Mike Tyson: ‘I would not bet against’ Professional Fighters League

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The Professional Fighters League (PFL) is boosting its global presence with the debut of its second international league. 

The five-year-old league touted that PFL MENA will become the preeminent MMA league in the Middle East when it launches in April 2024 thanks to an initiative with SRJ Sports Investments. SRJ, which acquired a minority equity ownership stake in PFL last year, became an investor in a new regional league. 

Even though it’s still in its infancy, the PFL has been making hefty investments over the past year to cement itself as a household name, including acquiring rival Bellator in November and subsequently tripling its number of top 25 ranked fighters. 

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Now, it’s seeking to attract an even wider audience in the Middle East. It’s just one of many steps it’s taking to become a global leader in the sport, which has long been dominated by the UFC. 

PFL owner Donn Davis told FOX Business that there is a significant amount of pent-up demand for MMA globally, and they’re seeking to capitalize on it. For one, of the 650 million MMA fans, 80% are not in the U.S., Davis said. Additionally, 50% of the MMA revenue is not in the U.S. 

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PFL accounts for one-third of UFC’s global audience. 

“So we want to be extra aggressive because there’s much more demand,” Davis said.

The UFC does one or two shows per year in a market like the Middle East and leaves, Davis said. With PFL MENA, Davis said they are developing a yearslong presence in the region. The league will include four events in the first year, followed by additional mega-events. 

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“There’s so much pent-up demand for MMA around the world, and we’re here to really serve that by being more systematic with more events and [in] more of these big regions around the world,” Davis added.

As the company sets its sights on expansion, it’s been gaining the attention of heavy hitters in the industry including UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and Mike Tyson, who has been regarded as one of the best heavyweight boxers.

Mike Tyson

“I know the PFL guys, and they are smart and aggressive,” Tyson, an ambassador of the league, told FOX Business. “I would not bet against them.” 

He further insisted “that the PFL now has fighters as good as the UFC.”

Davis acknowledged that the UFC brand is much more well-known and that “the industry is only here because of what they did.” Still, the PFL is working to distinguish itself with its own format and SmartCage technology. It is also giving 50% of the revenue from PPV events as part of its PFL PPV Super Fights division.

The PFL, which reached a $500 million valuation in its last round of funding, was founded by Davis in 2017 and is backed by high-profile investors including Ares Capital, Luxor Capital and Elysian Park Ventures.

In 2018, it became the first and only league to present MMA in a true-season format with a regular season, playoffs and world championships. Today, it’s set its sights on becoming the “Champions League of MMA” around the world. 

“I’ve the utmost respect for UFC because they built MMA 1.0 but what we’re doing in this next evolution of MMA is what we believe [is] 2.0,” Davis said. “It is more global and it is [a] sports season meritocracy.” 

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PFL fights are already broadcast in 160 countries with fighters from 30 countries around the world. Last fall, it launched its first pay-per-view on ESPN+, underscoring its legitimacy in the sport. 

Its first international league, PFL Europe, debuted last year with the four-event sports-season format. The first event, according to Davis, sold out within two hours and the last one was the “highest viewed event in France, more than UFC, in history.” 

The PFL plans to launch and develop six international regional leagues by 2026. PFL Africa will debut in the spring of 2025. 

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