Forget phone booth fighting, mixed martial arts in a car and slap boxing. They’re all so 2022.
The latest niche combat sport is professional pillow fighting.
Two combatants square off in a boxing ring wailing the stuffing out of each other with pillows.
There’s a league, star athletes, pay-per-view specials and international events already underway. Major sponsors are coming together, plans are in motion to involve youth participants at every level and inklings to bring the whole concept to Hollywood are already on the map.
If this catches on, it could be cooler than the other side of the pillow.
Pillow Fight Championship (PFC) is the brainchild of CEO Steve Williams, with help from his brother Paul.
Like potato chips, Silly Putty and penicillin, the invention came about quite by accident.
The Williams brothers were working on a traveling combat sport concept called Fight Truck that involved a transportable mixed martial arts ring that could, upon arrival to town, unfold in a matter of minutes like a transformer. It’s patented.
One hitch in the plan was the fact that MMA is still banned in some states, and sanctioning in others could prove costly.
On a whim, Paul suggested tweaking the model to pillow fighting.
Steve, a former MMA fighter, thought he was joking. There was an awkward laugh on his part, and then silence as both waited to let the idea sink in.
The more the brothers talked it out, the better the lateral pivot sounded. And by better, they were talking potentially lucrative.
Sponsors would be easier to woo and keep in a G-rated sport that did not ordinarily involve bloodshed. Plus, at the time with the nation in the throes of a pandemic, it seemed a cathartic way to relieve stress in a safe manner.
“The country seems primed for this,” Williams said. “People are still so emotionally taxed from the pandemic and politics, it seems Pillow Fight Championship came along at the right time.
“It’s a big reason for the overwhelming support we are receiving right now. There’s not a single person on earth that hasn’t been negatively affected in some way by COVID.”
What better way to work through a little pandemic PTSD than a good old-fashioned pillow fight?
PFC is a real professional sport, as in athletes are paid to compete. And the first rule in pillow fighting is: there are rules.
Through a painstaking process of trial-and-error, Williams and his team fine tuned what they believe is now the perfect competition platform.
And it really is as simple as it sounds.
Fighters compete in three 90-second rounds. They receive 1 point for any shot to the head, 2 points for a head strike off a 360 spin and 3 points for any knockdown (defined as when a fighter places a knee or hand on the mat, or goes down completely).
A knockout is rare, but not impossible. TKOs result, usually, as a result of a fighter being unwilling to continue. These scenarios are often a direct result of conditioning, or the lack of. Think what you will, swinging pillows is flat-out exhausting for most people who do not actively train for fighting.
One of the first things Williams learned is pillow fighting is no picnic.
“Originally, we started out with the idea of using everyday people off the street,” he said. “In our test modeling, we quickly found hardly anyone had the endurance and stamina to go even one round, much less three, and keep the intensity level high.
“Girls’ arms, for one, were too weak to put up much of a contest and they didn’t have the passion of a trained fighter. So, we made the decision to use only hardcore fighters.”
Goose Down For The Count
Enter ex-UFC fighter Marcus Brimage, professional MMA and bare-knuckle fighter Mike Trujillo and the current PFC champion Yuri Villefort, a Brazilian professional MMA fighter.
The ladies boast fighters like Meriah Hall, Krystal Tait and two-time Muay Thai world champion Istela Nunes, who also now holds the PFC title belt in the women’s division.
Williams added he’s had discussions with a few big names in the fighting game like Dada 5000, Hector Lombard, Luis Palomila and Cris Cyborg.
There appears to be interest there provided PFC can put together a big prize fight, Williams said.
There’s even a signed agreement in place with Kevin Hart’s HartBeat Productions Inc. to develop a Celebrity Comedy Pillow Fight Championship Series.
All fighters are paired together by a “matchmaker” according to similar ability and size. There are no weight divisions. Everyone is considered a (cough) featherweight.
Combatants use a standard queen-sized pillow weighing about 2 pounds. One of the first tests showed was that actual pillows were boring, as Williams put it. So, he had special pillows made with safe rounded handles that allow fighters to really swing with authority and not lose grip of their “weapon.”
Next, Williams settled on just the right textile for the exterior and material for the fill. Pillows are stuffed with foam, not feathers, and encased in lightweight nylon sailcloth.
Mock runs showed this pillow setup provided the right smack sound when struck upside the head of a combatant.
Would It Work In Wyoming?
“I've got to say, I like to think I'm ahead of the curve on just about every fringe fighting sport there is, but you guys got me on this one. I had to look it up,” admitted Wyoming Combat Sports Commissioner Bryan Pedersen.
Pedersen is the guy who has helped foster a friendly state-sanctioned environment for niche combat sports like bare-knuckle boxing and Ice Wars — all of the fighting of hockey with none of the pesky business of goals or penalties.
How would the former MMA fighter react to something as seemingly benign as a Sandra Dee sleepover with mouth guards?
“Well, it’s probably fast-paced. And the novelty of it alone will put butts in seats, initially,” Pedersen said. “Do I see it working long-term? Maybe.
“Wyoming will be happy to sanction this provided we could have some input and agree on a safe way to host it.”
And Pedersen agreed that, from the looks of it, cardio is king in the pillow fight ring.
“Look, there is a world of difference between all organized combat sports and a fight between two idiots in a bar,” he said. “A bar fight is over in under 30 seconds; they’re swinging wildly, giving it all they’ve got until they’re both gassed.
“But a 3-minute round in MMA, for example, is an eternity. And this swinging a 2-pound pillow nonstop on repeat for 90 seconds with all the cardio that takes, let alone being able to come out for Round 2, that’s no joke.”
Reigning PFC champ and second-degree blackbelt in jiujitsu Villefort agrees.
“I think this is [PFC] is going to be bigger than any martial arts. Anyone can do it but it’s not easy to win,” he said while explaining the sport to Comedy Central’s Daily Show reporter Ronny Chieng in a hilarious segment featuring a staged demonstration fight.
Pillow Fluffing Future
Will PFC have the legs to crack into even the off-off-Broadway entertainment world?
After all, a previous iteration — the Toronto-based women’s Pillow Fight League (PFL) — folded in 2011 after a five-year run.
Williams says the future looks promising.
After an initial two years in the development stage slowed by COVID-19, Pillow Fight Championship held its first event in August 2021. It went so well, Williams added another the following month.
David Hudson, owner of SFT Combat in São Paulo, Brazil, and a friend of Williams, saw that fight and became interested. In addition to PFC Pound Down events in 2022 and 2023, nationally televised pillow fights are also now a thing in Brazil.
Another goal is to grow the sport from the ground up beginning with youth.
PFCKidz is the idea to bring pillow fighting into schools, academies and gyms to inspire the next generation with a fairly safe way to engage in one-on-one competition.
“We hope to add things like scholarships at some point. Eventually, have some of the champions move up in the ranks and be featured on our championship events,” Williams said.
Pedersen says he can also foresee a lot of blue sky with the fledgling pillow fight venture.
“You see an expansion in all combat sports, primarily because of the many, many more broadcast outlets available now,” Pedersen said. “There are so many streaming and internet options now outside of the traditional three or four big networks.
“Back when you had to cram something like this in between ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld,’ it was never going anywhere. Now, it’s a much different playing field.”
(Photos Courtesy Pillow Fight Championship)