PFL exploring crossover fights for 2022 with Claressa Shields part of long-term project

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Claressa Shields v Brittney Elkin

Claressa Shields made her PFL debut this year (Picture: Getty)

The Professional Fighters League is preparing to launch a huge expansion that will offer pay-per-view crossover fights following the success of Claressa Shields’ run with the MMA promotion.

Athletes from outside the promotion, and possibly from outside the world of MMA, could soon be joining the party – with the PFL also hoping to have three-weight world boxing champion Shields competing in their regular season format by 2023 at the latest.

This season’s final championship night is closing in, with six titles on the line and each winner to scoop a cool €1m in prize money in Florida on 27 October after a thrilling league campaign in 2021.

And ahead of that, plans are already underway to enhance the roster further with former Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd their newest recruit, with former UFC champion Anthony Pettis among those who joined ahead of the current season.

With the group also proudly cultivating its own homegrown stars in Ray Cooper III and double Olympic gold medallist Kayla Harrison, PFL CEO Peter Murray predicts 50-60 per cent of the current roster will be retained for the 2022 season. And the wheels are in motion to ensure anyone thinking of breaking away from UFC or Bellator will have a new option on the table.

PFL

Kayla Harrison out to defend her title this month (Picture: Ryan Loco)

‘We are propelling fighters to go into free agency. They were apprehensive before but the conversations today are a lot different,’ Murray told Metro.co.uk. ‘Of course there can be scepticism, but we have proven ourselves. We have established the format, proving it can work and proving to the fighter community we a great organisation that cares.

‘The top ranked fighters around the world, of course they are having conversations with the PFL. More and more fighters are going into free agency as a result of having more options and alternatives and we are here for them.’

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PFL is also stepping up plans to considerably bolster its calendar – namely with its Challenger Series early on in the year. Pay-per-view shows are also in the pipeline as the promotion looks to capitalise on combat sport’s fascination with crossover fights between different promotions and disciplines.

‘The PFL Challenger Series will be kind of like American Idol meets MMA, meets PFL,’ Murray explained. ‘You have pro athletes in MMA looking for a shot at getting into the regular season. There will be eight events, we will have a panel of judges, icons from MMA, combat and broader sports evaluating. We are developing our feeder system and elevating the athletes that come into the regular season.’

PFL has big plans for 2022.

On PPV plans, he added: ‘That will be launched with mega talent, some from our season roster and some who are not currently competing with us. They will be exciting fighters and there will even be crossover fights on some of our cards.

‘Let’s give fans what they want. At the end of the day it [crossover fights] have a role. With respect to our season, we maintain the integrity of our regular season and the requirements to be in a league like PFL. That doesn’t mean that we can’t develop athletes alongside it from other sports. Some might call them stunts, but at the end of the day, it is entertaining. It is true sport, it is real competition and I think it plays a role in MMA today. We will weave it into where we think it makes sense.’

Shields has led the way in crossover potential for the promotion, securing a hard-fought win over Brittney Elkin in her first MMA fight in June with her second bout scheduled for October’s showcase card.

Shields returns to the cage this month (Picture: Getty)

The double Olympic gold medallist has conquered almost all there is in the boxing world – although there is still unfinished business with Savannah Marshall, the only woman to ever beat her in a boxing ring, dating back to an amateur contest in 2012.

The two remain on collision course but Murray is confident Shields can continue to chase down her goals in both sports at the same time.

‘For sure, she is a blueprint,’ he said of Shields. ‘These athletes trust us. We are a fighters first organisation. We have our goals but athletes have theirs too. So at the end of the day it is about how we can marry those up. 

‘Her goal is to be a champion in MMA while she continues to change the game in boxing. A two-sport athlete and a two-sport champion. We were able to give her that road map. We worked with her boxing promoter and it is a matter of sorting scheduling and being thoughtful with how you do it. It is up to her. She is an exceptional human being.’

Brendan Loughnane to take another run at gold next season (Picture: Cooper Neill)

Shields has so far fought in a one-off bout rather than the PFL’s league format but Murray believes the 26-year-old could be ready to start chasing down MMA gold next year.

‘Claressa isn’t an undercard fighter or a sideshow. I would put my money on her against anyone she gets in the ring with. In the cage, that is still to be determined and it is still to be determined if she gets into the 2022 season. Whether we think she is ready for that, and whether she thinks she is ready for that.

‘We’ll make that decision before the end of the year. If that decision is no, she will still fight under the PFL banner and we will stage additional events as she continues to move ahead in the sport. But I’m excited for the day she is ready to mix it up in the regular season and if it is not next season, for sure in 2023.’

Murray also confirmed Pettis will be part of the 2022 season along with Brendan Loughnane. The Manchester fighter was the UK’s only representation in the promotion this season, suffering a narrow decision defeat to Movlid Khaybulaev in the featherweight semi-finals in August but the 31-year-old remains a big part of their plans for the new campaign.

‘The fighters that prove they have what it takes and still have something to prove, we invite those fighters back and we freshen up the roster with new athletes. That is what keeps the season fresh for us and for the fighters that continue on,’ Murray said.

‘When Brendan signed for us in 2019, he had two great fights and each fight he improved. In 2020, with Covid it was difficult on him and all the fighters but he came back with the fury. He had a great regular season, it was close, he had a tough opponent but I’m really excited that he will be back next year with even more to prove and will bring even more fans with him. I feel his pain but I’m excited with him for 2022.’


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