What are the rules for the Professional Fighters League? [UPDATED]

2023 PFL Challenger Series: Week 8
2023 PFL Challenger Series: Week 8 / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

If you’re new or unfamiliar with how the Professional Fighters’League works, here’s a breakdown.

The Professional Fighters League (PFL) is an MMA promotion that utilizes a regular-season and playoff/finals format — the only MMA promotion with such a style — with the yearly division champions earning a $1 million prize. The promotion is entering its fifth season after arguably the biggest season to date.

The promotion’s roots go back to 2012, when it was known as the World Series of Fighting and hosted talents of the past, such as Jon Fitch and Jake Shields, and of the future, such as Justin Gaethje and Marlon Moraes.

MMAX Investment Partners acquired a controlling stake in the WSOF in 2017, which included the PFL re-branding. The PFL held three events in 2017 before the format we know now went into effect, beginning with a 2018 season.

The PFL did not hold a 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 season took place in a “bubble” in Atlantic City, NJ. The 2022 season was the first post-COVID and featured the company's first-ever PPV event, a massive upset, and a celeb-filled final.

The 2023 season begins on April 1 in Las Vegas.

How does the PFL regular season work?

The fights occur in a 10-sided cage (decagon) and all matches in the PFL are contested under the Unified Rules of MMA — the same commonly seen in promotions like the UFC and Bellator — with the only exception being all elbow strikes are banned. This is due to the fighters competing just six weeks apart (sometimes more, sometimes less).

Each season, several weight classes play host to a select number of fighters (anywhere between 10 and 14), who each get two fights during the regular season.

The fighters will compete in their regular-season bouts to earn points in the weight classes’ standings. The incentive with the PFL, however, isn’t just to win the fights, but to win them as quickly as possible.

The following criteria determine how points are awarded out:

  • Fighters earn six points for a first-round finish
  • Fighters earn five points for a second-round finish
  • Fighters earn four points for a third-round finish
  • Fighters earn three points for a decision win
  • Fighters earn one point for a draw
  • Fighters do not earn any points on a loss

Fighters can also lose points for missing weight.

In the promotion’s first two seasons, a fighter was ineligible to earn any points (known as a “walkover loss”) due to a weight miss for a regular-season bout. Beginning with the 2021 season, however, a fighter who misses weight for a regular-season fight will now face a one-point deduction penalty.

If the fight does not take place, the missed-weight fighter will also receive no compensation, and the opponent gets an automatic three standings points on what is called a “walkover win.” If the fight still occurs, per usual, 20 percent of the fighter’s purse is forfeited to their opponent.

How do the PFL playoffs work?

In 2018 and 2019, the top eight fighters in each weight class advanced to the playoffs. In these seasons, fighters would have to get through both a two-round quarterfinal and three-round semifinal in one night to earn a shot at the $1 million prize. If a quarterfinal or semi-final bout ended in a draw, a tiebreaker (winner of the first round in 2018 and a judges’ pick based on overall performance in 2019) would determine who moves on in the playoffs.

The only exception to this was the first women’s lightweight tournament in 2019, which featured just four fighters (out of eight) advancing to the playoffs, straight to semi-finals.

That 2019 women’s lightweight playoff format, however, will be applied to all weight classes in 2021 and beyonf for the PFL. Only the top four in each division will make it to the playoffs, with one semi-final card being held in the fall.

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PFL 1 takes place on Friday, April 23, 2021, live from Atlantic City, NJ. Follow along with FanSided for all your live news and highlights.