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Boardroom Q&A: PFL Chairman Donn Davis on Signing Jake Paul and Building a ‘Super Fight’ Division

The PFL exec discusses recruiting Jake Paul to build out the “PPV Super Fight” project and continuing to shake up the MMA formula stylistically, financially, and beyond.

What makes a “super fight,” anyway? It’s a term often thrown around in combat sports with a frequency that risks diluting its OG meaning, but it ought to come down to a throwdown featuring fundamental components: (1) A pair of legit stars, (2) a major stage with major television distribution, and (3) a significant bag of cash on the line.

In all three respects, co-founder and Chairman Donn Davis of the Professional Fighters League likes what’s in store in 2023 and beyond.

Earlier this month, the PFL announced an exclusive deal with viral video star turned pro boxer and fight promoter Jake Paul to build its PPV Super Fight Division, which will empower the young gun to wear varying hats as an athlete, recruiter, and marketer. And even if you’re already up to speed on the nuts and bolts of the Super Fight project, we thought it made all the sense in the world to speak with one of the MMA industry’s prime movers to get the best possible lay of the land.

The following is Boardroom’s conversation with Donn Davis, edited for length and clarity.

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RORY ROBINSON: When did the PFL get the idea to give fighters a 50% revenue share for fighters, and how long did it take to get Jake Paul involved?

DONN DAVIS: I founded PFL as a fighter-first organization, and the first thing we did with the sports season format was put the control in the athletes’ hands. In the PFL, If you win, you advance. It’s like March Madness in college basketball, win in advance, lose and go home. That’s the sports season format of PFL.

In the UFC, fighters are not in control. [UFC President] Dana White decides who’s fighting and in what order. So the first thing we did in the PFL to make it fighter-first and athlete-centric is control. Win four times each season? You become the champion. So it’s a true meritocracy.

Building on that fighter-first culture, we said, ‘what is the way to empower fighters when we launch our pay-per-view division?’ Well, that’s to make them true economic partners in their pay-per-view fights. It’s no secret how unhappy the world’s top dozen pay-per-view star-level fighters are. What’s the biggest thing? They want a bigger share of the revenue.

So, my view when launching the Pay-per-view Super Fight Division at PFL was the best thing we could do to empower fighters and the biggest thing we could do to provide them “OP 50” true economic share and make them true partners in their fights.

RR: From the beginning, was Jake Paul involved? Or did the PFL have the idea first and then decide to bring him on board?

DD: We started talking last spring with Jake. We saw an alignment of vision of opportunity and partnership for fighters.

We’ve talked over the last six months. We said, ‘Jake, a lot of what you’re saying in terms of financial 50-50 partnership is how we wanna launch our pay-per-view division. How we wanna operate our pay-per-view division.’ Why don’t you become the first fighter? Why don’t you become a first signee to the PFL pay-per-view Super Fight Division? And more than that, you can make a lot of money on your own, but why don’t you help make money for other fighters? Why don’t you also promote and create content market using your platforms for this new division?’ And that’s how it came together.

RR: Jake has been appointed the role of Head of Fighter Advocacy. What does that position entail?

DD: The real focus is how we raise the PFL brand. How do we raise the fight event awareness and better promote and market all fights for all fighters in the PFL Super Fight division?

Jake’s gonna help us do that. We already have an excellent infrastructure, expertise, and distribution at PFL, but how do we add more? Jake has unique content, special creativity, and great promotional abilities. He’s proven that. And so he’s gonna help bring that secret sauce to all the fights in the Pay-per-view Super Fight Division.

RR: 50% revenue share is very enticing to fighters. Will we see fighters jump between the PPV series and the traditional PFL season structure?

DD: These are separate entities in that the Pay-per-view Super Fights will happen outside of the league season. The league season runs from April to November each year. 10 events, regular season playoff, and championship where we crown a winner each year.

We have a month’s break in the middle of that season, two months after, and two months before that season. So we have five months a year where we’ll have the opportunity for Pay-per-view Super Fights — standalone, big pay-per-views separate from the league season. Our first woman signed to the Pay-per-view Super Fight Division is Kayla Harrison; Jake is the first male fighter. She’s a top-10 woman in the world. She’s top-10 in interest, storyline, journey, and fans, so she has essentially graduated in terms of she’s now fighting on the biggest stage in the Super Fight Division.

RR: Which type of fighter is PFL seeking for the PPV Super Fight Division? Is this reserved exclusively for just the top fighters in the world, or can we expect to see more digital influencer types like Jake?

DD: At PFL, we always start with the fan first. We’ve had the best, most modern, most disruptive, and most interesting video product because we start with the fan first. What would the fan of MMA and the fan of sport wanna see? So we think that’s the question that we always are going to think about in terms of matchups.

There’ll be great fights between the top-ranked superstar fighters, and there are great fights to be had by crossover fighters who are perhaps not core MMA fighters. We think both are potentially super interesting in this division. What’s great is PFL is now the home where those like Jake Paul, who has started in another area, and entertainment discipline, will find their home in PFL.

They’re not welcome in other places. Dana (White)’s made that clear. If they are serious about fighting and have a big, big, global fan base. They have a home at PFL in the Super Fight Division, as well as the top 10 rank fighters in the world.

RR: With historic revenue shares, fans assume that the PFL will have to cut costs to make this happen. Can we expect to see Super Fight Division matchups at big-time venues around the country with the same production values?

DD: The PFL Pay-per-view Super Fights will be bigger, more entertaining, and more spectacular than the PFL League season fights. We are investing more in production, entertainment, and showmanship. So fans will be surprised and delighted at how we reinvent the pay-per-view show in MMA when they see our first fight.

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