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PFL reveals details of European expansion ahead of first international event: 'We're building the Champions League of MMA'

With PFL Europe set for 2023 launch, PFL CEO Peter Murray says more regional leagues planned.
peter-murray

The Professional Fighters League holds its first international event this weekend, and while it's a historic moment for the organization, it's also just the start of the company's plans for the region.

On Saturday, Wales' Motorpoint Arena Cardiff plays host to 2022 PFL Playoffs 2, with fighters in both the heavyweight and welterweight divisions looking to advance to this season's championship final, where winners will take home $1 million. Preliminary bouts stream on ESPN+ (12 p.m. ET), while the featured matchups also simulcast on ESPN (2 p.m. ET).

The organization also visits London's Copper Box Arena on Aug. 20, where the featherweight and women's lightweight divisions will also be in action, but the two-week run is just a small preview of what's to come for the PFL, which will host an entire league dedicated to Europe in 2023.

"We're really excited about launching our first ever international league," PFL CEO Peter Murray told MMA Underground. "Number one, multiple weight classes, men and women. Two, it'll be the PFL season format, with a regular season, playoffs, and a championship, and then it will culminate with a PFL Europe Championship, awarding the winners in each weight classes with the 2023 PFL Europe championship belt, as well as a major purse for those international fighters, and then those champions will potentially have an opportunity for a path to the PFL global season, where it really is the next-level talent, if you will, but on a global stage.

"PFL Europe will be made up of some of the top pro fighters throughout all of Europe. We'll stage all of the events in Europe, in select countries, and those events will be staged in European primetime, so fans have access to it via our media distribution on Friday or Saturday, as well the in-venue experience."

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The promotion is already hosting qualifying contests for athletes to secure their positions in the 2023 PFL Europe season, with such matchups featured at the events in Cardiff and London. Murray said the idea of giving fighters a clear path of growth from their regional market to the global stage is one that will benefit the sport as a whole and likened it to soccer's famed UEFA Champions League, where top clubs from across Europe have a chance to claim dominance over the continent.

"It's an opportunity for fighters to fight for a major league, whether it be on the regional level or on a global platform," Murray said. "For us, it helps us advance and grow the sport, as well as to grow the league, but it gives fighters an opportunity to compete, because there are more fighters who have, in our view, the credentials to compete at a higher level, so this is our way to advance and develop the sport and provide fighters at different stages of their career throughout the world an opportunity to compete, but also tie it to the PFL system, and this will undoubtedly be a gamechanger.

"Essentially we're building the Champions League of MMA."

Murray said the European expansion is just the start for the league, which also has longterm plans for similar efforts around the globe, allowing the PFL to operate in primetime in multiple international markets, as well as to identify regional talent capable of competing on the organization's highest stage.

"We're absolutely committed, obviously, to a minimum of executing one regional league in 2023, which we announced as PFL Europe," Murray said. "It's quite possible there could be two, and I'm really excited about the prospects and the opportunity in the Middle East regarding launching PFL UAE, so more to come on that, whether that's 2023 or 2024."

As the PFL continues to expand, the promotion's flagship league will remain in the United States, but Murray believes the global market provides an incredible opportunity for expansion. In doing so, Murray thinks that it's not just the PFL that will benefit, but the sport of mixed martial arts as a whole.

"Our vision to advance and grow the sport is now being put in place with the launch of our first international regional league with PFL Europe in 2023, and there'll be more regions to follow," Murray said. "This is what the sport needs to truly advance and to grow, starting with developing great athletes from around the world and committing to regions around the world and those stakeholders to develop the sport at the grassroots level. Give pro fighters the opportunity to fight for a major league within their region or countries, and they don't have these opportunities today where there's a clear path for a fighter from different regions in different countries, so advancing the sport and growing the sport along with growing the PFL starts with fighters and giving pro fighters at different stages of their career a quality platform and top competition to compete – and giving them a purpose, you know, stepping stones to the next ladder.

"That's what we're really excited about, and we believe fans are going to be excited about it because here's what I know: Across all sports, fans are excited about their local athletes and the opportunity to get behind those local athletes from different countries and regions and be a part of their journey to see if they can make it not only to become the champion of Europe, but also the champion of the world in the PFL global league. That's our view. The PFL is not a traveling circus. We're committed to advancing MMA as a real sport."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.