The PPV business is a terribly difficult one. Even in the boxing and pro wrestling worlds, promotions often struggle to attract viewers for what seem to be high profile, high-stakes events. At any given moment, there are a handful of stars capable of carrying a PPV card, and many other great athletes who just simply can’t. Nowhere does that fact seem to be more true, however, than in the MMA world.
Mixed Martial Arts has been a PPV-based entertainment product since its modern North American inception way back in 1993. Over 30-years and hundreds of PPV events, however, only one US promotion has ever managed to be a consistent money maker under that business model: The UFC. All others who have tried have resoundingly failed.
UFC ‘rival,’ PFL set for next PPV event
The next promotion all set to deliver dismal PPV numbers is the Professional Fighter’s League. Once branded the ‘World Series of Fighting’, the PFL has positioned itself as a power player in the modern MMA market with a number of high profile investors, a deal to air alongside the UFC on ESPN+, and regular $1 million tournaments—providing real free agency competition against the UFC for name talents looking to explore their options.
They’ve also put on one PPV event so far in their history, the 2022 finale card, featuring a trilogy fight between Larissa Pacheco and former Judo Olympian Kayla Harrison. That bout was one of six title fights to take place that night, marking the end of the PFL’s tournaments for the year. While no numbers for the total buys on that card were ever released, anything over 50,000 would have been quite a shock.
“Everybody was happy with it,” PFL president Ray Sefo said of the buy-rate shortly after the event. “You’ve got to start somewhere, and we were happy with the outcome of the whole show. ESPN was truly happy with the show, so if they’re happy, we’re happy.”
Whatever the numbers might have been, they must have been enough not to stymie the promotion’s ambitions, because here it is 2023, and the PFL is gearing up for another PPV that nobody wants.
Headlining the whole thing is former Ultimate Fighter Nations finalist and 2022 tournament winner Olivier Aubin-Mercier, taking on former UFC washout and surprisingly successful boxing talent Clay Collard in the lightweight finale. They’ll be joined by heavyweight finalists Renan Ferreira & Denis Goltsov, as well as women’s featherweight finalists Larissa Pacheco vs. Marina Mokhnatkina. A superfight between former PFL tournament champion Kayla Harrison and former Bellator champion Julia Budd is also planned for the event.
The whole thing takes place on November 24th, starting at 5pm Eastern. Here’s a look at the full card as it currently stands:
ESPN+ PPV MAIN CARD
- Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Clay Collard
- Renan Ferreira vs. Denis Goltsov
- Larissa Pacheco vs. Marina Mokhnatkina
- Kayla Harrison vs. Julia Budd
- Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Sadibou Sy
- Jesus Pinedo vs. Gabriel Alves Braga
- Josh Silveira vs. Impa Kasanganay
- Biaggio Ali Walsh vs. Joel Galarza Lopez
- Bubba Jenkins vs. Chris Wade
- Phil Caracappa vs. Khai Wu
- Jesse Stirn vs. Josh Blyden
Bloody Elbow merch now available
Bloody Elbow is pleased to announce our partnership with Revgear. They have been a pioneer in the MMA gear industry and have grown into a formidable brand and true leader in the market. Revgear now have Bloody Elbow t-shirts, hoodies and hats so you can show your support for independent MMA journalism.
While the event has its share of former tournament winners from years past, there’s little in the way of star power to justify what will likely by $50 price tag (last year’s PPV cost $49.99). Fans who do pony up the dough, however will at least get their money’s worth in quantity for what it lacks in quality. Of the main card’s seven bouts, six are 5-round title fights. With potential commercial breaks, shoulder programming, walkouts and post fight speeches, fans could easily be looking at a 5-7 hour main card if most of the bouts go the distance.
PFL has other plans for the future
If all this seems like a poor way to go about selling fights, it should be noted that the PFL does appear to have other plans going forward in the future. Most notably, of course, the promotion landed a massive contract with free agent UFC champion Francis Ngannou. Ngannou will compete exclusively for the ‘Superfight’ division of the PFL, meaning that all of his fights under their banner will take place on PPV.
Likewise, the PFL has inked a contract with celebrity boxing superstar Jake Paul. A move that may very well see the promotion host an MMA rematch between Paul and former UFC title contender Nate Diaz. Paul and Diaz recently met inside the boxing ring, selling a reported 500,000 buys for their fight back in August. Alongside the reported signing of women’s boxing star Amanda Serrano, there’s at least some evidence that when the PFL returns to PPV in 2024 they’ll be doing so with some true headlining talent secured.
The other piece to this puzzle, of course, are persistent rumors that the PFL are on the verge of buying out Paramount Global-owned MMA promotion Bellator. Long considered the No. 2 promotion in the US, Bellator has struggled for more than a decade now to find any consistent audience with American MMA fans. Initially partnered with MTV, Bellator eventually moved to Spike TV (later rebranded as the Paramount Network), before announcing their move to Showtime in 2023. Rumors currently have the promotion valued at $500 million.
If that sale goes through, then the PFL might just have enough of the right kind of talent to put on a few successful PPV events. Not enough to match the UFC’s dominance in the market, but even the ability to play a strong second fiddle would be a seismic shift in the post-Strikeforce MMA world.
Join the new Bloody Elbow
Our Substack is where we feature the work of writers like Zach Arnold, John Nash and Connor Reubusch. We’re fighting for the sport, the fighters and the fans. Please help us by subscribing today.
About the author