The 2021 Professional Fighters League regular season in Atlantic City is complete, so the playoffs are set to begin on Aug. 13 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
Featherweights and lightweights are to fight Aug. 13, light heavyweights and welterweights Aug. 19, and the heavyweights and women’s lightweights will wrap things up Aug. 27.
The PFL added recognizable MMA names before the season such as Rory MacDonald, Anthony Pettis, Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Carlos Junior. Of that group, MacDonald (22-7-1) and Carlos Junior (11-5) are participating in the playoffs.
“We’ve had amazing fights,” said Peter Murray, CEO of the PFL. “The roster has been elevated, and we’ve had some incredible upsets. It’s no walk in the park.”
MacDonald will be involved in one of the most anticipated playoff matchups. He is to fight Ray Cooper on Aug. 19 on ESPN. Cooper (22-7-1) won the PFL welterweight championship in 2019.
“That’s a championship fight, and the fans are getting that early in the playoffs,” Murray said. “This is win and advance. Lose and go home. No one is going to want to leave it to the judge.”
Kayla Harrison, one of the most accomplished American judo experts, headlines the champions defending their titles. Harrison (10-0) is to face Genah Fabian (4-1) in the semifinal. Murray called Harrison a superstar “in a class of her own.”
Boxing champion Claressa Shields, who made her PFL debut in June, will also be on that card in a non-playoff fight. Shields’ original plan was to fight once and evaluate for next season, but she’s ready for more action, she said. An opponent hasn’t been announced, but Shields is to fight on the Aug. 27 card.
Shields (1-0) defeated Brittney Elkin in her debut via third-round TKO. It was a good test for Shields. Fans had Elkins winning the fight after two rounds, but Shields didn’t leave it in the judge’s hands.
“We’re evaluating if Claressa has what it takes to get into the 2022 season,” Murray said. “That is being unveiled to fans in real time. By the end of the year, we’ll have an update.”
Innovations have been popular
Technology and innovations were big in the PFL this year. They included the Ghost Cam, the Ref Cam, and SmartCage data.
The strike speed statistic was kept throughout the season, and Murray said that kick speed will be added during the playoffs.
In a Twitter poll Murray conducted in May, the Ref cam was selected as the favorite new innovation tool, he said.
“Our presentation is really geared toward this generation of sports fans,” Murray said. “It brings fans closer to the action with angles that have never been experienced before.”
Murray said the PFL is up more than 50% in U.S. audience and engagement compared to 2019.
“We’re a third of UFC’s audience today, and this is only our third season,” Murray said. “What that tells us is we have a great product, and this [MMA] fan base truly demands more quality content.”