Professional Fighters League expects to keep champ Harrison

The Professional Fighters League agreed to a multiyear deal and an expanded platform with ESPN — and the MMA league expects to have undefeated champion Kayla Harrison along for the ride.

PFL CEO Peter Murray told The Associated Press he is “confident” that Harrison -- the two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time PFL lightweight champion -- will return in 2022.

“She is the most dominant fighter in our sport, in our view,” Murray said. “She’s got so much more to take on in this sport and we’re excited about her future. We’re excited about the PFL’s future with Kayla."

Harrison, who twice won Olympic gold in judo and is 12-0 in her professional MMA career, met with UFC and other promotions in the offseason, but instead seems primed to headline PFL’s inaugural pay-per-view card.

The entire 2022 PFL Playoffs and majority of regular-season events will air on ESPN, as well as simulcast on ESPN-plus, with additional event coverage broadcast on ESPN2. ESPN’s coverage begins with the 2022 PFL kickoff event on April 20, with more programming to be announced in the coming weeks. ESPN was the home of PFL in the United States during its 2021 season, including all 10 events from the regular season, through the playoffs and final in October.

Unlike most combat sports promotions, the PFL competes in a season-long format that includes playoffs and championship fights. The PFL world championship had six fighters earn $6 million in prize money, and the league has seemingly morphed into the No. 2 MMA promotion behind UFC.

ESPN also has a $1.5 billion, five-year deal with UFC that started in 2019. Terms of the PFL deal were not announced.

“There’s an expanded rights fee commitment to the PFL live events. It will be much more visible on ESPN platforms,” Murray said.

Murray said there is no date set yet for the inaugural PPV or how many cards it might run in 2022.

“We’ve now established the PFL brand. We’re happy where the product is, that includes the roster, plus all the production value and the marketing behind each event,” Murray said. “This is the natural evolution to launch the new business in pay-per-view.”

Murray said most of PFL’s top performers have been retained for 2022, adding, “candidly, we’ll freshen the product up by eliminating a minimum of 40% of the roster because of performance. That keeps the product fresh year over year.”

One talent with an outside shot of landing at PFL is YouTube star and celebrity boxer Jake Paul. Paul has started MMA training but Murray didn’t think a move to the PFL cage in 2022 was likely.

“We’re not focused on that,” he said. “There have been conversation, questions around it. We’re just focused on our season product.”

PFL, which also teamed with Anheuser-Busch for this season, will continue its relationship with two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist Claressa Shields for at least two fights as she shifts into MMA. Shields went 1-1 with PFL in her showcase fights last season.

The promotion was known as the World Series of Fighting from 2012 to 2017, when it was bought and rebranded. The PFL held full-season competitions in 2018 and 2019. It took 2020 off because of the pandemic.

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