“This is not an athlete deal. Francis is an icon today in the sport, he is the best in the world at what he does, but he’s in business with the P.F.L.,” Murray said. “We’re in business together.”
Murray said the P.F.L.’s expansion to Africa is slated to start in 2024, with the hope of staged events taking place in 2025. The process, to be led in part by Ngannou, includes scouring the continent for fighters and for countries to host fights. Ngannou said he saw Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa as early targets. In the meantime, he said he would like to have a boxing match this year before fighting again in mixed martial arts.
The challenge now for Murray and P.F.L. executives is to successfully build the league’s pay-per-view division and find opponents for Ngannou, Harrison and Paul that will be draws for fans — to watch and to pay for.
Though the P.F.L. is funded by its media rights deals, sponsorships and ticket sales, pay-per-view buys are one of the biggest financial drivers in mixed martial arts. Harrison headlined the P.F.L.’s first and only pay-per-view event last November. By comparison, the U.F.C. staged 13 pay-per-view fights in 2022.
“Launching pay-per-view combined with launching regional leagues — that is what will drive scale and that’s what the league is focused on,” Murray said.
The P.F.L. had to reshuffle parts of its 2023 season on Friday after a group of fighters were suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The league and the commission did not officially disclose the reason, but the P.F.L. said in a statement it had a “zero-tolerance policy related to the usage of banned substances.’‘
During his free agency, Ngannou became a polarizing figure among fans and fighters, who said he had made a mistake by declining the U.F.C.’s offers to stay. On Twitter, he posted an image of himself sitting atop a luxury Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle, with a caption mocking their claims that he “fumbled the bag.” Now with the P.F.L., he said his decision was worth it.
“When people don’t understand you, what you’re doing, obviously there’s a lot of criticism, but when you’re confident and certain of what you’re doing and where you’re going and aware of achievement, you just have to be patient and welcome the time everybody sees it,” he said.