Without a doubt, 2023 has been a huge year for the PFL.
The self-proclaimed "No. 2 MMA promotion" started the year off with two huge signings in Jake Paul and Francis Ngannou and ended the year by acquiring Bellator MMA. They are certainly set up for success should they play their cards right. However, that has long been the issue for the PFL.
There is a lot to look forward to with the PFL in 2024. How the company plans to incorporate Bellator into its operations remains to be seen, and Paul's impending MMA debut will be massive whenever it takes place. But for as much potential as the promotion has, there are just as many question marks.
The Ngannou signing was a big win, but the former UFC heavyweight champion's boxing success puts his PFL debut off track. The 2024 tournament format should be interesting with the addition of the Bellator roster and the departure of a couple of mainstays, including Olivier Aubin-Mercier.
But before we look ahead at the PFL in 2024, we must reflect on how their 2023 season unfolded.
PFL 2023 season grade
As previously mentioned, the PFL has had a lot of success in 2023 as a whole but their season by itself was rather mediocre. A lot of the promotion's attention and efforts were put into their long-term well-being, which temporarily allowed their current product to suffer.
The season was not a total disaster for the PFL, which is why they still received a passing grade, but all the headlines of the year were negative. Perhaps the biggest story from the entire season was the entire Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio fiasco, which certainly gave the company negative press. Sure, some of the blame must be put on the fighters themselves, but why have two lifelong best friends compete in the first place? The entire situation raised a lot of eyebrows in a bad way.
From a pure fighting perspective, practically all of their big free-agent signings did not pan out. Shane Burgos went 1-2 in 2023, Thiago Santos went 0-1, Krszytof Jotko was 0-1 and Aspen Ladd went 1-2 including losing to Olena Kolesnyk as a huge favorite.
Then there was the whole drug test failing, where practically two whole weight divisions were wiped out due to suspensions. Santos and Jotko both were flagged for PEDs, while Rob Wilkinson, Rizvan Kuniev, Alejandro Flores, Will Fleury and many more were all also removed from the season.
The season was not all bad, as there were still a couple of results the PFL can build on. Impa Kasanganay completed one of the best redemption stories in recent MMA history and may be a name they can build up. Jesus Pinedo finished his underdog story with $1 million. And despite the continued lack of success from former UFC competitors in the smart cage, they are still receiving compiling interest from outside fighters in their season format.
But to close out the year, the grand finale event — the PFL Championship pay-per-view — was worse on paper than their 2022 championship card. Sure, Kayla Harrison made her return, but that did not make up for the lack of names on the rest of the card.
Santos, Burgos and Ladd — all of whom were expected to be competitive in the season and add star power to the roster — all were not present in the championship fights. 2022 champions Brendan Loughnane and Wilkinson were also absent despite competing in the season. While the pay-per-view numbers have not been released, it could not have been a very popular Black Friday purchase.
All in all, 2023 was a monumental year for the PFL, but their season was less than impressive. That could all change in 2024 should some of the Bellator fighters join the tournament, but there is a lot for the promotion to work on until then.