Francis Ngannou, Anthony Pettis, Rory MacDonald, Larissa Pacheco, and the list of former UFC fighters who have chosen to sign with the Professional Fighters League is growing.
Each fighter was in a different situation or stage of their career, so the reasons for their decision could vary. Derek Brunson, a former Strikeforce fighter who had been with the UFC since 2012, recently made the jump, and he’s set to make his promotional debut on November 24 at the PFL World Championships in a showcase bout against Ray Cooper III.
I caught up with Brunson, who explained why he signed with PFL.
“I just wanted a fresh start,” Brunson told me from his car, fresh after a training session. “It was a new venture, a new goal I was interested in taking on. I had been in the UFC for so long. I was getting a little burned out there. I had been on some great streaks and I never really got my title shot. It felt like there was no real advancement for me, so signing with PFL was a great fresh start for me.”
Brunson began his career with the UFC in 2012 with a unanimous-decision win over Chris Leben at UFC 155.
In 11 years, Brunson compiled a 14-7 record with the UFC. That 21-fight run included two five-fight win streaks, and his losses came against some of the biggest names in his weight region–including three former champions: Yoel Romero, Jacare Souza, Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker, Israel Adesanya, Jared Cannonier, and Dricus Du Plessis.
At 39 years old, Brunson felt it best to take his talents to a new organization where his path to his professional goals was a little more black and white.
“From a business standpoint, the PFL definitely took care of me,” Brunson said. “Definitely, the pay is more than the UFC. You know what you’re working for, so there’s no politicking. You go out there and win fights, and you win a million dollars. It’s pretty simple.”
The PFL has a matchmaking component outside its primary season structure, but its annual world championships are based on qualifying for the playoffs in a clear-cut points system. From there, fighters engage in an elimination-style bracket until champions in each of the promotion’s weight classes are crowned.
That’s what we will see on November 24 in Washington, D.C., when the PFL will award $1 million to the winners of each of their respective seasons. Brunson made it to the promotion later in 2023, so he won’t be involved in the championship run this year, but it sounds like he plans to get into the mix for 2024. Is this season structure one that more professional mixed martial artists will find attractive?
Brunson believes the list of fighters making the jump will continue to grow.
“It’s a matter of time before guys start saying they want to go to the PFL first,” Brunson said. “It’s different from the UFC. You can get paid well. You can have a little offseason; it’s like a real sports league. Once guys see that, I can go to a different organization that is very reputable, that’s up there also, that’s on ESPN, in the big fights and make a $1 million in a quick span. All my hard work is vindicated from me going out there and winning fights as opposed to this person selling more than you, or this person is more a draw than you. They’ve taken care of those kinds of things.”
Nothing speaks louder than success and financial gain. If Brunson and others continue to find attractive compensation and succeed in the SmartCage, the path to the PFL may become more viable in the coming years.