Upon joining the Professional Fighters League ahead of the 2019 season, Jeremy Kennedy was more familiar than most with the promotion and its unique points system.
The UFC veteran — who proudly boasted that his entire life is fighting — claimed to have watched all of the PFL’s inaugural season last year, giving him a firm grasp of the importance of regular-season bonus points and seeding entering the playoffs.
“Everyone wants a finish, and we’re not paid by the hour,” Kennedy said.
Most fighters, Kennedy included, said they don’t want to put too much stock into the points system as PFL’s second season gets into full swing this week. Featherweight and lightweight fighters will compete Thursday in PFL 2 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum in their first of two regular-season bouts. The fighters know simply winning is the biggest key to making the playoffs, no matter how it comes and no matter the amount of bonus points earned.
But to say the allure of securing a top seed doesn’t play into their strategies would be false.
“I’m always looking for a first-round finish, but I’m not going to kick myself if I knock this guy out in the second round or the third round,” said Kennedy, who faced Luis Rafael Laurentino. “As long as I get that finish and it doesn’t go to the end, I’ll be happy. I just want four, five or six points, it’s a bonus getting six and getting in and out.”
Kennedy got in and out quick Thursday, but it was Laurentino who came out firing for a quick finish, earning six points with a knockout just 23 seconds into the fight.
Unlike the rest of the MMA world, PFL uses a traditional sports league format to determine its champion. Each fighter has two regular-season bouts to earn points in the PFL standings, which is designed to incentivize early, exciting finishes. Three points are awarded for a win, with up to three bonus points available for an early stoppage. Of the 12 fighters in each division, the top eight earn playoff berths, setting up a championship fight for a $1-million prize for each weight class.
Kennedy knows what a high seed can do for a fighter. Recounting the previous year's events with the vigor of a "Game of Thrones" fan discussing the show's early seasons, he recalled Steven Siler’s strange journey to the featherweight final, including his rise to the No. 1 seed with two stoppages in the regular season.
“You look at Siler last season how there was an early stoppage with [Alexandre] Almeida and the way come-from-behind [win] against [Magomed Idrisov]. So, he kind of strolled in as the top seed, which maybe he wasn’t on paper the best fighter but it played out that way, and he made it to the finals,” Kennedy said. “There are just so many things that can happen."
In PFL’s first go-round, three points from one decision victory mostly did the job for fighters vying for a postseason spot. After injuries and disqualifications thinned the field before the playoffs, only two fighters who earned three or more points didn’t make the postseason. At featherweight, Jumabieke Tuerxun wound up in the quarterfinals without earning a single point.
Eventual featherweight champion Lance Palmer earned nine points and the No. 2 seed with a pair of stoppages in his two regular-season bouts.
“You can’t just go in there recklessly and try and get a finish even though that’s what you want, but the first two fights of the season last year, that was my goal, try and get bonus points, set yourself up for the bracket system,” said Palmer, who faces Alex Gilpin. “But also we could argue that we had the tougher side of the bracket last year, so it doesn’t always matter where you’re at on the bracket, you’ve still got to beat the guys to get to the final.”
Islip’s Chris Wade recovered from a loss in his 2018 PFL opener to earn the No. 4 seed in the lightweight playoffs thanks to six points secured with a first-round submission in his second bout.
“I think everybody is playing it out in their mind here — everyone you just saw weigh in wants six points. They want six points, they want to lock up the playoffs,” Wade said. “I want six points, I want to lock up the playoffs, but you can’t trade the want for that for your win or for three points at least if it’s not going that way. You can’t force that and blow your opportunity to have anything.”
Wade, who faces Nate Andrews on Thursday night, also noted that it’s not just points on the line — this still is a business.
”It’s show-win, so there’s double the money on the other side of that," Wade said. "Although I want my points, if the opportunities don’t present themselves I’m not going to get crazy in the first fight of the season and sabotage all the other things that a win would get me.”