On Monday, the Professional Fighters League (PFL) announced a multi-year partnership with ESPN. The signing comes on the heels of PFL’s inaugural 2018 campaign, which saw the crowning of six champions, all of whom are newly-minted millionaires.
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The PFL, formerly the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), was based on one of the earliest forms of MMA promotion: the tournament.
The UFC, now the world’s leading MMA promotion, was founded on the tournament format. Fighters from various disciplines of the martial arts competed to determine whose art would reign supreme.
Over time, the tournament format was left behind by the UFC in favor of targeted matchmaking, grudge matches, and super fights. Other promotions, like PRIDE, would take up the tournament mantle, providing fans with countless memorable moments from bracket-oriented fights.
By 2018, however, most promotions had abandoned tournaments. Yes, there were scattered Grand Prix’s, and yes, several promotions were willing to put a tournament together, but PFL’s emergence reinvigorated the format.
During and after PFL’s inaugural season, Bellator, ONE Championship, KSW, and other promotions all promoted various tournaments across various weight classes.
Bellator put together a Heavyweight Grand Prix, featuring the likes of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, former UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen, former UFC light heavyweight champion “Rampage” Jackson, and former NFL lineman and UFC veteran Matt Mitrione, among others.
Bellator is also in the midst of their Welterweight Grand Prix, which features champion Rory MacDonald, former champion Douglas Lima, former UFC title challenger Jon Fitch, and U.K. striking sensation Michael “Venom” Page, to name a few.
According to Bellator President Scott Coker, the promotion is also targeting a 16-man Featherweight Grand Prix, further showing the widespread appeal and re-acceptance of the tournament format.
ONE Championship, a promotion which has been in the news more often than not of late, is currently running two Grand Prix’s.
ONE has put together a Flyweight Grand Prix, featuring former UFC champion Demetrious Johnson, top prospects Danny Kingad and Yuya Wakamatsu, surging Australian, Reece McLaren; and others.
The Asian promotion is also promoting a Lightweight Grand Prix, which comprises of former UFC champion Eddie Alvarez, Singaporean knockout artist Amir Khan, undefeated Hawaiian Lowen Tynanes, and several other contenders.
KSW, the top Polish promotion in the world, is in the final stages of a Middleweight Grand Prix. Following the retirement of the legendary Mamed Khalidov, KSW put together a four-man bracket to crown a new divisional king. Michał Materla defeated Olympic star Damian Janikowski to face Scott Askham, who bested Marcin Wojcik, in the finals.
Many MMA fans enjoy the tournament format, arguing that it removes the (at times) subjective and arbitrary nature of promotional matchmaking, instead producing a merit-based system for challenging for the title. Tournaments also develop storylines over time, like the star-making campaign of PFL welterweight Ray Cooper III.
With the amount of fan interest in recent tournaments, look for more promotions to put on Grand Prix’s that are sure to excite.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.