Professional pillow fighting: MMA brawlers’ new way to get in shape

Originally published on NYPost.com

Professional pillow fighting is real — and it’s anything but fluff.

Mixed martial arts fighters and boxers have flocked to south Florida, where the Delray Beach Boxing and Fitness Club has become home to the first ever organized league of its kind, aptly dubbed the Pillow Fighting Championship.

But the PFC — which has already hosted two recent big events — goes well beyond silly sleepover shenanigans.

The organized sport has a full-on ring, fight judges, a referee, an emcee, ring girls (and boys), packed crowds, and is livestreaming to a dedicated audience hooked on watching pro fighters explore this new discipline.

“This has all the excitement of a mixed martial arts fight with none of the blood loss,” PFC CEO Steve Williams told The Post.

Fighters Woodley Francois and Jonah Smolka square off in a pillow fight.
Fighters Woodley Francois and Jonah Smolka square off in a pillow fight.
Jon Laye

Still, he said: “You definitely feel it when you get hit.”

Williams, who is working on a third to-be-announced main event, explained how fighters use his patent pending 2.4-pound, queen size, rip-proof nylon pillow design, a trademark that features three holster straps for “more leverage.”

“Normal pillow fighting is boring,” said Williams. “We converted a standard pillow to a combat pillow and the fighters and fans love the intensity.”

And as it turns out, many of those professional brawlers are making the case that this new “combative sport” serves as great training for their own MMA bouts.

“It doesn’t hurt! Plus you need to use your movements and your footsteps,” middleweight UFC fighter Markus Perez, who put on a show in his PFC 2 victory over Phillip Aughinbaugh, told The Post. “And, it teaches a lot about managing adrenaline in front of a crowd.”

UFC fighter Markus Perez (right) said there are training advantages behind pillow fighting.
UFC fighter Markus Perez (right) said there are training advantages behind pillow fighting.
Jon Laye

The 32-year-old Brazilian, who, is “accustomed to taking kicks, punches and elbows to face,” explained that fighters often cannot train at high speed or strike at full power due to risk of injury.

“Pillow fighting is really good training… and it makes me laugh. I like it even when I get hit,” he said, adding that he’ll likely be in the PFC ring on the regular from now on.

Along with Perez, Bellator heavyweight Marcelo Golm has joined the ranks of professional fighters getting into pillow fighting in Delray.

But you don’t need to be a pro to get in on the fun and feathery action.

About half of the PFC’s field is also amateur contestants, like 41-year-old Emily Rubens, an infant sleep specialist now hooked on pillow fighting.

Rubens said she got in the ring on the recommendation of a friend — and had not only the time of her life but a great workout as well.

“I couldn’t move for two days after. It wasn’t as silly as I thought, this was real fighting,” Rubens told The Post of her three-round bout, where she “kicked ass” to victory against a fellow amateur.

Pro pillow fighting is anything but a snooze, amateur Emily Rubens says.
Pro pillow fighting is “real fighting,” amateur Emily Rubens (left) says.
Jon Laye

“Plus, it’s great cardio. I was red in the face, out of breath and moving all sorts of muscles.”

Like the pro fighters, Rubens says that she too appreciates the thrill of pillow fighting — and not risking a broken nose by doing it.

“I would definitely do it again. Hopefully I can have some real training before I get back in the ring!”

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