A group of area businesspeople and sports titans, headed by the former chair of the DC2024 Summer Olympics bid, expect to launch a mixed martial arts league in January, featuring a $10 million prize pool and $1 million cash payouts to individual champions, according to people familiar with the plans.
The new Professional Fighters League, which will aim to go head-to-head against the Ultimate Fighting Championship and other MMA circuits, will be headquartered in the District and could hold some events in the metro area. A formal announcement and media rollout for the new league is expected Wednesday.
Russ Ramsey, an investment banker and hedge fund manager who is a former chairman of the George Washington University board of trustees and who chaired the failed DC2024 Olympic bid two years ago, is a co-founder of the new league, along with D.C. venture capitalists Donn Davis and Mark Leschly, and will serve as its executive chairman.
Among investors in the new league are Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, Mystics and Wizards, and members of the Lerner family, who own the Washington Nationals. Leonsis was vice chairman of the DC2024 bid group, while Mark Lerner, principal owner and vice chairman of the Nationals, was on its board. The group lost to Boston as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s choice as 2024 bid city, but the Boston bid was later withdrawn and replaced by Los Angeles.
Other investors in the new MMA league identified so far include Brandon Beck, founder of eSports company Riot Games, and Los Angeles Dodgers Chief Financial Officer Tucker Kain.
The Wizards’ new practice facility at St. Elizabeths East campus has been identified as a potential venue for PFL events, as has the planned Under Armour campus in the Port Covington area of Baltimore.
The Ramsey group purchased the fighting operations and event infrastructure of the World Series of Fighting earlier this year. The WSOF, which has more than 100 fighters under contract, had its last major event on New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden in New York, which was broadcast live on NBC. The WSOF’s media distribution contract with NBC runs out at the end of this year, and the new league will be holding discussions with potential media partners, including NBC, in the months ahead.
The Professional Fighters League will feature a unique format, with fighters divided into seven weight classes competing throughout a regular season schedule, with winners advancing to a win-or-go-home playoff tournament. Each tournament winner will be crowned PFL champion for that weight class and will collect $1 million. An additional $3 million will be divided among other regular season and playoff competitors.
The PFL will include divisions for female fighters, with Kayla Harrison, a two-time gold-medal-winning Olympic judoka , among the holdovers from the WSOF who are expected to compete in the new league.
Since its origins in the 1990s, MMA has been one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. The same group that purchased the UFC in 2000 for $2 million sold it last year for $4 billion, thanks in large part to the popularity of superstars such as Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.