The deciding World Championship fights in the 2023 Professional Fighters League (PFL) are about to take place after a season that has been as entertaining for fans as it has been gruelling for the MMA stars involved.
The tournament format in each division began with six regular-season events before three playoffs on the way to the World Championship fights.
Each fighter took part in two fights during the regular season, followed by one-off semifinals for those who advanced according to the points system.
Washington DC’s The Anthem venue will host the winners of those bouts on Friday night, with a $1 million (£798,000) reward for each champion.
Ahead of the World Championship, The Sporting News takes a look at some of the key features and rules across the PFL season.
How the PFL Playoffs format works
After the regular season, four of the top competitors in each division via the points system move to the semifinals.
If a bout ends in a draw, it is up to the judges to decide who had the most complete performance.
The number one seed fights the number four seed, while the second seed faces the third seed. If a fighter is removed due to injury or other means, the next-seeded fighter will step up. Chris Wade, who was ranked fifth, was allowed to compete against second-ranked Gabriel Braga when third-ranked Movlid Khaybulaev was removed from the tournament due to injury.
The winner of each playoff bout will make it to the finals, contested in a five-round affair. When a winner is determined via the judges’ discretion, that fighter will win a title from their division and that $1 million prize.
The bouts take place inside the PFL’s Decagon, which is 28 feet long with a three-foot catwalk.
How are PFL points awarded? PFL bonus points system
Using knockouts, submissions, and decision wins to track points, the PFL’s system can lead to a fighter showing their desperate side in search of victory. As a result, there have been big knockouts and dramatic upsets.
Here’s how it works, including the bonus points awarded for early stoppages. As an example, a fighter who wins by second-round submission wins a total of five points (three for the win + two for the time of the stoppage.)
Why aren’t elbows allowed in the PFL?
The PFL’s rules state that no elbows are allowed anywhere at any time during fights, whether that’s on the ground, standing, or in the clinch.
Fighters who break the rule will be subject to a point reduction in fights and potential disqualification at the commission-appointed referee’s discretion.
The reason for this is because of the brisk scheduling of the format, which often requires fighters to compete every two months. Elbow blows are particularly liable to inflict damage that will prevent fighters from being able to train or fight for prolonged periods.
What happens if a PFL fight is a no-contest or ends between rounds?
If a fighter cannot return for the beginning of a new round and the fight is called off by TKO in
between rounds, the winning fighter will be awarded a stoppage at 5:00 of the last completed round
for points purposes.
A No Contest or No Decision fight during the regular season gives both fighters involved one point. If a semifinal ends in a No Contest or No Decision, the judges will be asked to score the fight, including any incomplete round, with the fighter who wins on the scorecard advancing (in the case of a draw, playoff tiebreakers will apply).
If the commission does not approve that process, then whichever fighter is deemed to have caused the injury that resulted in the fight ending will be declared the loser, and their opponent will advance to the Championship. League officials determine who caused the injury.
How are PFL tiebreakers decided?
Fighters who finish level on points are separated by the following criteria, which are applied in a similar fashion if three or more fighters have the same points.
- Head-to-head record (did they already beat the fighter they are tied with?)
- Number of regular season fights (whoever had the greater number of regular season fights; a no contest, no decision, and walkover win count as a fight. A walkover loss and a fight where the fighter missed weight do not)
- Number of finishes
- Winning percentage (number of wins divided by number of fights, with draws counted as half a win; number of wins and fights both include walkovers, but no contests or no decisions will not be considered fights during this step
- Least amount of time spent in the cage when winning (walkover wins count for 15 minutes spent in cage for this step)
- Most amount of time spent in the cage when losing (walkover losses count for 0 minutes spent in cage for this step)
- Combined scores on judges’ scorecards for all results that ended in decision
- Lowest combined opponent scores on judges’ scorecards for all results that ended in decision
- Most combined league points scored by opponents (all regular-season opponents). Any fighter who fought an opponent who missed weight will win this tiebreaker
- Coin flip (the league will work with the commission of its choice to oversee the coin flip, assigning heads and tails to the fighters who are tied, and will have the commission confirm the result of the coin flip)
If a semifinal ends in a draw and the commission does not approve the process of allowing the judges to decide which fighter produced a more complete performance, the tiebreaker goes to the fighter who won the first round on the judges’ scorecards.
If the first round is ruled a draw, the process is repeated for the second round and so on. The official result for records purposes remains a draw.
What are the PFL rules around fighters who miss weight?
Fighters who miss weight receive a one-point penalty applied to their total league points earned in the bout they are weighing in for, but remain eligible to earn points based on the outcome of the fight.
The fight can go ahead at the PFL’s discretion, and the fighter who made weight will advance in the event of a draw after the league stage.
As an example, if a fighter who misses weight wins by decision during the regular season, they earn two points in total – three for the decision win, plus the one-point penalty. They must also surrender 20% of their total event purse to their opponent.
The PFL has a pool of alternate fighters to draw from if a league fighter is unable to compete, and a one-pound overage is allowed in the semifinals, subject to commission approval.
If a fighter is removed from playoff competition due to missing weight, the next alternate in that division will step in to that fighter’s playoff slot and compete from the semifinals onwards.
How are corners decided in the PFL?
The corners in the PFL are red and blue. The higher seeded fighter takes the red corner, and any alternate who qualifies for the semifinals is assigned the blue corner.
If two fighters who are alternates face each other in a semifinal, the red corner is given to the fighter who finished ahead in the regular season standings according to the league standings rules and tiebreakers.
How many divisions are in the PFL?
The PFL currently has six divisions competing for gold:
- Light Heavyweight
- Featherweight (men and women’s)