PFL CEO Peter Murray talks Challenger Series, where ‘American Idol’ meets MMA

Entering its fourth season of action, the Professional Fighters League continues to look for ways to innovate. The PFL offered fighters the opportunity to win $1 million through a tournament-style format. Now the organization is looking to up the ante.

The PFL Challenger Series will begin on February 18 and air on Fubo Sports Network. The first event will feature light heavyweights and will take place at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Athletes from around the world will be battling it out to determine if they will get a development deal or move straight to the main roster for a chance to compete in the PFL Finals. One fighter each week will earn a contract.

Ahead of the start of the Challenger Series, Sporting News spoke with PFL CEO Peter Murray. Murray provided details on the format and what fans can expect as the PFL aim to have a successful 2022 campaign.

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Sports news: There seems to have been a lot of thought put into the Challenger Series. What was the process for you to come up with this idea?

Peter Murray: It has always been our vision to launch this new property. We are very excited. We created the PFL. We are a co-leader in sport globally. We have successfully executed three seasons tied to our sports season format. It was a natural evolution for us. The Challenger Series is designed to achieve two things for the PFL as we grow: talent development and expanded content to flesh out our schedule throughout the year.

We have exciting fighters in the Challenger Series from all over the world. They are professional athletes who aspire to land a contract with the PFL. They are competing to enter the PFL season, to compete for the $1 million championship opportunity.

NS: It looks like you’re struggling for this. What would you compare that to?

PM: There will be plenty of drama in this unique competition series within MMA. Think of it like “American Idol” meets MMA. The PFL will host exciting fights every night for eight consecutive weeks starting February 18 on Fubo. Beyond the fights, we’re going to have an incredible panel of judges who will weigh in and vote for who they think should get the coveted contract. Our panel will include icons: Randy Couture, Tyron Woodley, Vitor Belfort and Ray Lewis.

Additionally, one celebrity will join the panel via Zoom each week to weigh in. Fans will have their say, which is a unique aspect of it. Fans will vote for who they think should get the contract. Their voice will count.

NS: Most competition-type shows, like “American Idol,” are known to be there when it comes to voting. Do you foresee any problems with this? Is there a backup plan?

PM: Every fighter who enters the competition is a credible athlete. We have four fights every night. We are convinced that the four winners will make sense to win the contract. The PFL will have its say on the semi-finalists.

Weeks seven and eight will be important. Think of them as first nights. All fighters will make their professional debuts. During the eighth week, it will be “the night of the second chance”. All the fighters who impress the PFL and [PFL president] Ray Sefo but initially don’t, we’ll give these fighters a second chance, a second fight to get in a position to get that contract.

NS: A fighter you recently signed for this is an LFA light heavyweight and middleweight champion in Josh Silveira. Apart from him, there are a lot of good athletes that you brought on board. What excites you about these specific fighters?

PM: This is where it starts. It’s about identifying and then developing future champions in the sport. This is our metric. We will eventually come out with eight fighters who can have development deals, or if there are any star performers, they will jump into the 2022 season. We can gauge if there is a champion in the mix. We give fans access to their journey.

NS: Do you believe that the Challenger Series concept can revolutionize the MMA industry?

PM: The sport begs it. Pro level fighters are looking for alternatives. We are a combat-oriented organization. The PFL offers high-level competition and a chance to become champions. This is just the development cycle. The PFL doubles down on live events and fights offered to fans.

NS: This will be the fourth season of the PFL. What can we expect this time around?

PM: That’s what’s exciting about our approach. We reimagine and develop the sport. Fans are underserved and fighters are looking for an alternative. Fans will see early career talent develop. We have returning champions this year, top-ranked talent from around the world, as well as rising stars. It’s an exciting ride!

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