DUBAI: The Professional Fighters League is hoping to create “a Champions League of MMA,” CEO Peter Murray said, the ambition an indication of how far the MMA organization has come since launching in 2018.
It is now the world’s fastest-growing and second-most popular MMA competition after UFC.
And for Murray, it’s just the beginning.
“Our global expansion is well underway. We’ll have six regional leagues up and running between now and 2026. We already have PFL Europe, successfully. Its inaugural season is underway. Our last event in Paris just three weeks ago was the most viewed MMA event on television in France’s history.”
A second regional league is set to launch in 2024.
“That is PFL MENA, in partnership with Surge, our strategic partner on a global and regional basis. (We’re) very excited about the build,” said Murray. “Then towards 2025, we will launch PFL Australia and PFL Africa … And then in 2026, we will launch PFL Brazil and PFL Asia.
“We are in late-stage finalization of strategic partnerships, both in Australia and Africa. What I’m telling you is not an aspiration; it is a global strategy that we are in the process of executing and building.”
The PFL is set to have 34 events in 2024 and within the next three years, over 50 events. The Middle East will be of particular focus for the organization.
“With respect to our partnership with Surge and PFL events and activation within Saudi and the broader Middle East, (we are) very excited about 2024. We have plans to execute pay-per-view regional league events for the PFL MENA league, in addition to possibly hosting our PFL Global Season World Championship in Saudi in 2024.”
“So, we are in the process of finalizing that event calendar … We have the opportunity to stage six to seven events within the region (and) KSA will play a major role. And then, longer-term PFL MENA events will take place throughout the Middle East — Dubai, Abu Dhabi, as well as other major countries where there’s demand for sport and MMA.”
Two Saudi Fighters, Abdullah Al-Qahtani and Mostafa Rashed Neda, are already part of the PFL roster and the organization will look to introduce others from the region in the future.
“It’s part of our vision and strategy,” Murray said. “So (the) PFL MENA roster that we will announce (for) 2024 will have the best fighters from the Middle East, including Saudi fighters competing in our regular season playoff and championship format. We’ll also have women fighters on every card and (will be) developing women in the sport throughout the region, in the Middle East.
“We have a very specific strategy to sign and develop some of the best fighters who are Saudi-based,” he added. “We have a couple of great examples (at) the level of talent that exists within Saudi and the prospects for future champions within the PFL MENA league, as well as a pathway for Saudi fighters to become global champions. So that’s part of the overall strategy. (It’s) a Middle Eastern league. We’ll have the best of the best.”
Murray says PFL will be looking to build a “Saudi ecosystem” by working with Saudi combat and Olympic federations, launching grassroots events, and bringing high-profile resources on the training and coaching side to the Kingdom.
“We’re excited about that,” he said. “And when you see the likes of Al-Qahtani, who is now 7-1, he won his debut bout with PFL. It was an impressive submission. He secured a second victory just this past August. He’s improving in each event. So, we’re excited about what we see in our Al-Qahtani — his athleticism, his commitment, his skill in the cage. And he’s got a great personality and story.”
PFL hopes to engage MMA fans by sharing the emotional stories of regional fighters, as well as the sporting ones.
“These athletes are very inspirational to other athletes in Saudi,” said Murray. “PFL is paving the way, but equally, the early-stage athletes that we are signing and developing within Saudi are also paving the way and are inspirational to the ecosystem in those top gyms around the country.”
The organization’s league format aims to revolutionize and professionalize MMA for the benefit of the athletes themselves, giving them opportunities to compete against top talent on major media platforms and work their way up to regional and global championships.
“Then, ultimately, the opportunity to … make their way to the PFL global season and perhaps even pay-per-view,” Murray said.
“So essentially, creating the Champions League of MMA,” he said.
“Why this is compelling to the top fighters throughout the world, including the best of MMA athletes throughout the Middle East, is (that) today, there’s absolutely no system to support these athletes professionally …
“Hope is the athlete strategy today. PFL is changing that.”