The UFC may be synonymous with MMA, but it’s far from the only organization promoting mixed martial arts fights. The Ultimate Fighting Championship put MMA on the map. It developed MMA into a mainstream attraction – thus paving the way for all other organizations. One of those rising competitors is the Professional Fighter League or PFL.
The main difference between the two is that the UFC operates on a year-round event-based schedule, while the PFL uses a season-based schedule, including a regular season, playoffs, finals, and post-season, much like other major league sports in the USA.
But how does this affect fighter pay and the popularity of the competition compared to the UFC?
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The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the world’s largest and most well-known MMA organization. Their first event was held in 1993 and was a one-night tournament with no weight classes and barely any rules, advertised as a no-holds-barred competition. The aim was to test the age-old question in martial arts: which system is the best.
The UFC went through quite an evolution in the next 10 years. They gradually added more rules, including the MMA gloves, timed rounds, and weight classes. In time, the UFC created the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, which today are followed by all athletic commissions in the USA and most of the world.
In the mid-2000s, the UFC exploded in popularity with the massive success of the first Ultimate Fighter season. In 2006, pay-per-view numbers exploded and continued to grow in the next few years.
The rise of the UFC turned MMA from a niche sport banned in many states into a respectable athletic competition with a vast mainstream reach. After acquiring its top competitors like Pride DC and WEC, the terms “UFC” and “MMA” became interchangeable at one point.
The UFC remains the world’s premier organization. With a few notable exceptions, the best fighters on the planet fight inside the UFC. This is where every aspiring prospect wants to end up.
However, there is top talent in other places, and the sport’s growing popularity generates a lot of money, allowing other organizations to compete with the UFC.
What Is The PFL?
One of those competitors is the Professional Fighters League. Where other organizations like Bellator aim at the same segment as the UFC, the PFL makes its place under the sun alongside the UFC.
The PFL is a very young organization with only 3 seasons under its belt, but it’s already gathering a decent following. The organization was founded in 2018 with the acquisition of the former WSOF, which you may be familiar with.
Unlike all other MMA organizations, the PFL operates in a very familiar format to American audiences—a season, post-season, and a championship—just like all the major leagues like the NFL and NBA work.
Despite this significant difference, the action inside the cage is typical of an MMA fight. What stands out is that the season format brings fairness to matchmaking, which can sometimes be lacking in the UFC. Every fighter is treated equally in this format, and progression is evident.
This is not the case in the UFC, where popular fighters frequently get favorable matchups or completely disregard the rankings based on their pay-per-view potential.
Now let’s see the main differences between the UFC and the PFL in more detail.
We’ll start with the most apparent distinction: the format of the promotions. Throughout the year, the UFC hosts dozens of events, which are classified into a few categories based primarily on the star power on the fight card.
Fight cards are designed to attract the largest possible audience based on the significance of the event and the location in which it is held.
There are rankings for each weight class, but the UFC decides the order, and fights are not always arranged according to the rankings. The frequency in which fighters fight can also vary greatly, even without injuries.
Some fighters can go to up to 5 fights per year, and others may get inside the octagon just once. This type of matchmaking creates great interest in the audience and produces genuinely spectacular events and fights. But it also forces some fighters to adopt fake personas and create artificial dramas to earn more money.
The PFL follows a strict sports-season format where every fighter has two fights per season and earns points in each fight. The winner is awarded 3 points. In the case of a draw, both fighters earn 1 point, and the loser doesn’t get anything.
Additional points are awarded if the fight is won by knockout or submission, depending on the round the fight is stopped, incentivizing fighters to look for the finish.
Each fighter is seeded according to his total points, and the first 4 in each weight division advance to the playoffs. They are a single-elimination affair leading to the PFL championship, which crowns the champion in each weight class.
This clear-cut system has much more sportsmanship, and each fighter gets the same chance to show his actual skills, regardless of how popular he is.
Both formats have their qualities and bring a different flavor of entertainment. This is why the PFL is not so much a direct competitor of the UFC, but it looks to operate alongside it.
Undoubtedly, the UFC boasts the most extensive and baddest roster in all of MMA. With a few exceptions, the best MMA fighters on the planet fight in the UFC while in their prime.
On top of that, the roster is huge. The number is not set as fighters are signed and released constantly but range between 600 and 700.
The PFL is relatively modest compared to its 90 fighters currently active in the 2022 season. While it lacks the star power of the UFC, the PFL has had some well-known fighters fight in their cage, including Rory McDonald, Anthony Pettis, Fabricio Werdum, and Claressa Shields.
The rules in both organizations are almost identical. They use the Unified Rules of MMA, and the respective state Athletic Commission governs events in the USA. The only difference is that in the PFL, elbow strikes are banned.
Since the first UFC event, fights have been held in their patented octagonal cage called the Octagon. The regular size Octagon is 30 feet across on the inside. Still, a smaller 25-foot one is used for fights hosted in the UFC’s own facility, the Apex.
The PFL cage is similar, but it has 10 sides, and it’s called the SmartCage. The name comes not from its shape but from the cutting-edge technologies used in real-time to capture, track, and measure different fight metrics related to the fans and media in real-time.
These real-time stats, such as the number and speed of punches and kicks landed, set PFL apart from other MMA promotions in terms of presentation.
Fighter pay has been a hot topic in the UFC for years. Fighters are notoriously underpaid in comparison with other major league athletes. While NBA and NFL players get roughly 50% of the league’s overall revenue, UFC fighters are allocated around 20-25% of the UFC purse.
With that said, top fighters who draw a lot of pay-per-view buys get some serious cash. The likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Connor McGregor, Israel Adesanya, and GSP earn millions each time they fight.
PFL salaries are not that different when we take out the biggest UFC stars. In the recent 2022 three-event run in Atlanta, of the 60 fighters that fought, 7 made six-figure paychecks, with Anthony Pettis leading the table with $750,000 and a few others earning around $200,000.
The lower echelons are paid much less for their efforts, and some fighters take home only around 10-15K.
The considerable difference in the roster is naturally represented in the number of available weight classes. The UFC has 8 weight classes for men and 4 for women.
- Heavyweight: 265 lb (120.2 kg)- Men
- Light Heavyweight: 205 lb (102.1 kg)- Men
- Middleweight: 185 lb (83.9 kg)- Men
- Welterweight: 170 lb (77.1 kg)- Men
- Lightweight: 155 lb (70.3 kg)-Men
- Featherweight: 145 lb (65.8 kg)- Men and women
- Bantamweight: 135 lb (61.2 kg)- Men and women
- Flyweight: 125 lb (56.7 kg)- Men and women
- Strawweight: 115 lb (52.5 kg)- Women
The PFL has fewer weight divisions. They are Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, Light Heavyweight, and heavyweight for the men, as well as a women’s lightweight division.
Organizations like Bellator and now the PFL managed to grab some former UFC champions and build their own talent. With their star power, they gained a good following. In 2022, PFl inked a multi-year deal with ESPN, which gives them quite the reach amongst sports fans.
That, coupled with the familiar sports season format and live metrics, will surely earn them a good following without being in direct competition with the UFC.
Is PFL Better Than The UFC?
The UFC remains the best MMA organization. The PFL does many things right, and their format can bring better results regarding fairness toward fighters and predictability for fans. The smart systems and stats display during the fights and in the PFL database are also a good addition that other major sports have.
But the PFL is only in its 4th season. At the same time, the UFC has nearly 30 years of events, recognition, and appreciation from the fans.
Furthermore, while the UFC’s matchmaking policy and commercial goal may not be fair to all fighters, it does produce some incredible rivalries and battles that I believe cannot be achieved otherwise.
The PFL has an excellent idea and hopefully will continue to develop and gather support and appreciation. But for pure entertainment value for fight fans, the UFC is still the one true king.
Both the UFC and PFL organize MMA fights under the same rules. The main difference between the two is that the UFC has an event-based schedule, while the PFL operates in a season format resembling major league sports in the USA. Both have advantages and shortcomings, providing a different flavor for MMA fans.