Rick Story is banking on a career revival arising from a failed gamble.
The mixed martial arts fighter was an established veteran in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in August 2016, when, he said, he turned down a contract extension with the promoter. He planned to secure a better deal by winning his next fight. The plan backfired with his first career knockout loss, to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 202.
After two years away, Story has returned to professional MMA fighting, just not with the UFC. This time, he’s fighting in the newly formed Professional Fighters League, a relaunched version of the former World Series of Fighting with a format familiar to followers of professional team sports. The PFL is made up of 72 fighters divided into six weight classes, and its format consists of a regular season, playoffs and a season-ending championship on New Year’s Eve, resulting in 11 total events and 126 fights. The six weight-class champions will each receive $1 million.
The third stop of the seven-card regular season will be Thursday evening at Charles E. Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University.
“I just knew that an opportunity would become available where I would probably get paid my worth, and this opportunity that the PFL is giving is it,” Story said. “This was the opportunity I was waiting for, so I just jumped on it.”
Each regular season fight is scheduled for three rounds, with three points awarded for a win and one for a draw. Winners receive additional points for stoppages — three in the first round, two in the second and one in the third, for a maximum six points possible from each fight. The top eight in points from each weight class will advance from the regular season to the playoffs.
The playoff fights will use a win-or-go-home format, and each fighter will have to win two matches in one night to advance to the championship. The first fight will consist of two rounds, and the second will have three. The championship fight will be a five-rounder.
The finale will see roughly $10 million awarded, the largest tournament prize pool in the history of MMA. In addition to the $1 million awarded to each champion, quarterfinalists will earn $50,000, semifinalists $100,000 and runners-up $200,000.
“In the sport itself, I think, maybe a few more than 10 fighters make more than $1 million per fight,” said Kayla Harrison, a two-time Olympic champion in judo who made her MMA debut last month on a PFL card. “So just the fact that you’re giving opportunities to fighters to make that kind of money is great. Obviously, I also love the tournament aspect of it. You don’t get a title shot based on how much trash you talk, how good you look or how many followers you have. You create your own destiny. If you want money, you’ve got to win. That’s the American Dream right there.”
The league includes six weight classes for men but none for women, so Harrison is not technically included in the tournament. She’ll probably fight on another card as early as next month and is hoping next year’s PFL schedule includes a tournament for women at 145 pounds.
The investors of the PFL give the sport Washington roots. Donn Davis, co-founder of Revolution, a D.C.-based venture capital firm, and Russ Ramsey, founder, chairman and CEO of Ramsey Asset Management, are co-founders of the league. Pete Murray, formerly with Under Armour and the NFL, is chief executive; and Carlos Silva, a D.C. native, is the league president.
Other investors include Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis; Fred Schaufeld, part-owner of the Capitals, Wizards and Nationals; and Glenn Youngkin, co-CEO of The Carlyle Group.
“We really wanted to create a system for the fighters from the regular season where they get paid very similarly to how they have in the past, with both show and win money into a playoff structure where you get paid based on how far you go,” Silva said. “There’s no doubt about it, it gives the fighters more motivation. … We’ve got 72 elite fighters in the league for 2018, and I think every single one of them think they will be the $1 million winner in their weight class. I think they are all approaching it that way, and I think that adds a super-big level of excitement.”
Story, a welterweight with a 19-9 career record who will make his PFL debut at Smith Center on Thursday against Yuri Villefort (11-5) of Brazil, said the format and payment strategy were two of the more attractive aspects of the PFL.
“It’s not the sole motivating factor. I love to just go out there and compete,” Story said of the potential payout. “But at the same time, knowing that you can decide your own fate is comforting because you go out and put it all on the line and have nothing holding you back because you already know what the reward is.”
Rick Maese contributed.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly omitted Russ Ramsey as a co-founder of the Professional Fighters League.
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