Ahead of the PFL Europe Playoffs in Paris on September 30, the promotion’s Head of Fighter Operations Dan Hardy chatted exclusively to Fighters Only’s Simon Head to give his half-term report on PFL Europe’s inaugural season.

We’re halfway through the inaugural PFL Europe season, so now seems like the perfect time to catch up and get a half-term report from you ahead of the PFL Europe Playoffs. How have things gone for you, so far?

Yeah, I think it’s going really well. The Berlin card was awesome. I feel like we had some really good performances, a couple of surprises, a couple of people really showed up. I’m just ready for Paris now, to be honest, I want a conclusion to this year, because I’m interested to see who the first European champions are.

We’ve got some really, really strong weight classes, especially bantamweight. I know we’ve got the flyweights, the light heavyweights and the lightweights as well, but for me, bantamweight is the strongest division that we’ve got right now in PFL. And I feel like any one of the guys that got through to Paris could potentially be a top five bantamweight, if given the opportunity. Now, it’s all about making sure those opportunities are there for them.

The winner in Paris will get through to Dublin, and then I’m hoping that the winners then progress on to the global roster, where they’re going to introduce the bantamweight division. Again, we’ve got bantamweights spread around the world that can step into that roster and make it very, very interesting. But ultimately, up to this point, I’m very, very happy with how it’s playing out. 

Bantamweight’s probably the strongest weight class across all the big organizations right now. The UFC are absolutely stacked, PFL, PFL Europe is on the way up, Bellator has a great bantamweight division. It looks like there’s lot of potential talent that could be could be farmed into the PFL in the next 12 months or so.

Absolutely. And we’re gonna have a lot more shows as well, coming up, you know? Europe is the first region, but it’s the first of many regions that we’re going to be opening up around the world where we can find this talent.

My focus is specifically Europe. But then, you know, we’re gonna have people around the world that are doing the same job as me, finding the best talent in Middle East the best talent in Australia and the best talent in South America. Like it’s there. We know the people that are there, because they’ve been found. But what about all the fighters that have not yet been found?

We were at the EMMAA Four Nations this summer, and even the level of the kids compete at 12-13 years old, it’s terrifying. And those kids are in every country, training under UFC vets, Bellator vets, PFL vets. That’s the future. We need to find them. And we need to make sure there’s platforms for them to fight.

And, sticking with bantamweight, potentially the best bantamweight you’ve got isn’t even in the season.

Very much, potentially. Yes. Yeah. And we’ve got a couple more that I’m looking at, as well, who are more familiar names that I’m hoping to integrate into the roster. But, you know, what Lewis McGrillen has done so far has been terrifying, especially against Amrali Saydoshurov, who I thought was going to be able to clinch him, wrestle him, and take it down.

Saydoshurov’s got a hell of a chin. He’s very, very difficult to put away. We did see that. I mean, I don’t know how many shots he took in that first round. But the fact that he was on his feet for the second was incredible. And then you see the adjustment from McGrillen, as well. He knows that left hand is dangerous, as long as he can land it clean. And he had to find a different way of landing it to have a different effect on his opponent.

At what point do you pull the trigger on a guy like that and say, “Yeah. He’s not in the season, and we don’t want to undermine the guys in the season, but we’ve got a potential star that we can really mold and grow with the brand.”

Yeah, well, I mean, you know, he’s right there. Now. He’s right there. I’ve got a couple of opponents in mind for him. A couple of proper European veterans that are going to be a good test for him. And then he’s into the regular season next year. Ultimately, you know, everyone knows what he’s capable of inside the cage. But it’s everybody else that’s got to raise their game outside of the cage to get the same kind of bandwidth that he’s getting. He’s a natural talker, he’s is a natural fight seller. You can tell that with the way he swaggers around fight week, the way he does all of his interiews and everything. As soon as the fight is done, he’s very respectful.

Honestly, I know it’s a cliche, but it reminds me a lot of Conor McGregor. The way that he fights, the way that he talks – his confidence is unrivaled in the fight situation. But as soon as the fight’s done, he’s very respectful, he’s very calm. It shows he’s a very calculated young man. And I feel like the sky really is the limit for him.

The way it’s thinking in my head is that we’ll have a bantamweight champion that will progress to the global roster this year, and some of the bantamweights around this year will stick around Europe and they’ll be in the bracket with him. And I think that’s where we’re gonna get some real tests and I don’t want to speculate as to who that will be because the Playoffs are still playing out. But you can pick any four of the bantamweights we’ve got in this bracket and put them in there against McGrillen and you would imagine they’d test him. But it’s yet to be seen. He might just blast through them like he did with everybody else!

He’s already calling for a Manchester show, too. PFL Europe Season 1 is already mapped out, so we know what’s happening with events and locations. But do you have any sort of sneak preview of what we can expect in Season 2. Is it going to be expanded?

There are a lot of conversations going on around dates and locations at the moment. I would like to push for more shows, because I just don’t have enough events to cater for all the fighters in Europe that want to compete. I would like to add more shows, and I would love to do a Manchester show. But if we do a Manchester show, it’s going to have to be a big one.

We’ve got so many stars from Manchester and Manchester Top Team, you know? Abraham Bably, one of our heavyweights, Dakota Ditcheva’s training in Manchester when she’s not in the US. Of course, Brendan Loughnane. There’s a lot of fighters we would call in for that card. Although Brendan would probably be the main event given the fact he’s a former world champion, but McGrillen’s going to be the one everyone’s talking about. I’m just interested to see what his potential is in the fights, but also in his ability to reach the fans. Because, like a Paddy Pimblett, I feel like people are gonna look at him and go, ‘He’s someone I’m going to get behind right now at the beginning of his career,’ and they’ll want to follow him all the way to the belt. He’s got that kind of personality about him.

I’m hoping that the first PFL Europe show next year is going to be early March. Really, I’d like to get going a bit earlier next year. But again, these conversations I need to have with the team. And locations as well.  have with the team. Yeah. And then locations as well. This is a bunch of good places in the UK, I’d love to go up to Scotland. And let’s go back to Wales again. No doubt, we’ll be in Ireland and France. And then we’ll see where else in Europe we go. Manchester is definitely on the list.

And are we talking about potentially adding weight classes, as well?

I think next year, what we’ll do is we’ll shift the weight classes. So I might drop one of the four weight classes for the tournament and bring in a new weight class – one that’s probably a bit busier for Europe.

Welterweight is one I’m really keeping my eye on.

We’ve got Cedric Doumbe on the card in Paris, and depending on how he does will depend on whether he goes into the global roster or sticks around for Europe. Even if he wins in Paris, he’d be 5-0, so he’s still young in his career. And some of the other welterweights we’ve got around are five to 10 fights into their careers and are all chomping at the bit to face Cedric. They all want to fight him now before he becomes a better mixed martial artist than he already is. So, we’ll see.

I think a weight class shift will be the first thing I’ll do next year, then I’ll look at adding a new weight class. But I’m also going to do feature bouts in weight classes that we won’t be doing. I’ve got good male and female featherweights, I’ve got good light heavyweights and heavyweights I’d like to give runouts to next year, as well. So I’ve got to be flexible with my weight classes. But I think I’ll probably do four (weight classes) in the regular season, playoffs and championship next year.

Finally, we’ve got the you got the playoffs in Paris, then we’ve got the finals in Dublin. What can we expect in terms of that Dublin finale? Are we going to see featured additional bouts on there just to beef up that event, and maybe get some of the bigger names from the main roster on that card?

Yeah, that’s absolutely the plan. We’ll have the four final bouts for the four different divisions. I’ve got a bunch of other fighters that I’m looking at putting on that card that are all very, very popular Irish fighters or fighters that train and fight out of Ireland. I just want it to be a celebration, really, of where we’re at right now in mixed martial arts, both for Irish MMA and for Europe, as well.

We’re in a really strong place right now in Europe for mixed martial arts. We’ve contributed champions and number-one contenders to the sport, and I feel like Ireland, they’re receptive to a well-put-together MMA show. I’ve loved being at events there; Cage Warriors, Bellator, UFC events. To be there for a PFL event is going to be really, really cool.

And I not only want some stars at the top of the card to bring that star power, but I also want a couple of the amateurs I saw at the Four Nations. I want them on the undercard as well, because I want to have that path all the way through. The amateurs, the early pros, the people fighting for European championships, and then the people at the top of the card that are already world-level. That’ll be really important for me and, you know, speaking to some of the amateurs in Cardiff, there’s going to be some really excitable and fast-paced amateur fights to open up the night.