Professional Fighters League begins the second half of its season next Thursday at the Nassau Coliseum in Garden City, New York. Carlos Silva, the PFL League President, talked with Sherdog about the season so far, what gives the league unique value and other PFL-related topics.
"The core of what we do is always fighters first,” Silva told Sherdog. “It’s not the ‘Professional Fight League,’ It’s the Professional Fighters League. It’s their league too.”
Silva seems to genuinely feel the PFL and its format are more pro-fighter than any other promotion to date. From the league president you would expect to read nothing less, yet he may have a point. The PFL’s configuration is about putting a fighter’s monetary windfall in their own hands. Social media followers and the ability to self-promote will not dictate payouts. In the league’s points-based regular season standings, the only way fighters can maximize their chance to grab the million-dollar prize at the end of the season is by winning -- and winning quickly, as stoppage victories are weighted more heavily than decisions.
"There is no doubt, from PFL 1, to PFL 2, to PFL 3, every single fighter has said 'I want to get points,'" said Silva.
Through the league’s first three events, fighters seem to be taking full advantage of the format to strengthen their chances to reach the playoffs. Over the league’s first 36 fights, 64 percent of them did not go the distance, with 44 percent of the finishes coming by way of KO or TKO.
A high percentage of early finishes was not the only notable story during the first half of the season. Several upset losses for established names have forced pundits to rethink the favorites in several divisions. Well-known combatants including Jake Shields, Marcos Galvao, Eddie Gordon, Ramsey Nijem and Thiago Tavares all lost their season-opening bouts.
"We saw some upsets," Silva said. "If you looked at what the odds makers were looking at, no one really thought Ray Cooper was going to take Jake Shields down."
The league president feels those surprises add value to the format. That, and the roster of fighters Ray Sefo, President of Fighting Operations, and his staff have put together. "Ray [Sefo] and the team have done an amazing job of assembling a great set of 72 fighters," Silva said. "Doesn’t matter who you’re fighting, you’re going to have a tough bout."
Silva is quick to point out that for those fighter who lost their first regular season bout, the window to making the playoffs is far from closed. "All 12 fighters [in each division] are still in the mix to make the top eight for the playoffs," he said. This is precisely why he’s so enthusiastic about what’s to come at the last four events of the season. "I know I’m excited for PFL 4, 5, 6 and 7, because now, these next fights determine whether you get into the playoffs," says Silva.
While eight of the 12 combatants in each division earn a birth to the playoffs, in Silva’s mind, a fighter needs at least two wins to guarantee a tournament berth. That means the intensity to attain valuable points will be high for all the fighters on the roster, not just those coming off of a loss.
"The guys that lost are in a different position than the guys that won," Silva said, "but I can tell you, even for the guys that won, there is no guarantee they have enough points to make it into the top eight."
The points system and standings are a key facet of the format. However, staying healthy while potentially competing five times in seven months will be just as important a narrative throughout the season. So far over three events, the PFL has been able to avoid a rash of injuries from hindering its plans.
"The percentage of healthy fighters is probably a little higher than we [expected]," says Silva. However, not every fighter on the roster got through their bout without injury. Silva admits there are several injuries that may preclude some fighters from competing any further. However, that eventuality was expected and planned for.
"That was all a part of the plan, that if we needed to, there were more than 72 [fighters] ready to go," Silva said, referring to the alternate fighters the league has on hold in case a bout needs a replacement. Silva also feels the PFL’s busy fight schedule has its benefits for the fighters. Since every fighter knows they are scheduled to fight again in the next 45 days, they have more reason to stay on weight, and not balloon up after their first match. This has been made easier as fighters quickly returned to their gyms in preparation for their next bouts. "A lot of them healed up and went right back into a light camp to stay in shape," he said.
Scheduling wasn’t always so smooth, as original plans had the season starting in January, with more regular season bouts. Silva was not too interested in explaining the cause for the delays that frustrated several fighters.
"It’s a thing of the past," he says. However, Silva does claim that the specific timing of the season was a group decision between the league and its broadcasting partners, rather than a determination solely made by the PFL.
"[When] we put the season together, we put together two distribution partners in Facebook and NBC," said Silva, "and in working with [them] it turned out that the season was going to start June 7th."
Before the PFL had its issues with getting the league officially up and running, it went through a much-publicized transition from its predecessor brand, World Series of Fighting. During that transition period, the organization lost two-division champion David Branch as well as homegrown stars Justin Gaethje and Marlon Moraes to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Silva maintains that he and the league hold no ill will towards those fighters for leaving. He claims he still roots for their success and that their departures were a matter of bad timing. "When they left we were still developing and getting the league structure together to launch in 2018," he said.
However, he does think if things had worked out differently, they may have stayed on with the rebranded promotion. "Many of [the fighters who left] would love to be in the PFL right now," Silva said.
With the first half of the season behind them, the focus is on the future -- of this season as well as what’s to come next year. One of the noteworthy moments of the PFL season so far was the MMA debut of two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison at PFL 2 in Washington, D.C. Currently there are no female divisions in the league. However, this won’t stop fans from seeing the legendary judoka compete again soon.
"She’s going to fight again this year," said Silva.
Along with a second fight for Harrison, Silva claims fans should expect an announcement on a women’s division, with Harrison at the forefront, before the year is out.
"We’re looking at all the plans now, and I think between now and the playoffs those plans will come together," he said.
The march towards December 31 and the PFL finals at New York’s Madison Square Garden has four more season stops to make. "PFL 1, 2, and 3 embodied everything about the beginning of a regular season,” said Silva. He believes fighters wanted to jump out to a lead and establish themselves in the standings. “Now you’re going to see how people are going to set themselves up [at PFL] 4, 5, 6 and 7 to make the playoffs.”
The playoffs are the endgame, and in the PFL League President’s view, "Our playoff nights…I think they’re going to be some of the most exciting nights in fighting." Given that the PFL regular season has already provided fans several of the more entertaining fight nights of 2018 so far, he may have good reason to be confident.