“Our third season has been a tremendous success and showcased how our world-class athletes and season format are attracting new fans,” the MMA exec tells Boardroom ahead of Wednesday’s PFL World Championship.
The combat sports world has long had their eyes on another Canelo Alvarez title fight and the UFC’s return to New York City coming up on the calendar in early November. But make no mistake — this is a gigantic week for mixed martial arts.
And kicking things off Wednesday night is the Professional Fighters League, which wraps up its 2021 season with the PFL World Championship at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
On a card that features the PFL debut of veteran bruiser Julia Budd, the second mixed martial arts bout for boxing superstar Claressa Shields, and million-dollar paydays on the line in a spree of title fights highlighted by Kayla Harrison, Boardroom got set for the action by speaking with the boss himself: PFL CEO Peter Murray.
SAM DUNN: What are your biggest takeaways from this season of PFL?
PETER MURRAY: Our third season has been a tremendous success and showcased how our world-class athletes and unique true-season format are attracting new fans and corporate partners. We’ve seen 100% audience growth in 2021 and added leading brands to our blue-chip sponsor portfolio, most recently Frank’s RedHot, as well as DraftKings, Anheuser-Busch, Bose, and BetMGM.
SD: What kind of MMA fighter is Claressa Shields, and what’s her future in the sport?
PM: Claressa’s desire to become a two-sport world champion simultaneously proves she really is “The GWOAT” – and it takes a fearlessness to transition into MMA to take on competitors who’ve been training for years.
What we saw in her debut in June shows that while she still has skills to develop, her devastating power will make her a dangerous matchup from anyone who steps into the PFL SmartCage with her. We’re excited to see her continued evolution as an MMA fighter, and she’s going to be a force in this sport for a long time.
SD: Part of PFL’s buzz surrounds its “SmartCage” and implementation of analytics into ESPN broadcasts. What innovations do you hope to introduce in the future? Do you consider PFL a technology company?
PM: PFL leverages breakthrough technology and innovations – such as the SmartCage – to deliver MMA 2.0 to fans around the world. As we continue to pioneer the evolution of the sport, it is important to identify ways for us interact with audiences with varying degrees of knowledge.
If you’re really into MMA, our on-screen analytics provides a deeper dive around what is happening in each fight. For those who are newer to the sport, this data leads to a better understanding of what is going on inside the cage and how incredible these athletes truly are.
SD: What would a PFL cross-promotional event look like? What do you think is possible there?
PM: We won’t rule anything out when it comes to future super fights across multiple promotions, and fans will be excited on what we have coming up in 2022.
SD: Who’s a PFL rising star (or two) that perhaps isn’t a household name yet, but has serious breakout potential?
PM: Our roster is loaded with world-class competitors from more than 25 countries around the world, with plans on continuing to build out our talent pool heading into 2022.
At the PFL World Championship, welterweight Ray Cooper III takes on 2018 winner Magomed Magomedkerimov with the chance to follow up on his 2019 title. He put on a great performance against former world champion Rory Macdonald in the semifinals and has an aggressive style that leads to thrilling action inside the PFL SmartCage.
The 2021 PFL World Championship, including six title fights with $1,00,000 prizes, airs Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPN+.