Mixed martial arts (MMA) holds an interesting spot when it comes to the DC sports hierarchy. Known as a fight town, DMV residents tend to sway more toward boxing as the DC area has historically offered the squared circle a true home for locally bred talent and big events.
Globally, MMA as a whole is maybe at its most profitable point and the Professional Fighters League (PFL) is looking to capitalize on the potentially fertile fandom in DC with an event on October 20 in the brand new St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena. This marks the organization’s third DC card, after PFL Fight Night in November 2017 and PFL 3 this past July.
The PFL separates itself from other MMA promotions by instituting a tournament system between the top eight fighters in each of its six divisions. The PFL 2018 season will conclude on December 31, with six championship fights back-to-back and a $10 million prize pool.
PFL 10 offers a boon for fight fans who have followed the sport over the past decade, with veterans like former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) vets Rick Story and John Howard, and other talents such as Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Louis Taylor.
Fights at the top of the card include Shields vs. Ray Cooper III (who square off in a rematch after Cooper bested the veteran by technical knockout), Eddie Gordon vs. Andre Lobato, and Howard vs. Shamil Gamzatov – to name a few.
“There is an appetite for the very, very high end of fighting, whether it’s [boxing’s] Pacquiao and Mayweather or [MMA’s] Conor McGregor,” says MMA journalist Luke Thomas. “But the midlevel has been harder to cultivate [here in DC]. The PFL is trying to tap into that, and even though some of the guys aren’t the best of the best anymore, it’s good fighting. It’s a big test, it’s critical. But the question is how difficult is [getting people to the event].”
Thomas, of MMA Fighting and SiriusXM’s The Luke Thomas Show, is a DC native and says there has been a general interest for the sport dating back to the days of DC promotion Ultimate Warrior Challenge. The promotion featured early bouts of eventual UFC standouts John Dodson, Brendan Schaub and Mike Easton. But because of commission issues in DC and big markets like New York City only a few hours up the highway, big MMA fights have largely eluded the city.
“Part of this is DC hasn’t had a DC fighter breakthrough,” Thomas says. “It’s a newer fight community, and I don’t think they know enough about the sport. There’s a fight community, but it leans more toward boxing, and this new audience doesn’t know all the practices.”
Despite this, Thomas and I are in agreement regarding the talent on PFL 10. More high-level fights in the District could further the sport’s exposure, perhaps making way for breakthrough stars and additional can’t-miss fight cards.
“The PFL will bring many talents that are pretty damn good,” he continues. “A lot of these guys have been floating just outside the UFC ranks. There are definitely some fights to look out for, and you have an undercard with good veterans. These are all legitimate fighters.”
The fight card will represent one of the first large-scale events to take place at the city’s new venue. In addition to featuring touring sports like the PFL, e-sports and concerts, the 4,200-seat arena will also house the Washington Mystics and the Wizards’ new NBA G-League team, the Capital City Go-Go. The completion of the 118,000-square-foot St. Elizabeths East is the culmination of a year-long construction process that cost the city about $69 million.
While there’s currently no boxing cards scheduled for the arena, there’s little doubt DC’s newest building will host bouts in the future. Fight fans in the District yearning for high-level combat sooner will be treated to the PFL 10 and a collection of MMA talent from around the world.
“I guarantee that when the card is over, we’ll have been treated to quality MMA,” Thomas says.
Don’t miss the PFL 10 on Saturday, October 20 at the new St. Elizabeths East arena. Visit www.pflmma.com for more information and to purchase tickets.
St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena: 1100 Oak Dr. SE, DC; www.esaontherise.com