UFC, PFL Battled for Headlines and There Was a Clear Winner

Score the first round 10–8 in Dana White’s favor.

But Francis Ngannou is far from being finished in this fight.

A sleepy week in May turned into a potpourri of announcements. The excitement began Tuesday morning, when the PFL sent out a press release at the crack of dawn announcing that Ngannou had signed with the promotion as part of its new Super Fight pay-per-view division. It is a massive move for Ngannou, the former UFC heavyweight champion who did not come to terms on a new contract with White and was subsequently stripped of his title and allowed to enter free agency—and it signals only the beginning of PFL’s aggressive push to becoming a significant player in the sport.

But short term, White won the day’s news cycle. He announced an absolute blockbuster for UFC 291, dusting off the ceremonial BMF title—which will be decided in a lightweight bout pitting Dustin Poirier against Justin Gaethje. Had that been the only fight White announced, it still would have left people satisfied—yet it was only the start. Alex Pereira will make his light heavyweight debut at 291 against Jan Blachowicz, Paulo Costa is in for a fight against emerging star Ikram Aliskerov, and Tony Ferguson (perhaps in his UFC finale) will look to snap his five-fight losing streak in a bout against Bobby Green.

That card, which is simply loaded with excellent fights, also includes “Wonderboy” Stephen Thompson vs. Michel Pereira, Derrick Lewis against Marcos Rogério de Lima, and Kevin Holland vs. Michael Chiesa. White also confirmed that Aljamain Sterling will defend the bantamweight title against Sean O’Malley at UFC 292 in Boston, a card that will also feature Zhang Weili defending her strawweight title against Amanda Lemos.

Tuesday marked a phenomenal day for the fight business, which is thriving. While UFC is the industry giant in North America, there is still a remarkable amount of space for the challenger brands to grow and make even more profit. PFL signing Ngannou is big business, and puts them in position to grow exponentially.

Walking away from the UFC was a risk, but the timing turned out to be perfect. The PFL was in dire need of a centerpiece fighter. The promotion made a solid move when signing Shane Burgos last year, winning a free-agent battle against the UFC, but Ngannou represents an entirely different realm of star. He negotiated a yet-to-be-disclosed amount for his fights, as well as a minimum $2 million payday for his opponents. This is groundbreaking, and it will continue to be a major story when he makes his PFL next year.

In addition to the lucrative financials, Ngannou’s new deal puts him in a leadership role on the PFL Global Advisory Board. It also makes him an equity owner and chairman of PFL Africa. Adding Ngannou to the roster is a pivotal acquisition in the PFL’s goal to expand their brand around the globe. This is the rare type of signing that pleases investors, advertisers (plus potential advertisers), and fans.

Looking at Tuesday from afar, it is the type of day that will help the sport become more mainstream. It is not the NBA, MLB or NFL, but MMA keeps extending its reach. Everyone won—the UFC machine keeps rolling, and Ngannou is far more valuable to the PFL (not to mention that this further stoked the competitive flames between Ngannou and Jon Jones, leading to more intrigue and anticipation despite the fact that their fight is less likely to happen), and there will be more must-see fights taking place at a greater frequency.

The UFC won this round. Again. But suddenly, Ngannou puts the PFL in the fight.

Paulo Costa in for a world of trouble against Ikram Aliskerov

Paulo Costa did not accept a fight against Robert Whittaker. But he signed on for a bout against a highly touted middleweight prospect in Ikram Aliskerov. It should pay Costa more—but a loss would be far more damaging.

Aliskerov is the latest sensation out of Dagestan, Russia, the unofficial fight capital of the world. He has won 14 of his 15 bouts, with his only defeat suffered against undefeated Khamzat Chimaev. His UFC debut was extremely impressive, knocking out Phil Hawes two weeks ago at UFC 288.

After the win at 288, Aliskerov called out Bo Nickal. But he is getting a much more lucrative matchup in Costa, who is the fifth-ranked middleweight. Costa’s last fight was a hard-fought win against Luke Rockhold last August, a bout where both men were willing to stand and trade. If Costa takes that approach against Aliskerov, there will be a completely different result.

Change is imminent in the middleweight division. Aliskerov now has the chance to make considerable noise this summer, drastically changing the upper echelon of the division with a win against Costa.

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