Jake Paul & Francis Ngannou: How the PFL can compete with the UFC
By: Ethan Hill
Jan. 29, 2023
Since the sport’s rise to mainstream popularity, MMA has been dominated by the UFC in terms of popularity, talent, and revenue. However, in the early stages of 2023, another MMA promotion has demonstrated an eagerness to compete with the UFC: The Professional Fighters League (PFL). Launched in 2018, the PFL is entering 2023 with an onslaught of new talent, star power, and mainstream attention.
Photo Credit: Associated Press
While the PFL took a hit late in 2022 after star athlete Kayla Harrison suffered her first loss, the promotion has quickly rebounded with the signing and booking of a fight between talented ex-UFC fighters, Shane Burgos and Marlon Moraes. This momentum has continued into the new year, as the promotion announced on Jan. 5 that it had signed social media superstar and boxer, Jake Paul.
The announcement also included the unveiling of the promotion’s new “Superfight Division,” which Paul is certain to headline in future fights with the PFL. Although Paul is reportedly slated to face Tommy Fury in a boxing bout on Feb. 25, the polarizing superstar has called out ex-UFC athlete, Nate Diaz, to a two fight deal. Paul proposed a boxing match and an MMA fight in the PFL’s Superfight Division six months after the two stars meet in the ring. While there is reasonable doubt surrounding this callout, it’s no question that the matchup would be monumental for the PFL and could easily outsell some of the UFC’s pay-per-view events.
In addition to the signing of Jake Paul, the PFL has set their sights on another global combat sports star. Francis Ngannou was recently released by the UFC despite holding the promotion’s heavyweight championship belt. Ngannou made it known that he was offered plenty of money to continue fighting in the UFC, but a lack of sponsorships, health insurance, and fighter advocacy motivated Ngannou to turn down the new contract. Ngannou, who currently holds the record for the world’s most forceful punch, is now a free agent and other MMA promotions are scrambling to sign him.
The PFL may have the best odds to reel Ngannou in, as his family members have been spotted wearing PFL merchandise on recent social media posts. If the PFL were able to sign Ngannou, it would undeniably establish the promotion as both a pay-per-view and talent threat to the UFC.
Where the PFL may struggle with matching the UFC is the consistency of engaging fights throughout pay-per-view events. The UFC has a massive, diverse roster that allows the promotion to put together a fifteen-fight card that is captivating from start to finish.
The PFL does not have this depth on their roster and could struggle to add pay-per-view worthy bouts on the undercard of a Jake Paul or Francis Ngannou fight. Even with a star studded main event, the pay-per-view prices will need to be significantly lower to draw a sales number that competes with the UFC. That being said, the promotion will continue to grow and in the coming years may prove to be a worthy rival of the UFC.