Professional pillow fighting is Miami’s newest mainstream sport

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Photo by Sonder Marketing

When it comes to sporting events, Miami has long been the Wild West of the East Coast, a place where it’s never hard to find a fast furiousDrag races and backyard brawls attract both spectators and sponsors. And now, a new form of combative competition has arisen from the depths of dubious ideas: professional pillow fighting. Because if anyone were to find a way to bet on a bedroom activity, it would always be Miami.

But professional pillow fights are no downfall. Nor is it a late-night promotion at Tootsie’s. It’s, in fact, the latest organized sport to come out of South Florida, and the people wielding the fluffy guns are as fierce as anyone you’d find inside the octagon.

“I saw it online and thought, ‘This stuff is a joke,'” said bare-knuckle boxer Marcus Brimage, who was previously Connor McGregor’s first MMA opponent. “But I got in there, and someone slapped my face with a pillow, and then I got in. You don’t care about anything else.

Brimage was one of 24 fighters – 16 men and eight women – competing in Pound Down of the Pillow Fight Championship, a one-night tournament to crown the sport’s first-ever champions. It’s kind of like the UFC back in the day, minus the CTE, of course. But, perhaps more importantly, the brilliant blend of humor, childhood nostalgia and good old-fashioned primal bloodlust just might make it the world’s next big sporting craze.

Photo courtesy of Sonder Marketing

The game may be on, but the heat is real
PFC is the brainchild of Steve and Paul Williams, serial entrepreneurs who kicked things off with a few smaller shows scattered around South Florida and Brazil. And, on stage at PFC’s first large-scale Pay-Per-View event, it looks like any other small-scale fight night.

A collection of sleazy-looking hustlers surround the ring, dripping in velvet tracksuits and heavy jewelry of undetermined quality. Announcers in tuxedos introduce the contestants for each “Neck Support Night Fight” bout while an audience of ripped Floridians from local gyms cheer on their fellow performers. If they’re smart, they can also fight for spots in upcoming fights – tonight’s action nets each entrant $250, not bad for throwing a pillow for a few minutes.

Photo courtesy of Sonder Marketing

The first round of the program involves a man made up like Joaquin Phoenix’s version of Joker going up against a smaller man, also made up like the Joker. As the bell rings, the smaller Joker, who is trained in capoeira, rolls over, whips his pillow back and SMACK! He yanks the taller man, whose head pops up, white makeup flying. They both stop, then smile.

“It’s a real fight!” Steve Williams enthusiastically lets go from his position at ringside. “It’s not a circus.”

Clown makeup aside, he’s right. Although the biggest Joker cackles and dances to an easy victory in this first fight, his second time around sees a real melee break out after he continues to bombard an opponent who dropped his pillow.

“Is he supposed to do this?” I ask Williams.

“We are still working on the rules,” he replies.

On the surface, the rules are pretty simple: fights consist of two 90-second rounds, where fighters hit each other with specially designed ripstop nylon pillows fitted with six handles to improve speed and control. They are graded on the number of strikes they land, although even the judges seemed confused as to what counted as a strike. Again, not much different from million dollar boxing matches.

Photo by Sonder Marketing

Fighters across South Florida are embracing the new platform
Most of the sport’s current fighters are local boxers and MMA fighters, and the Williams have had no trouble finding entrants.

“My phone is ringing every second with fighters asking, ‘How do I sign up? ‘” Steve Williams says. “Everyone wants to fight, but they don’t want brain damage. And we have a way for people to enjoy the strategy and thrill of real combat without the risk.

While the conditioning and coordination demanded by traditional combat sports give an opponent a distinct advantage, Paul Williams says there’s no reason the average person can’t also throw their hat – uh, a nightcap – in the ring. One of the top PFC Pound Down contenders, TJ Jenkins, is a Delray auto detailer who owns a business not far from the Williams offices.

Photo by Sonder Marketing

He faced Mike Trujillo on the second go-around of the night. After an intense exchange of punches on the pillow similar to a Hagler–Hearns confrontation, Trujillo found the pillow too heavy to lift less than a minute into the second round. After Jenkins landed a barrage of nylon slaps to Trujillo’s unprotected head, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. We just witnessed the first TKO in pillow fighting history.

The crowd erupted as if they had just seen a man knocked out with cold, the primal excitement palpable despite the freezing January cold.

“Since the dawn of time, we have watched battles more carefully than anything else,” says Paul Williams. “In modern life we’ve cleaned it up a bit, but at the end of the day it’s two guys hitting each other. It’s instinct, we can’t look away.

Photo by Sonder Marketing

At the end of the night, around 2 a.m. more or less, a champion in the men’s and women’s division emerged victorious. Each held up an oversized $5,000 check and championship belt, bloodless smiles plastered to their faces.

For now, PFC’s rules and business plan remain unclear. Williams talks about a franchise model, where he sells fight setups to bars and fight schools to gyms. He is less enthusiastic about ticketed events, but optimistic about Pay-Per-View. Either way, professional pillow fighting is undeniably entertaining, brimming with excitement, no gore, and just enough Miami silliness to make it a hit.

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Matt Meltzer is a Miami-based contributor for Thrillist, a United States Marine Corps veteran, former pageant judge in the Miss Florida America system, and former contributor to Cosmopolitan magazine.

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