PFL CEO on UFC: ‘Room for More Than One Leader’

Kayla Harrison, Mike Tyson and Peter Murray

PFL PFL's Kayla Harrison and Peter Murray with Mike Tyson.

Professional Fighters League (PFL) CEO Peter Murray believes there’s room at the top of the pyramid for more than just one premier MMA promotional company in the world. Murray revealed to Heavy that the company’s 2020 strategy is entirely built around the idea that the PFL is here to stay and that the sport-season format it offers, along with how it presents its fighters the chance to compete for $1,000,000 championships in each weight class every season, would soon turn the company into one of the industry’s leaders alongside the UFC.

“There’s so much room for more than one leader in this sport,” Murray said. “We’re focusing on our opportunity with the PFL, but as we look at the marketplace of 450 million fans, it’s quite simple: We’re not asking fans to choose one organization over another.”

Murray’s example of how much more content the global MMA fanbase around the world could potentially consume if given the chance was what he’s seen in basketball. Where that fanbase is offered around 6,000 events in total between NBA and top-level college basketball games, Murray said the UFC, Bellator and PFL only combine right now to give MMA fans around 100 events per year.

So Murray and his cohorts over at the PFL offices believe there’s plenty of opportunity in the sport, and that the race is essentially on to fill the void that exists for rabid MMA fans who want premium MMA fights and content.

“We’re going after a very rabid fanbase,” Murray said. “Those rabid fans of MMA…want more MMA content.”

Judging by the rapid-fire events the UFC has produced over the last year with its television partner ESPN as well as how its audience has remained one of the biggest and most engaged compared to other sports, even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Murray seems to be on the right track.

PFL Stands Out

But knowing what an audience wants and actually creating something that will catch and keep them is another matter entirely.

The PFL’s approach is unique in how it attempts to take the best of combat sports and marry it with what works for other sports.

“The promotion based format, we believe, is broken,” Murray said.

So instead of running individual promotions for each fight card the way the UFC and virtually all other MMA and boxing promoters run their shows, the PFL is all about shoving the world of combat sports into the sports season format that works for the likes of the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB.

The reason? Murray said the PFL wants to improve the MMA world not simply copy what others have done.

“Why not make it better?” Murray asked.

PFL’s Format Benefits Fans and Fighters

Murray said the PFL’s season format, which already enjoyed two wildly successful years before the pandemic postponed the planned 2020 season, was something that benefits both fans and fighters.

For mainstream sports fans, in particular, it turns what’s usually a difficult transition into the topsy-turvy world of combat sports into something much less hard to grasp.

“We dialed in on what works in other sports, and we have the credibility and authenticity with MMA with great fighters and an incredible presentation and production value,” Murray said. “But when you overlay a true sports season format, broader sports fans will understand how that works. It’s programmatic. There’s a beginning, middle and end.”

As for the fighters, the PFL’s format would seem to remove the favoritism often seen in other promotions where fighters with larger fanbases or long histories with the top executives are given special privileges other fighters don’t get.

In the PFL, for example, fighters coming off two losses don’t get title shots.

“For the fighters, it’s all about merit,” Murray said. “It’s performance-based. It really speaks to most fighters’ competitive drive.”

Those things combine to create a fun product more people can enjoy and understand right from the start.

“It’s a meritocracy,” Murray said. “If you win, you advance. If you lose, you go home. There’s drama in that.”

PFL Returns in 2021

The PFL returns in 2021 after thoughtfully canceling the current season.

Murray laid out the main reasons for the company’s decision to go against the grain in comparison to the various other MMA and boxing promoters in the world who all rushed back as soon as they could during the ongoing pandemic.

“There were two guiding principles to the decision,” Murray said. “First, the safety of our fighters and operational staff.”

To help fighters during the pandemic, the PFL did things like offer monthly stipends to its roster, and it even let Clay Collard pursue his current run as a professional boxer across the aisle with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Promotions.

But the other thing they did was also important.

“Secondly, from a business perspective, we’ve had so much success over two short years where we executed two seasons with great results, and we thought anything short of a full season format did not make sense for us,” Murray said.

While Murray admitted there was some contemplation about shortened seasons and one-off events, the PFL ultimately made the move to postpone its season until next year.

Again, that’s the kind of thinking that indicates the PFL is looking at its place in the MMA community as something that will continue to grow over time. This isn’t a fly-by-night operation looking to make a few bucks before things fall apart and everyone involved moves on to other things. This is a group of seriously successful people backed by a long list of accomplished investors and advisors who know how to grow businesses over time and are committed to doing so here.

“We are committed to growing the sport, doing it with distinction and obviously scaling the PFL,” Murray said. “We’re well on our way on to many metrics. Globally, we’re the No. 2 MMA organization in the world…in a very short time.”

So Murray said the PFL is here to stay, and that someday soon it will be just as popular, profitable and established as the UFC. While there are a tremendous amount of components that go into such a grand endeavor, Murray said it all boiled down to something simple.

“We focus relentlessly on the product, delivering a quality and innovative product for a fanbase which is now 450 million strong who are craving for access to premium MMA,” Murray said. “They have room to consume more than is being presented to them today, we’re going to fill that void.”

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