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Why a Group of DC Business Leaders Have Launched an MMA League

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has a minority stake.
Photograph by Evy Mages.

Love the Caps but wish hockey were even more violent? A group of DC businessmen has just the thing for you: a new national mixed-martial-arts fighting league. Dubbed the Professional Fighters League, it debuted in June at New York’s Madison Square Garden. On July 5, the PFL arrived in Washington at GW’s Smith Center. “We saw an opportunity for a new entrant in MMA that did things different for a new generation of fans,” says PFL cofounder Donn Davis.

Davis came up with the idea for the MMA league after he saw that the hugely popular Ultimate Fighting Championship sold for $4 billion last year. “That’s a big number, and that’s a tired product,” says the venture capitalist, who started the investment firm Revolution with AOL cofounder Steve Case. Davis approached a group of business leaders—including Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, financier Russ Ramsey, and Carlyle Group co-CEO Glenn Youngkin—with the intent of building their own operation to capture some of the sport’s 300 million fans.

In early 2017, the group acquired the struggling World Series of Fighting in order to relaunch it as a new league. Led by CEO Pete Murray, it now has 72 fighters and is staging 11 events in its first season. “I think it elevates DC yet again as a great sports town,” says league president Carlos Silva.

Of course, Washington could use some elevation in other areas right now, and perhaps one of PFL’s innovations would help: The league has banned the use of sharp elbows, hoping to make bouts less bloody. Worth a try.

This article appears in the August 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

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Jackson Knapp
Assistant Editor