Innovations in MMA: Back to the past with tournament-style competitions
At UFC 1 in November 1993, Royce Gracie won the first-ever UFC tournament championship after submitting boxer Art Jimmerson, shoot fighter Ken Shamrock, and savate fighter Gerard Gordeau. Some organizations are taking MMA back to its roots where fighters compete in a tournament styled format. The Professional Fighters League (PFL), Sparta Combat League (SCL), and Bellator MMA are just some of the promotions that provide fighters big cash payouts in tournament-style competitions.
The PFL, formerly known as the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), debuted its first season on June 7, 2018, at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Using a point system, eight fighters compete in the season and those with the most points in each weight class advance to the playoff rounds. The point system consists of outcome-based scoring and bonuses for an early win. A win in any round automatically earns the fighter three points. Bonus points are allocated as follows:
- Round 1 = 3 points
- Round 2 = 2 points
- Round 3 = 1 point
On New Year’s Eve 2019, the PFL ended its second season with a night of championship fights. Six fighters were crowned champions and earned a $1 million prize. The list of 2019 champions includes Kayla Harrison, Ray Cooper III, Ali Isaev, Natan Schulte, Lance Palmer, and Emiliano Sordi.
Sparta Combat League
The king/queen of Sparta’s eight fighter tournament is SCL’s original single-elimination boxing, kickboxing, and MMA tournament.
The one-night event starts with the quarter-finals which include four pro boxing matches. The winners then advance to the pro kickboxing semi-finals, and the two finalists face off for a pro MMA fight inside the cage. Fighters must be well-rounded in all the disciplines in order to be successful in the SCL tournaments.
At the end of the night, the winner is crowned as the king or queen of Sparta and wins $10,000.
In 2016, Bellator’s heavyweight division was slim pickings (no pun intended). There was little talent in the division and the champion, Vitaly Minakov, was stripped of his title due to inactivity before departing from the promotion entirely.
In May of that same year, the division was reconstructed with new prospects being signed, free agents were brought in, and the promotion started allowing fighters to move back and forth between divisions. With the infrastructure now in place, Bellator was able to bring life back into its heavyweight title with an inaugural eight-man tournament which involved some of the biggest names in the promotion.
The Bellator Grand Prix format is a standard, single-elimination tournament. The winners from each side of the bracket advance forward with each win until they reach the finals.
Bellator MMA has garnered great success with its Grand Prix tournaments. In October 2019, Douglas Lima became the welterweight Grand Prix champion when he defeated Rory MacDonald at Bellator 232. Notable names such as Chael Sonnen, Fedor Emelianenko, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson have also been former competitors in a Bellator Grand Prix as they fought in the heavyweight installment.