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What you need to know about the PFL

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Professional Fighters League brings true sport format to MMA (1:49)

The PFL, which begins May 9 on ESPN+ and ESPN2, features a regular season, a playoff bracket and championship fights with million-dollar payouts. (1:49)

The Professional Fighters League made its debut last year with a format intended to feel familiar for sports fans to bring a new audience to combat sports. There is a season with standings, then playoffs, and to cap it all off, the biggest hook of all: a $1 million payout to the champion of each weight division.

The PFL came into existence after a group of investors bought the World Series of Fighting promotion and rebranded it to have a fresh start. The public face of the organization is former kickboxing world champion Ray Sefo, who serves as PFL president. The promotion was initially acquired by a trio of Washington D.C.-area investors -- Donn Davis, Russ Ramsey and Mark Leschly. That ownership group expanded last year to include Ted Leonsis, majority owner of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, and Mark Lerner, majority owner of the Washington Nationals, as well as comedian Kevin Hart and motivational speaker Tony Robbins, among others.

Ahead of the PFL's debut on ESPN airwaves Thursday, here are some of the key things you'll need to know going into Season 2.

Who fights in the PFL?

There are six weight classes: men's divisions at heavyweight (up to 265 pounds), light heavyweight (205), welterweight (170), lightweight (155) and featherweight (145), and a women's lightweight division. (Last season there was a men's middleweight division, but it was eliminated this season to make room for a women's division.)

There are 12 fighters in each men's division, eight in the women's.

Will I recognize any of the names?

Kayla Harrison is just 3-0 as a professional mixed martial artist but came to the sport as the most decorated American judoka ever. In 2012, she became the first athlete from the United States to win an Olympic gold medal in judo, and four years later she won gold again.

You might also remember several fighters from their runs in the UFC, Bellator or the old WSOF. They include Sarah Kaufman, Lance Palmer, Ramsey Nijem, Chris Wade, John Howard, Vinny Magalhaes and Jared Rosholt.

Several of last season's PFL champions are back to chase another $1 million as well.

How does the season format work?

Each fighter competes twice during the regular season, earning points that are dependent on how each fight ends. The winner of a bout is awarded three points, with bonuses added for knockouts and submissions -- three points for a finish in the first round, two points if it happens in the second round and one point if it comes in the third.

The top eight fighters in each of the men's division standings advance to the playoffs. The top six in the women's lightweight division also will advance.

How does the season play out?

The 2019 season gets underway with PFL 1 on Thursday at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, with six bouts at welterweight and four at women's lightweight. The event will be televised on ESPN+ (6:30-9 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 (9-11 p.m. ET).

All regular-season events are Thursdays on ESPN2 and ESPN+. PFL 2 (featherweight, men's lightweight) on May 23 and PFL 3 (light heavyweight, heavyweight) on June 6 are also at Nassau Coliseum; PFL 4 (welterweight, women's lightweight) on July 11, PFL 5 (featherweight, lightweight) on July 25 and PFL 6 (light heavyweight, heavyweight) on Aug. 8 are at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

How do the playoffs work?

There are three playoff events in October, with dates and venues still to be announced. It all leads to the World Championship finale in New York.

The playoffs are single elimination, with the four quarterfinal winners brought back to the cage to fight in the semifinals for the second time on the same night. The quarterfinal matchups are determined by seedings based on regular-season point totals, with No. 1 facing No. 8, No. 2 facing No. 7 and so on.

For the second year in a row, it all comes down to New Year's Eve inside the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, where six division champions will be awarded $1 million apiece live on ESPN2.

So is it $1 million or bust?

No, quarterfinal losers receive $25,000, semifinal losers earn $75,000 and losing in the finals nets a $150,000 consolation prize.