Paul Hughes Spurns the UFC, Signs With the PFL

April 23, 2024
1 month

Northern Ireland lightweight Paul Hughes had an opportunity to sign with the UFC. But something about what the world’s largest MMA promotion had to offer didn’t sit right with him. Hughes and his team decided to take their business elsewhere.

The best MMA news sites have long wondered how the PFL’s acquisition of Bellator would impact the larger MMA market. Bringing in a large collection of experienced Bellator fighters has already made a big difference in terms of the quality of fights PFL can put on. But if the PFL wants to be seen as a true competitor to the UFC, the organization needs to sign some top talent that didn’t come up through the UFC system.

A few of the prospects in the PFL’s pipeline offer an opportunity for the PFL to build a brand around and promote. Both Bellator and the PFL have struggled to promote their stars when they were operating as separate brands. Figuring out a way to pump up the signing of Hughes, and promoting some of their other homegrown talent, can help establish the PFL as a league that demands to be taken seriously.

There has been a path to success for many Cage Warriors fighters to make their way to the top of the international market. Conor McGregor is one of Cage Warriors’ most successful alumni, Paddy Pimblett also recently made the leap from Cage Warriors to the UFC.

Hughes would like to be one of the next European stars to make their name on the world stage. Hughes has settled one of the tough decisions, which is what promotion to sign with, now all he has to do is fight some of the toughest competitors in the world and win fights.

Hughes Doesn’t Get What He Hoped For

While fighting in Europe, Hughes built up a reputation as a top prospect. When he hit free agency, Hughes hoped the UFC would bring him in at a higher dollar figure that would reflect his value. When Hughes got an offer from the PFL, he still took a meeting with the UFC.

Hughes said he didn’t feel like he received a “meaningful” offer from the UFC. The plan for Hughes is to fight three times on PFL cards during 2024. During the 2025 and 2026 seasons, Hughes plans to compete in the lightweight tournaments for the $1 million prize.

Hughes Cut His Teeth in Cage Warriors

Hughes didn’t get discouraged after he took his first loss to Jordan Vucenic in a split-decision loss at Cage Warriors 119 in December 2020. Hughes got back in the cage three months later. He would beat James Hendin on that night to kick off his current five-fight winning streak.

Hughes picked up the Cage Warriors featherweight championship along the way. In recent fights, Hughes has improved his winning streak. During Hughes’ last two fights, he collected a pair of knockout victories. The most recent of which came against Fabiano Silva at Cage Warriors 170. Hughes now has an 11-1 career record.

Hughes has collected five of his wins by knockout and three by submission during his career. When it comes to Hughes’ perspective on his MMA career, he has emphasized that he was never going to sign with a promotion just because of its reputation.

Hughes, 26, doesn’t seem like he feels the pressure to sign with a top organization like many young fighters feel the need to. He no longer necessarily looks at fighting professionally as living out a dream. Hughes wants to make sure he is properly compensated for his time and effort.

Silveira Hasn’t Quite Made the Top Yet

Josh Silveira may have been the top pure MMA prospect on the organization’s radar over the past few years. There was some thought the UFC would pursue Silveira heavily. Silveira was 7-0 before signing with the PFL and had been a two-division champion in LFA.

Silveira has been a reliable fighter on the PFL roster. In his first two seasons with the PFL, Silveira made the playoffs each year. However, Silveria hasn’t yet finished off a season with another big performance.

During the 2022 season, Silveira lost his first playoff fight with Omari Akhmedov. In 2023, Silveira made the finals before losing to heavy underdog Impa Kasanganay in the finals.

Dakota Ditcheva Has Chance to be a Star

The PFL hasn’t kept all of its eggs in the Hughes or Silveira baskets. Over the past few years, the PFL has been staging tournaments in Europe to find potential stars. Dakota Ditcheva won the European flyweight tournament to improve to 9-0 in her MMA career.

Ditcheva was entered into the 2024 flyweight season. She beat a much less experienced Lisa Mauldin by first-round knockout to open the season. MMAfighting latest news shows the PFL has faced accusations of trying to protect the young fighter by giving her easier fights to help her reach the playoffs.

PFL Tried to Protect Claressa Shields

One of the PFL’s other top prospects to come through in recent years was former Olympic champion boxer Claressa Shields. Shields has only fought three times in the cage and has won two of those fights. However, Shields has looked limited in each matchup.

With Hughes, it’s hard to tell if the PFL would like to feed him substandard competition like it did Shields or if he will get tougher challenges.

Hughes Has Chance to Make Waves

There is a lot of pressure with being an up-and-coming fighter in mixed martial arts. Hughes will be under an immense amount of scrutiny attempting to live up to the hype he has established. Hughes has proven to be a solid fighter who has found success in Europe.

However, fighting in a promotion like the PFL will bring along a new set of challenges with a different type of fighter. Hughes will be fighting against a number of veteran fighters with more experience. This will be a great test to see where his skill set lies and what he can do to stay at the top of the sport.

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By Dean McHugh.