It seems unthinkable.
A true challenge to the UFC's hegemony as the No. 1 organization in mixed martial arts? Many have tried and, so far, no one has succeeded.
But things have just gotten a lot more interesting in the MMA landscape after social media influencer-turned-boxer Jake Paul signed a multiyear contract with the Professional Fighters League that includes an equity stake in the company, per the New York Times' Kris Rhim. Paul will compete in PFL's "Super Fight" division, and his star power will undoubtedly bring attention to the organization.
It's a direct shot across the UFC's bow since Paul and UFC President Dana White have a less than friendly relationship, to say the least. Paul's advocacy for equal fighter pay has annoyed White, and his signing with a competitor will be seen with derision by the UFC boss.
With all that in mind, we called together an emergency B/R MMA staff roundtable to judge whether "The Problem Child" has enough pull to get PFL on the same level as the UFC.
Give us your opinion in the comments section of the app and let us know what you think about Paul's power move to PFL.
No, but Signing Jake Paul Is a Good Start for the PFL
No. Three years is far too soon to seriously challenge the UFC, but the PFL did just make the biggest signing in its five-year history.
Regardless of how one feels about Paul and his role in the combat sports world, he does have a good track record of drawing interest and selling pay-per-views via his boxing matches. That's good enough for the PFL, which has struggled to offer casual fans much of anything worth the $49.99 price tag it has charged for recent events.
A Paul MMA debut is intriguing enough. Add in the potential for Nate Diaz to be an opponent and the PFL will have a lot of brand-new eyes on it. Does that translate to the PFL challenging the UFC in three years? Definitely not. The young promotion needs a lot more than that.
However, it's an important start.
If Paul is committed, he will do well in his new role as the head of fighter advocacy to draw the attention of competitors from other top promotions to the PFL's 50-50 revenue split.
Let's Wait and See What the PFL and Paul Do Together
Paul signing with the PFL seems like a good move for pretty much everybody involved. He may come to regret the whole thing if he's matched up with a credible fighter —there is some serious talent in the PFL—but that's neither here nor there.
It's a partnership that makes sense.
The PFL has become a serious player in the MMA industry in a remarkably short time, largely on the strength of its aggressive roster expansion and technological innovations. Paul, meanwhile, has upended the boxing world in the span of six fights and has become one of the most talked-about figures in MMA by challenging White over the issue of fighter pay.
Logic suggests that these two parties should be able to accomplish a lot together, both financially and in terms of improving conditions for athletes—though that latter part won't be easy.
As for the question at hand: Can a Paul-led PFL challenge the UFC for MMA supremacy in three years?
Two things need to happen for the UFC to lose its grip on the MMA crown. First, another promotion would need to gain enough strength to challenge the UFC's dominance.
It's possible the PFL will become that promotion. It was already off to a great start, and signing Paul is a huge flex.
Second, and more importantly, the UFC would need to effectively self-destruct—whether it's by alienating fans, fighters, investors or sponsors. If you've been following the headlines, the most recent of which focus on the organization's response (or lack thereof) to a video of White slapping his wife, Anne, you know the promotion has never been closer to that possibility.
White, for his part, apologized for his actions in an interview with TMZ that has so far stood as the only public response from the UFC or its partners.
All that to say, maybe the stars are aligning for a power shift. We'll just have to wait and see.
Paul Will Create Buzz, but UFC Is Still the Best
It's already been quite the new year in combat sports.
The latest twist came when White's unofficial archnemesis landed a publicity win by hooking up with the UFC president's biggest professional rival.
The PFL hasn't caused White many sleepless nights since its launch in 2018, but it has established itself as a solid second-tier brand thanks to a novel format and several successful athletes.
A boxing match with Nate Diaz will sell like crazy. An MMA fight with him would sell even more.
So, if that's the criteria by which the Paul/PFL partnership is being judged, it'll be a significant victory.
But challenging for MMA supremacy within three years is a much bigger ask.
His occupational future is rightly under question, but White's track record of building the UFC into a mainstream sports powerhouse is beyond argument. Its athletes are household names. Its events are consistent box-office winners. And its foothold with the MMA-viewing public will be awfully difficult to dislodge.
Paul is fighting the good fight on issues such as fighter pay, and his presence in the PFL's "Super Fight" division may ultimately cajole a few more high-profile newbies to get involved.
That alone will be a big win for an outfit still unfamiliar to most sports fans.
But unless his arrival prompts an epic number of octagonal stars to cross the promotional street, it seems far more likely that he'll be a big-mouthed fish in a little, albeit increasingly more interesting pond.
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