said for the PFL’s slate, with events every other Thursday, minus a few exceptions. The regular schedule allows viewers to plan, while staging events on Thursdays means fans do not have to choose between the Professional Fighters League and other MMA organizations.

FAST PACING: The PFL runs shows about as quickly as cable television will allow. While its shows never quite reach the speed of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series on UFC Fight Pass, they certainly beat the glacially slow pacing of recent UFC Fight Night events on Fox Sports 1 and Bellator cards on Paramount. After fights, winners are interviewed quickly by commentator Bas Rutten before a quick promo introduces the competitors ahead of the next bout. Get them in and get them done, just the way fans want.

ATTENDANCE: One of the concerns entering the 2018 season was whether or not enough fans would attend an MMA event on a Thursday. In a stroke of genius, ticket prices were slashed to as low as $5 for the first three PFL events. While the moves have not yet equated to a packed house, there have been enough attendees to create a strong atmosphere. To my knowledge, the PFL has also managed to avoid volleyball being played on the other side of an arena -- a dilemma the WSOF infamously ran into. It really is the little things that count when building a mixed martial arts promotion.

Pressley Nietering is a third-year student at Clemson University.
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