UFC vs. PFL: What’s the Difference?

In a world where the UFC reigns as the undisputed king of MMA, the Professional Fighters League (PFL) emerges as the closest semblance of a real competitor.

The PFL turns the conventional MMA format on its head, instead providing a unique approach to the sport which should feel familiar amongst American sports fans. Not only does it strive to innovate where the UFC has not, but it’s also making massive strides with the absorption of Bellator and the signing of super-athletes like Cedric Doumbé and Francis Ngannou.

Let’s look at the real differences between the UFC and PFL.

UFC vs. PFL: What Are the Differences?

Rules: UFC vs. PFL

PFL uses the Unified Rules of MMA, just like the UFC — with some exceptions.

The biggest difference between the UFC and the PFL is that the PFL bans all elbow strikes – this severely affects clinch and grounded situations. The PFL ban elbows presumably to prevent injuries and cuts from disrupting the season progression format.

PFL SmartCage vs. UFC Octagon

PFL SmartCage Explained: UFC vs. PFL What's The Difference?

PFL fighters compete within a 10-sided cage called the ‘SmartCage’, which uses “biometric sensors and proprietary technology” to provide fans with real-time fight data & analytics, such as:

  • Strike Numbers
  • Heartrates
  • Strike Speeds
  • And more…

SmartCage™ compiles, captures, analyzes, tracks, measures, evaluates, assesses and provides real-time statistics, bio-metric data (heart rate, energy exerted), performance data (number and speed of punches and kicks), positional data, move-by-move actions, analytics, information, trends…”


The PFL also grants the referees special ref-cameras on their glasses, and will occasionally switch P.O.V to the referee to provide the viewer with an in-cage view of the action.

By comparison, the UFC octagon is essentially just a cage, though the UFC does a fantastic job of providing fight metrics like strikes landed and other auxiliary stats.

PFL Seasons Explained

PFL Seasons Explained: UFC vs. PFL What's The Difference?
Via Donn Davis on X

Every facet of the PFL is built around their season format. Fighters compete for their place in the $1M tournament for their weight class. They claim their spot by earning points in fights:

  • Win: 3 pts
  • Loss: 0 pts
  • No-Contest: 1pts for each fighter
  • Fighter misses weight: -1 pts (and cannot earn any from the bout)

Bonus for finishing the fight by KO/TKO or SUB:

  • Round 1: 3 pts
  • Round 2: 2 pts
  • Round 3: 1 pts

Regular PFL

The most common product you’ll see from the PFL:

  • Regular Season – Fighters compete in the regular season, earning points. At the end of the season, fighters are ranked by points earned in their fights. The four top-ranked fighters in each division make the playoffs.
  • Playoffs / Semi-Finals: The first-ranked faces the fourth-ranked, and the second-ranked faces the third-ranked in each division for their place in the grand finals.
  • Finals: Winners of the Semi-Finals compete for the $1M prize and a PFL title.

As for the UFC, fights are organized by matchmakers behind the scenes. Fighters vie for top-15 rankings and usually earn their title shots off merit alone — if not their star power.

PFL Challenger Series

PFL Challenger Series is the PFL’s version of Dana White’s Contender Series, where up-and-coming talent fight for their slot in the $1M tournament.

PFL Europe: UFC vs. PFL What's The Difference?

PFL Europe

PFL Europe is like the Challenger Series except it serves to provide a platform for European MMA talent. It is one of their largest growing products, headed by French superstar Cedric Doumbé.

UFC vs. PFL Weight Classes

The PFL has six weight classes vs. the UFC’s nine. Both organisations follow the same weigh-in procedures.

The PFL is introducing more weight divisions with the absorption of Bellator, including Middleweight, mostly as part of their PFL vs. Bellator series. They used to have more divisions for female fighters, including lightweight, which Kayla Harrison famously dominated.

PFL Weight Divisions

via PFL.com

Weight ClassWeight (LBS)Gender
Light Heavyweight205lbsMale
PFL Weight Classes

UFC Weight Divisions

Weight ClassLower Limit (LBS)Upper Limit (LBS)Gender
StrawweightNo minimum115lbsFemale
Light Heavyweight185lbs205lbsMale
UFC Weight Classes

PFL Fighter Salary

Disclosed payouts from several 2022 events show that PFL fighters earn similar figures to UFC fighters, except that the minimum payout is lower than the UFC ($8-10k vs. ~$10-16k).

Former UFC fighters who turned to the PFL are making healthy numbers, with UFC veterans like Anthony Pettis turning high six figures per fight.

How much do PFL fighters make? UFC vs. PFL differences
Anthony Pettis, via PFL

Should You Watch PFL?

PFL is a great product trying to innovate in a long-stale MMA industry. The SmartCage and season formats introduce a novelty for casual or hardcore MMA fans to enjoy.

Their fighter roster is (slowly) coming to fruition, and their extension into the European market bodes well for the future talent coming into the fold. Pioneers like Francis Ngannou are also leading the PFL into the African continent, so we have that to look forward to as well.

How to Watch PFL

PFL events are broadcast on ESPN+ (USA) or DAZN (Euro/UK). Sometimes the prelims are broadcast live on PFL’s YouTube channel.

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Mathew Riddle MMA

Mathew Riddle

Mathew is a combat sports journalist & designer. His past bylines include Sports Illustrated, Heavy on UFC, Sport Skeeda, MMA UK, and MMA Sucka.