No Joke: Comedian Kevin Hart backs new MMA league

Kevin Hart had a bit in his standup routine where his attempt to trash-talk his way out of a fight ends up with the comic offering a hug instead.

“This is dumb. I don’t want to fight you,” Hart says to laughter. “This is stupid. You’ve got to have a purpose, man. I’m not that guy.”

Hart will leave fighting to professionals.

But he’s not against sitting cage side, especially for a Professional Fighters League card, where he’s an investor in the upstart MMA promotion.

“I want to be the guy where people can say, he’s actually there. We see him at the fights,” Hart told The Associated Press. “We see him supporting it. We see he’s a true fan of the sport.”

The PFL ends its first regular season Thursday at Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, before a break for a post-season that will award championship winnings out of a $10 million prize pool.

The PFL emerged from the ashes of World Series of Fighting and has fights streamed on Facebook and televised on NBC Sports Network. The top fighters in six weight classes will make the playoffs and the championship bouts will be held on Dec. 31 at Madison Square Garden.

The Atlantic City card — PFL7 — airs at 9 p.m. on NBCSN.

The league was formed when Donn Davis, Mark Leschly and Russ Ramsey bought the WSOF in 2017 for $25 and rebranded the organization into a tournament style — think March Madness in a cage — league. The PFL landed two-time Olympic judo gold medallist Kayla Harrison as its star, who won her first two professional fights this summer.

“The genesis of the idea is, the day UFC sold for $4.2 billion is the day I started this company,” Davis said. “The UFC, congratulations to bringing MMA into the big time. But what they haven’t done is to be able to make that into a sport where championships are earned rather than awarded.”

That’s certainly up for debate. But Davis believed the PFL’s format can make it the top MMA promotion outside of UFC — though the graveyard is littered with challengers to the throne that couldn’t survive in a brutal sports landscape.

“We’re trying to build the Professional Fighters League into the fifth great sports league,” Davis said.

Hart, the “Ride Along” and “Central Intelligence” star, said the PFL could become more than a niche sport.

“The UFC has done a great job and those fighters deserve all the accolades they’ve got. But I think this is the avenue that’s going to create more opportunities and ultimately become a bigger platform,” Hart said. “They’re all marketed and promoted a certain way but they’re not really putting other people in position in to say, ‘we’re the best of the best’ because the road to becoming the best is a road that’s manipulated and manoeuvred to.

“The PFL puts people through that gauntlet. You get to go through a world of fighters and if you get through it you get the say, ‘I’m the best.”‘

The PFL format rewards early finishes — wins will earn a fighter three points. But the fighter gets three more for a stoppage in the first round, two points for a second-round win and one point in the third. Even a draw is worth one point. The PFL opened with 72 fighters in six weight-classes, competing in seven regular-season events. The playoffs start in October.

MGM Television executive Mark Burnett, a PFL investor, has expressed interest in a potential reality TV series based on hopeful fighters trying to make the league.

Hart, last seen in his hometown of Philadelphia getting tossed around by Joel Embiid following a 76ers’ playoff win, has a full plate the rest of the year: He plans to run the Chicago Marathon, has a slew of movies ahead, including “Night School,” and has been providing scholarships for students who attend historically black colleges and universities. They are projects he believes in — just like the PFL.

“Just a bunch a good stuff going on,” Hart said. “These moving parts all makes sense to me because they’re all passion moves.”

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