Atlantic City, NJ set groundwork for PFL Million Dollar Champions
On Wednesday Night, the Professional Fighters League handed ou six checks for One Million Dollars to their 2021 Season Champions for each weight class. But they would not have been on ESPN2 and broadcasting all around the world if it wasn't for Atlantic City opening their doors earlier this year to host the PFL Regular Season.
The PFL is the number two MMA organization behind the UFC and before the COVID-19 Pandemic hit in 2020, the PFL brought part of their Regular Season to Atlantic City in 2019 and the organization hosted multiple fight cards in Atlantic City also in 2018. The PFL is very different from the UFC and other MMA organizations because they have a Regular Season in which fighters compete to make the Playoffs. In the PFL Postseason, fighters have the chance to win One Million Dollars and that season's Championship Title. Just like the NBA is built on the "Names on the Back of the Jersey", the PFL is built for the fighters and puts them in a position where those athletes have their success in their hands when they walk out to compete.
Because of the COVID-19 Lockdowns, the PFL did not have a season in 2020 and focused all of their attention to make sure the 2021 Season would be a success. This is where Atlantic City came into play because the PFL needed a location that could host their events along with housing fighters and their coaches along with PFL Personnel. There was speculation during the Summer of 2020 that Las Vegas and Atlantic City were areas that could host Sports Bubble Environments because of their Casino Properties.
The PFL already had a good relationship with Ocean Resort in Atlantic City where the 2019 PFL Regular Season Fights were hosted. But this was another level of commitment from Atlantic City to agree to with Ocean Resort and PFL MMA hosting a "Made-For-TV" Regular Season in a state before New Jersey had been opened up for "Normal" Business. The 2021 MAAC Basketball Tournaments at Boardwalk Hall showed that sports can hold events successfully in Atlantic City in a Post COVID-19 Lockdowns Environment, so Ocean Resort had a real world example of what can work.
When PFL MMA CEO Peter Murray joined GameNight with Josh Hennig back in April, he said the organization was initially planning for an environment with no fans or media in a "Made for TV" Production airing on ESPN2 and ESPN+ :
"Our events for the Regular Season which are April through June will be Made-For-TV only (with) no fans, so it really is a studio production which will be in (Ocean Resort) main venue, Ovation Hall....And the Ocean Casino Resort and management, they are up and running, they are hosting guests through out the property and the casino, etc. But for the PFL, we carved out excusive rooms and floors and segregated areas so that our fighters can train and prepare and actually keep them insolated from other guests. - We are very focused on not bending that bubble (in Atlantic City and) being very conservative. We will obviously evaluate after the Regular Season as we think about the postseason (potentially) changing some of our policies and protocols for the athletes and the operational staff and perhaps, we are hopeful, that fans will have access to attend events."
Then in June, the PFL decided to open their Bubble Environment for select people to come into Ovation Hall at Ocean Resort Atlantic City as long as they passed COVID-19 Tests and other Health/Safety Protocols. We documented all the details here where I brought everyone inside the Bubble for some of the biggest fights of the PFL Regular Season.
Thanks to the success of the Bubble Environment in Atlantic City, the PFL hosted their entire Regular Season and the fighters earned their spots as qualifiers for the Postseason which would be hosted in Florida. The Ocean Resort in Atlantic City and the PFL held their Bubble Environment for three full months so it was time for a change of scenery. The 2021 PFL MMA Playoffs would be held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida in August with the Million Dollar Championships in October.
On Wednesday Night, the PFL handed out six championship belts and each fighter earned a One Million Dollars Check for winning their weight class for the 2021 Season. The PFL also crowned their first two-time champions with Hawaii's Ray Cooper III winning his first Welterweight Championship in 2019 and is now considered one of the best MMA Fighters to come from the Island State. Also two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Kayla Harrison is now a two-time PFL Champion, making her one of the most accomplished athletes is American Sports History. Both Cooper and Harrison still have bright futures ahead of them in MMA so we could see them win more championships in the PFL for years to come. It was awesome experience for me to be there to see all the athletes finally earn these championships and earn life changing money after a difficult year plus for everyone on numerous levels.
But those six paydays of one million dollars each at the 2021 PFL MMA Championships was setup in large part thanks to the successful Regular Season hosted in Atlantic City at the Ocean Resort with the Bubble Environment. Now that the PFL has completed their third Regular Season and Playoffs, naturally everyone wants to know what is next for the organization for the 2022 Season and that includes Atlantic City according to PFL CEO Peter Murray:
"We are committed (to Atlantic City) for the 2021 Regular Season....But we will be (coming back) to Atlantic City certainly next year and more events to come."
He is not the only person who is very happy with the PFL in Atlantic City; PFL Vice President Loren Mack spoke to 973 ESPN this past summer about how the Number Two MMA organization in the world was more than satisfied with their experience in Atlantic City:
"It has exceeded our expectations because we knew that Ocean Resort was a world class property and Atlantic City has historically been a great fight city. The safety of our fighters and making sure we got the protocols right was always our priority. So having the 2021 PFL Regular Season in this (Bubble Environment) and seeing how our fans have embraced everything we have done, it has been a great experience for us."
Even members of the ESPN Broadcasts for PFL MMA like being in Atlantic City - The Headliner of the first Professional MMA Event in Atlantic City is Six-time UFC Champion and MMA Legend Randy Couture. This past summer marked 21 years after he was the Main Event at UFC 28 in Atlantic City and told me why he enjoys coming back to this town:
"I have very found memories here (in Atlantic City): Obviously I fought Pedro Rizzo here (at UFC 31) and I also fought Kevin Randleman here (at UFC 28). Those were two huge fights both for me and my career. I've always enjoyed coming here; The first time I ever saw my face on a billboard was driving out here to Atlantic City. It's a remarkable place, a great fight town, and a fun place to be."
Couture still holds the record the record as the oldest athlete to win a UFC Championship (43 years old) and Defend the MMA Championship Belt (44). Now 10 years after his last MMA Fight, Couture is enjoying his time working with the PFL and being a part of the Broadcast Crew for the MMA Fights airing on ESPN+ and ESPN 2:
"I love this format, it's a Meritocracy which I like a lot. It doesn't if you want to Talk Smack or not, it's not going to get you advanced (to the Playoffs), it's not going get you anywhere. You got to go in that cage and score points, I love that. It's been a blast to be a part of this organization."
Atlantic City is a Fight Town at it's core and as the PFL MMA continues to grow, this city will be apart of their plans not just for the 2022 Season but also beyond. The PFL was the second sporting event held in Atlantic City in the aftermath of the 2020 COVID-19 Lockdowns and with fans back at sporting events, I expect to see the PFL with crowds watching some of the best MMA fighters on earth for the 2022 calendar year!