It’s been a busy two weeks in combat sports. Every major mixed martial arts promotion has had a show of significance. Terence Crawford solidified his standing as the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Jake Paul scored a unanimous-decision win over Nate Diaz in the latest crossover novelty scrap. Even Logan Paul put on a show at WWE SummerSlam before catching a private jet to watch his little brother in action.
Needless to say, social media has been abuzz when it comes to combat sports. The usual kings of clicks, the UFC are firmly entrenched as the biggest drivers on multiple platforms. The race for No. 2 is where things get a little interesting with Professional Fighters League beginning to put significant distance between itself Bellator and ONE Championship
I spoke with Jonathan Cohen of Bedrock PR, a social media listening firm for specifics. Cohen provided data on each promotion and its related fighters. Here are the rankings in total social media following across all platforms.
*Facebook, Twitter/X, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok were the channels measured.
- UFC – 109M
- One Championship – 56.04M
- Bellator MMA – 8.39M
- Professional Fighters League – 7.27M
Despite those raw numbers that are partially explained by the length of time each promotion has been in existence (UFC 30 years, ONE 12 years, Bellator 15 years and PFL six years), PFL sits just under a million below Bellator when it comes to overall followers. Per the data provided, Professional Fighters League has been No. 2 in terms of being mentioned in the most Tweets. Between May – July, 2023; the Twitter handle @PFLMMA was mentioned in 222,867 Tweets, second only to @UFC which was mentioned in 696,301 Tweets.”
From the spectacular UFC 291 card, the promotion’s tweet of Justin Gaethje’s sensational head-kick KO of Dustin Poirier has been viewed a remarkable 4.1 million times since it happened on July 29, and that’s just the amount of engagement from the UFC’s official Twitter account. Adding in the views of the video from other primary MMA and combat sports accounts and platforms would make the number all the more astronomical.
Here is a breakdown of those numbers from May – July, 2023
- @UFC – 696,301 Tweets
- @PFLMMA – 222,867 Tweets
- @ONEChampionship – 49,550 Tweets
- @BellatorMMA – 32,542 Tweets
PFL’s signing of Francis Ngannou and Cedric Doumbe proved to be among the biggest needle movers. Ngannou’s popularity has only grown since he reached free agency and subsequently signed a deal with PFL. He is currently preparing to face Tyson Fury in a boxing match on October 28.
Ngannou’s top post of the last three months was an Instagram photo promoting his October fight with Fury, that got 1,109,262 engagements.. His second-best performing post was a TikTok video promoting the fight. I was at the PFL Playoffs in San Antonio on Friday and there were several promotions of the Ngannou-Fury fight, which further shows the promotion’s support of the former UFC champion’s desire to box.
Aside from Ngannou, Doumbe was also a hot ticket on social media for PFL-related concepts.
Three of the 5 Tweets mentioning @PFLMMA getting the most engagements during the last 3 months were posted by Doumbé. For example, a training video showing Doumbé and Salahdine Parnasse training together, got 6,693 engagements and 1.7 million views. Even before his promotional debut, Doumbé’s two-year contract with the Professional Fighters League is already raising the company’s profile on social media.
As we move toward the PFL Championship in November, there is an increasing chance we’ll see the promotion’s social media profile continue to rise. Is there a chance that we see it surpass Bellator in total following?
Based on the trends and pace, that’s probably not a bad bet.
Aside from UFC 291 content, which blew away the competition from July 29 – August 4, the top UFC post between May-July 2023 was an Instagram posts announcing Islam Makhachev vs. Charles Oliveira 2 and Paulo Costa vs. Khamzat Chimaev as the first official fights of UFC 294. That post got 1,390,251 engagements. Other top posts by UFC in that time period include a TikTok of Keith Lee promoting an ESPN fight, and footage on YouTube of Alan Klingbeil dropping Vernon Cathey in Power Slap.
The top Bellator post in the last 3 months was a TikTok of Yoel Romero barking at the camera after his unanimous-decision loss to Vadim Nemkov in June, with 176,771 engagements.
Meanwhile a Facebook clip of Conor McGregor interrupting the Charlie Ward/John Redmond fight at Bellator 187 was their next best performing post. That’s a bit deceiving considering McGregor is primarily associated with the UFC.
The biggest night for ONE Championship on social media in the last 3 months was on May 5, around ONE Fight Night 10: Johnson vs. Moraes 3. On May 5, there were 20,796 Tweets mentioning either ONE Fight Night 10, ONE Championship, or headliners Demetrious Johnson or Adriano Moraes. Johnson is a future UFC Hall of Famer, so there is another tie-in to the undisputed MMA king.
The top performing related Tweet on the night (other than by media outlets), got 8,041 engagements. It was a post from @MMAPauli about still not believing UFC traded Johnson for Ben Askren back in 2018.
With the start of free agency for heavyweight Derrick Lewis, the PFL Playoffs on August 18, Mike Tyson agreeing to help train Ngannou, Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender series restarting for a seventh season on August 8, Bellator 298 on August 11 and UFC 292 on August 19, the engagement over the next three months could see yet another bump.