Donn Davis was sitting at his desk at his Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm, Revolution, in July 2016 when news broke that talent agency WME-IMG was buying mixed martial arts firm Ultimate Fighting Championship for $4 billion. The price tag shocked the industry. But Davis, 55, whose career focused on building disruptive digital companies in media, gaming, entertainment and sports, saw an opportunity. “I can do better,” he said to himself.
The Professional Fighters League was born. While most MMA bouts serve as “promotions,” where events are put together by a promoter to create appealing matchups, the PFL follows the format used in professional sports league like the NBA and NFL. There is a regular season, playoff and championship. “Titles are earned, not awarded,” says Davis.
While revelers gather in Time Square on New Year’s Eve, the PFL’s inaugural season will wrap up ten blocks south at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Championship bouts in six weight classes cap the June-to-August regular season, which started with 72 fighters. Playoffs followed in October, and the winner of each weight class earns $1 million next week, as part of $10 million in total prize money.