PFL CEO Donn Davis compares PFL to UFC, touts ‘we pay better’ and fighters are not ‘under somebody’s thumb’

The PFL has a lot of ambitious plans moving into 2024 but none bigger than a $100 million investment made by SRJ Sports Investments — a company funded by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.

The deal made SRJ minority owners in PFL, but more importantly, the funding will allow the promotion to expand into the Middle East while offering them money to continue pursuing bigger and better talent to fill the coffers inside the organization. The money will also help PFL stay competitive going up against the UFC, which is by far the biggest and most profitable promotion in MMA.

With expansion planned into pay-per-view in 2024 and the money received from SRJ, PFL CEO Donn Davis believes his company has absolutely cemented itself as the No. 2 promotion in MMA and it appears they’re not done chasing the UFC just yet.

“The biggest thing that PFL has done for the MMA industry is create opportunity,” Davis told the Front Office Sports podcast. “Prior to us if you were a fighter, you did not have another premium company to go to other than UFC. Yes, you had options but they didn’t have global distribution, premium pay, the best distribution and brand, great organization to work for until the PFL came along.

“So think of it as you worked in a small company town with no car. You had to take those company options that they gave you. There’s now two companies in that town and you have a car. That’s the analogy I like to give if you’re a fighter today.”

Davis touted two particular advantages that he says PFL holds over the UFC — the most notable being pay but he also pointed out that fighters have more control over their own careers in the tournament style format PFL promotes.

“UFC’s a great company, but PFL is a great company,” Davis said. “We do everything they do and we do some things better. One, we pay better and two, you’re in control in the PFL. You’re not under somebody’s thumb. What you do inside the cage controls your future.

“We’ve never had a fighter leave PFL in five years. We’re not a feeder league. Not one has ever left. When they get here, they go ‘this is fantastic’ and two, we’ve recruited a lot from the other guys. Francis Ngannou being the latest and the biggest. So we think our system of treating athletes fighter first will prove to be the better system long term. But the best thing we can do for the fighter and the industry and our own company is be fighter first and create opportunity.”

As part of the deal with SRJ, PFL has also committed to launching a regional promotion based out of the Middle East and North Africa, which goes hand-in-hand with brands such as PFL Africa and PFL Europe.

Davis believes that kind of talent scouting for the best fighters from around the world is another area where the PFL trumps the UFC.

“UFC doesn’t talk much about this,” Davis said. “They like to just have like Dana [White] pick out people that he thinks fight well. We have a much more systematic and a much more global system than just one guy. We scout about 10,000 fighters around the world. Think of it in baseball terms: You’re scouting single A, AA, AAA and Major League talent. Obviously, the very biggest talent in the world fights in the PFL global league but that’s only 72 fighters a year. That’s it out of 10,000 fighters who can compete at that level.

“The PFL Challengers series, there’s another 100 fighters that can fight in the PFL Challengers series. PFL Europe, PFL Mid-East, PFL Africa, those are regionalized but that’s another level of talent and then obviously we offer developmental contracts underneath that. So we have databases as well as relationships as well as talent scouts globally to try to keep our eye on the ball all the way down to single A baseball around the world with those 10,000 fighters.”

With plans for pay-per-view and global expansion on the docket for 2024, Davis also addressed the possibility that the PFL could grow even bigger by potentially absorbing another major MMA promotion.

There have been rumors flying for months that the PFL may acquire Bellator MMA from Paramount, which would give the promotion a huge influx of talent.

Davis didn’t address Bellator MMA directly but he hinted at what might get PFL interested in acquiring another MMA promotion.

“When you look at other MMA companies, I would focus on the talent and the fighter talent,” Davis said. “That’s really the only thing of value now that PFL has established itself as the clear No. 2 by every metric. We already have premium brand. We already have the best product on TV. We already have global distribution with top media partners in 150 countries. We already have the fastest growing revenue business infrastructure. So no other company offers us anything other than we like fighter talent that exists in some other companies. They’ve acquired some great fighters.

“UFC doesn’t have a monopoly on great fighters. PFL doesn’t have a monopoly on great fighters. Great fighters exist everywhere. Now those great fighters tend roll off contracts every two years so we can acquire them that way but if there were enough fighters that we could acquire at one time, that would be an interesting opportunity.”

Davis seems confident in the PFL business plan even going up against the UFC, especially with this $100 million investment now secured.

“The last five years a lot of people said we love that product, we love that vision — will they have enough money to go up against that big dog UFC?” Davis said. “Well, now we do.”

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