There aren’t a lot of people out there with a combat sports resumé that’s as long and as extensive as that of “Sugar” Ray Sefo’s.
The Auckland, New Zealand-native has competed in mixed martial arts and boxing, but made his bones in the Kickboxing and Muay Thai scene. There, he became a six-time world champion and shared the ring with some of the greats like Ernesto Hoost, Jerome Le Banner, Andy Hug, Peter Aerts, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and Mark Hunt, among many others.
With over a hundred professional bouts under his belt, as well as stints as a coach and trainer to some of the world’s best fighters, Sefo’s legacy inside the ring is undeniable.
Outside the ring, Sefo has also made quite the impact.
In 2012, Sefo decided to put his experience in the inner workings of the fight business to good use by putting up his own mixed martial arts promotion, the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), which featured some of the best fighters in the world and was able to hold events globally.
“Anybody can be a front guy, but not anybody can bring the type of experiences that I have, that I’ve gone through in the fight game,” Sefo said about being WSOF President in an interview with Newsday.com back in 2012. “This is a fighter’s promotion. I’m a fighter for fighters. Being a fighter, I truly understand what it entails in terms of discipline, sacrifices, training camps and all that.”
Eight years later, the WSOF has evolved into the Professional Fighters League (PFL), and Sefo is still going strong as the company’s President for Fighting Operations.
Under Sefo’s watch, the PFL – which features a unique regular season-style format and a million-dollar grand prize – has successfully churned out two successful seasons that were highlighted by countless exciting matchups, which has made them a brand to watch out for moving forward.
While other promotions like the UFC may have a bigger name at the moment, Sefo believes that the PFL has what it takes to carve out a place on the top as well.
“Nothing but love and respect for the UFC, they’ve done an amazing job with the sport. But PFL is a game-changer,” Sefo said in a 2019 interview with www.stuff.co.nz.
What makes the PFL stand out, apart from Sefo’s leadership, is it’s revolutionary style of competition, never before seen from other promotions.
The PFL makes use of a regular season format, much like what other leagues in the United States like the NBA, NFL, and MLB use. At the end of the regular season, the fighters who have earned the most points advance into the playoffs, and then to the finals.
At the end of it all, the winner from each weight class is crowned the PFL World Champion and is awarded a whopping $1 Million.
“We’ve put it in the way America looks at sports,” Sefo explained. “If you look at the NBA, the NFL, baseball, you name it, there’s a regular season, there’s the playoffs and then there’s the championship.”
“There’s been tournaments but this actual format has never been done before in MMA. Last year was our first year and there were a lot of doubters as to whether it was going to work or not,” he continued.
The current roster of PFL World Champions and million-dollar winners include the likes of Lance Palmer, Kayla Harrison, and Ray Cooper III among others.
“We still have a lot of work to do but as long as we continue to challenge ourselves, we’ll continue to move forward,” Sefo said.
With their primetime deal with ESPN in place, the PFL already has massive reach especially in North America. Recently, they expanded that reach to the world by launching an OTT platform and mobile app that gives fans access to exclusive and premium content, wherever they may be.
The PFL was primed for another big season in 2020, which would have featured the highly-anticipated debut of former UFC title contender and former Bellator World Champion Rory MacDonald. The COVID-19 pandemic however, forced the PFL to cancel their 2020 season.
Their focus now shifts to their 2021 season, which is expected to kick off in May and will likely be held inside a bubble in order to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.