Professional Fighters League President Carlos Silva. Photo: PFL
With its regular season in the books, the Professional Fighters League is primed for a big October.
The first ever PFL playoffs will take place over a trio of events in three different corners of the country. As the league marches towards its finals in New York on New Year’s Eve, league president Carlos Silva is proud of what has happened so far over seven cards and is excited for what’s to come.
When World Series of Fighting was re-branded as PFL and a new format announced, there certainly was some pessimism throughout the industry on the success of this new venture. Silva is the first to admit that.
“No one knew how the regular season was going to work out,” he told Sherdog. However, with a 70-percent finish rate over seven events, interest in the new league steadily increased throughout the calendar.
“I think the regular season exceeded our expectations,” Silva said. “What you see on social is everyone thinks it’s cool. They like the standings [and] that there’s bracketed playoffs.”
Although the brand is new to the MMA lexicon, the men leading the league are not. Silva and Ray Sefo, president of fighting operations, are veterans of the industry and have had their fair share of success and failure leading WSOF.
“Part of the beauty of the PFL is this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve been around for six years [as WSOF],” Silva said.
Their previous work is important because as the PFL helped to produce news stars like Ray Cooper III to the MMA audience, they had already developed several former WSOF champions to anchor the league from its inception. With established names like Andre Harrison and Lance Palmer, new stars and the reemergence of veterans like Steven Siler and Vinny Magalhaes, Silva is proud of the roster they’ve put together and the playoff matchups that are to come.
“I think everybody showed that when you have a format -- with points and a system -- fighters understand and they showed their best,” said Silva.
Those brackets include a format featuring Siler attempting to back up his No. 1 seed at featherweight, seeing if Will Brooks can regain the form he once showed as the Bellator MMA lightweight champion and a highly anticipated rematch between Cooper and Jake Shields. Shields lost the first confrontation decisively at PFL 3. The 19-year veteran of 44 bouts barely made the playoffs and will immediately get a chance at redemption. It is a fight that has Silva’s attention.
“The storyline is fascinating,” said Silva, who pointed out that just like other pro leagues, familiar matchups in the season don’t historically get similar results in the playoffs. Lower-seeds often shine when the lights are brightest and legends are anointed by what they do when the stakes are at their highest, such as baseball icon Reggie Jackson, who earned the nickname “Mr. October” by saving his best for the MLB playoffs.
“It doesn’t matter what happened in the regular season,” said Silva.
If Sherdog metrics are any indicator, the season has generally been viewed positively by fans. That doesn’t mean it was flawless. One issue that struck on more than one occasion, although certainly not exclusively to the PFL, was fighters missing weight.
“There are rules and regulations [in the PFL] like any other league,” declared Silva. “Missing weight we take very serious at the PFL.”
In each division there is a ninth and 10th seed ready to step into any slot that may open up if a fighter can’t make their designated weight.
“You miss weight in the playoffs, you will be replaced. No questions asked, no negotiations,” Silva stated.
Money is a major factor in any enterprise, especially one that plans to hand out checks with such substantial amounts all at once. In August the league made headlines as they received a $28 million influx of investment from celebrities like Kevin Hart, Tony Robbins and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.
“We’re really excited to have them on board,” Silva said. “It gives us the ability to continue to grow in 2019 [and] to continue to bring on some of the best fighters in the world.”
Proof of that growth came in the form of the recently announced 155-pound women’s division the PFL will debut in 2019. The league will be the first to have a fully-formed lightweight women’s class. Despite divisions like flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight being established in women’s MMA long ago, Silva and the staff chose lightweight based on the idea of putting fighter health first. Cutting less weight was something division anchor Kayla Harrison and other possible future signings supported.
“It’s always nice to be the first, but some of it was we thought it was the right weight division to launch right now. And certainly, with Kayla [Harrison] anchoring that division,” said Silva.
PFL 8 takes place Oct. 5 at the Ernest M. Memorial Convention Center. It will feature the quarterfinals and semifinals in the featherweight and heavyweight divisions. It will air live on NBC Sports.