New Combat Franchises Vie for Pay-Per-View Buys

Two new combat sports franchises will step into the sports television ring in June in an effort to reach young fight fans.

The Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) will distribute its inaugural event via pay-per-view on June 2, while the Professional Fighters League — a mixed martial arts league in which fighters must compete in scheduled regular-season and postseason bouts to advance to the championship — will debut on NBCSN June 7.

BKFC will look to draw young fight fans — as well as older boxing fans — when it launches its first fight card Saturday on PPV. The fights, which harken back to the late 1800s, when grapplers such as John L. Sullivan and Gentleman Jim Corbett fought sanctioned fights with no gloves, will take place in Wyoming, the only state thus far to sanction the sport.

“It’s very safe, it took us years and years to develop it and we’re going to present it in a way that’s at a high-class level,” said Brian Ricco, executive producer for MultiVision Media, the PPV distributor of the event. “This is not an underground event; this is going to be in big arenas featuring full-blown productions.”

Much like UFC in its early days, BKFC will use PPV as its distribution pipeline to fans. The fight card, featuring 12 bouts, will retail for $29.99, and all major cable distributors including In Demand, DirecTV and Dish Network will offer the event, according to Ricco.

Over-the-top combat sports service FITE TV will air the event via the web. Ricco added that the fight would be distributed in 4K, a rarity among combat sports PPV events. The fights will take place in a squared ring with four ropes. Most bouts will consist of three two-minute rounds with a referee both inside and outside the ring. The combatants will be bare-knuckled, although they can apply tape on the hands below the knuckles, according to Ricco.

Ricco added that he’s not concerned about potential negative feedback from critics who may lament the violent nature of the event. “There’s a lot of history here with bare-knuckle boxing, dating back to John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett, and we’ll tap into that,” he said. “I believe people will be intrigued by this.”

BKFC founder and CEO David Feldman would not predict how many buys the event would generate, but said the event has already generated high social media interest.

“It’s like the forbidden fruit — it’s something that you couldn’t see before because it’s always been underground,” he said. “What they will end up seeing is a very professional event.”

BKFC will look to distribute quarterly PPV events, with the next two shows tentatively scheduled for September and December, according to Ricco. He added the PPV model best suits the organization as it looks to build and grow its audience base.

“The first punch ever in bare-knuckle boxing will be on PPV, and as this grows we’ll see what distribution platforms makes sense,” he said.

The Professional Fighters League will feature a roster of 72 fighters from 13 countries competing in a seven-week regular-season league format that will air on NBCSN beginning June 7.

The season launches with 12 athletes in each of six different weight classes who will compete for a spot in the playoffs. During the playoff round, fighters will have to win two fights in one evening to advance to the championship event.The six eventual champions will receive a $1 million prize, according to officials.

NBCSN will air weekly, live PFL matchups as part of its new MMA Night in America show through the end of August. Events televised by NBCSN will also stream on and on the NBC Sports app.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.