Miami’s Next Big Spectator Sport? Professional Pillow Fighting
Yes, it’s a real thing.
When it comes to sporting events, Miami has long been the Wild West of the Eastern seaboard, a place where it’s never difficult to track down a Fast & Furious-style drag race and backyard brawls draw both spectators and sponsors. And now, a new form of combative competition has creeped up from the depths of questionable ideas: professional pillow fighting. Because if anyone was going to find a way to place bets on a bedroom activity, it was always going to be Miami.
But pro pillow fighting is not a punchline. Nor is it a late-night promotion at Tootsie’s. It is, in fact, the latest organized sport to come out of South Florida, and the folks swinging the fluffy weapons are as fierce as anyone you’d find inside the octagon.
“I saw it online and thought, ‘This thing is a joke,’” says bare knuckle boxer Marcus Brimage, who previously stood tall as Connor McGregor’s first MMA opponent. “But I got in there, and someone slaps my face with a pillow, and then I’m into it. You don’t care about nothing else.”
Brimage was one of 24 fighters—16 male and eight female—competing in Pillow Fight Championship’s Pound Down, a one-night tournament to crown the sport’s very first champions. It’s a little like UFC was back in the day, minus the CTE, of course. But, perhaps more importantly, the brilliant mix of humor, childhood nostalgia, and good old-fashioned primal bloodlust may well make it the world’s next big sports craze.
Game play might be work in progress, 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 the scene at PFC’s first full-scale Pay-Per-View event, it feels just like any other small-scale fight night.
A collection of shady looking hustlers surrounds the ring, dripping in velour tracksuits and heavy jewelry of indeterminate quality. Tuxedoed announcers introduce the competitors for each bout of “nocturnal neck support combat” while an audience of ripped Floridians sourced from local gyms cheer on their rep-mates. If they’re smart, they may also be jockeying for spots in future fights—tonight’s action pays each participant $250, not bad for throwing a pillow around for a couple of minutes.
The program’s first round involves a man made up like Joaquin Phoenix’s version of Joker taking on a shorter man, also done up like the Joker. As the bell rings, the smaller Joker, who is trained in capoeira, spins around, whips his pillow back, and SMACK! He lands a clean blow to the taller man, whose head snaps back, white makeup flying. They both pause, then smile.
“This is a real fight!” Steve Williams blurts excitedly from his ringside position. “This is not a circus.”
Clown makeup aside, he’s right. Though the taller Joker cackles and dances to an easy victory in this first fight, his second time up sees a real melee break out after he continued pelting an opponent that dropped his pillow.
“Is he supposed to do that?” I ask Williams.
“We’re still working the rules out,” he responds.
On the surface, the rules are fairly straightforward: Fights consist of two, 90-second rounds, where combatants hit each other with specially designed ripstop nylon pillows equipped with six handles to improve speed and control. They’re scored on how many strikes they land, though even the judges seemed confused as to what counted as a strike. Then again, that’s not a whole lot different than million-dollar boxing matches.
Fighters all over South Florida are embracing the new platform
Most of the sport’s current combatants are local boxers and MMA fighters, and the Williams’ have had no trouble finding participants.
“My phone’s going off every second with fighters asking, ‘How do I sign up?’” says Steve Williams. “Everyone wants to fight, but they don’t want the brain damage. And we have a way for people to enjoy the strategy and thrill of a real fight without the risk.”
While the conditioning and coordination traditional combat sports demand give an opponent a clear advantage, Paul Williams says there’s no reason an average person can’t also throw their hat—er, nightcap—in the ring. One of the PFC Pound Down’s top contenders, TJ Jenkins, is an auto detailer from Delray who owns a business not far from the Williams’ offices.
He battled Mike Trujillo in the night’s second go-around. After an intense exchange of pillow punches akin to a Hagler-Hearns showdown, Trujillo found the pillow too heavy to lift less than a minute into round two. After Jenkins landed a barrage of nylon slaps to Trujillo’s unprotected head, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. We just bore witness to the first TKO in pillow fighting history.
The crowd erupted like it had just seen a man knocked out cold, the primal excitement palpable despite the cold January chill.
“Since the beginning of time, we’ve been watching battles more intently than anything else,” says Paul Williams. “In modern life, we’ve purified it a little bit, but when it comes down to it, this is two guys hitting each other. This is instinct—we can’t look away.”
By night’s end—around 2 am, give or take—both a men’s and women’s division champion emerged victorious. Each held up an oversized $5,000 check and a championship belt, a bloodless smile plastered to their faces.
For now, both PFC’s rules and business plan remain unclear. Williams speaks of a franchised model, where he sells fight setups to bars and fight schools to gyms. He’s less enthusiastic about ticketed events, but bullish on Pay-Per-View. However it continues, professional pillow fighting is undeniably entertaining, bursting with all the excitement, none of the gore, and just enough Miami silliness to make it a hit.