Pillow fighting isn’t just for slumber parties anymore, it has now become a part of the world of professional sport, too.
On 29 January 2022, the new combat sport moved out of the bedroom and into the boxing ring when "Pound Down" streamed live from Miami, Florida, USA, becoming the first-ever professional Pillow Fighting Championship (PFC) and earning the record title for the first pay-per-view pillow fight.
Sixteen men and eight women, who have backgrounds in mixed martial arts and boxing, took part in the first edition of the showdown, which was available to watch for $12.99 (£11.27) on Fite.TV.
The winner of the men’s final was American MMA fighter Hauley Tillman, who took down UFC veteran Marcus Brimage - the notorious name who went head-to-head with Connor McGregor in Stockholm, Sweden back in 2013.
The first ever PFC winners earned a title belt and a $5,000 cash prize.
Hauley Tillman and Istela Nunes are the first-ever PFC Champions! pic.twitter.com/qhlpZgzSnn— PFC: Pillow Fight Championship (@FightPFC) January 31, 2022
On 17 June 2022, the Seminole Hard Rock stadium in Hollywood, Florida, USA, hosted the PFC World Title Fight, where all four fighters met once again for a rematch.
"A lot of people don’t respect pillow fighting but once they get in there with a fighter like me, they’re going to automatically respect it." – Hauley Tillman
"This means a lot to me. This is like a real UFC championship," Tillman continued.
PFC is trying to turn pillow fighting into a professional sport – but unlike MMA, "anyone can compete, and anyone can win".
Described by CEO Steve Williams as "hardcore swinging with specialized pillows", Pillow Fight Championship aims to bring spectators the adrenaline rush of a combat sport without any of the blood and violence.
"I can come at you as hard as I possibly can. It’s going to hurt, but you’re going to be OK," said Steve.
"You couldn’t do that with anything on earth, I think. Maybe a feather and pillows are made out of feathers."
But don’t expect to see any plumes flying during PFC matches.
The queen-sized pillows, which weigh up to 1 kg (2.2 lb) each, aren’t your typical nap time cushions.
Competitors use specially designed pillows made of foam rather than down. The pillows have a nylon casing with durable handles to allow for fast and hard-hitting movements.
"We started out with a bedroom pillow and that was boring, so we added straps. That was pretty cool; a little bit more show," said Steve.
"Then we added the ripstop nylon which added a lot of flash and helped the sound because a bedroom pillow won’t really make any noise when it hits but the ripstop nylon combat pillows make a loud 'POP'". – Steve Williams
The rules of the sport involve two competitors standing six feet apart and trying to hit their opponent over the head as many times as possible.
Fighters must swing the pillow single-handedly and are only allowed to raise their hand up as high as their neck to block an incoming "pillow punch".
Because flinging a bulky cushion becomes increasingly difficult after four minutes, even for experienced MMA pros, PFC fights are only comprised of three 90-second rounds.
"The rules are very simple: Throw the pillow at 180 degrees and that’s one point. If you do 360 degrees, it’s harder and you have to time it. There’s more time for the person to defend himself, so that’s two points," said PFC referee Yuri Villefort.
"If there’s a showmanship moment during the fight, I can give one point for that person. And then if you hit and somehow the person puts a hand or a foot on the floor, it’s four points." – Yuri Villefort
Because of its participants' roots in combat sports like MMA and jujitsu, pillow fighting often uses similar skills.
For many, training includes plenty of cardio, weights and pillow swinging.
"I’m coming out with cartwheels, I’m coming out with backspins," said 2022 second place winner Kendahl Voelker.
"I didn’t even use half of the things I have in my arsenal."
Whether fighters choose to attack their opponents with finesse or knock them to the ground, using pillows as fists means they get to leave the ring with their teeth.
But how did we get from a childhood game between friends to a professional combat sport?
"It sounded like a good business idea," said Steve.
"It’s the one sport in the world that everybody’s done. The world needs a pillow fight." – Steve Williams
Steve and his friend Mark Keys thought it was a crazy, yet intriguing idea.
They worked on developing their pillow fight league for about four years, with the better part of it spent on creating the rules and designing the pillow.
The two then began attending small events and tagging along at other MMA fights.
It wasn’t long before professional fighters and the public alike became fascinated by the uniqueness and intensity of the competition.
Supporters say the growth of PFC has rapidly exploded and that they expect the newfound sport to take over the world.
"Honestly, at first it was kind of like 'uh, a pillow fight' but then you see most of the fighters are MMA fighters," said PFC ring girl Florence Caroline Arosteguy.
"They’re people that actually train and you see they’re sweating and they’re going through it just like a real fighter. There’s just not as much pain inflicted." – Florence Caroline Arosteguy
Another appeal to PFC is that unlike MMA, the sport is all inclusive.
Because pillow fights don’t cause substantial bodily harm, PFC has opened its doors to multiple crowds, including children.
Isaiah Triana, one of PFC’s youngest fighters, has been involved in MMA since he was under three years old.
But he is especially drawn to PFC, which he has been participating in for the past year.
"You do get hand to face but it doesn’t hurt as much. That’s what I love," said Isaiah.
"Whoever wants it, they can come get it. They can come get this spinning pillow pop." – Isaiah Triana
Not to mention, other combat sports set high pricing for pay-per-view events that only stream one show while the audience has an opportunity to see 14 family-friendly events with PFC.
"This is getting really, really big," said Tillman.
"Honestly, I make more money pillow fighting than in a regular fight."
PFC may still be in its early days, but it seems to be on an upward trajectory.
It serves as the perfect solution for those who want to engage in contact sports but think of UFC or MMA as too intimidating or brutal.
PFC’s playful tone and initial success mean that the world may soon see this fun children’s pastime evolve into a multi-million-dollar match.
"Whoever thinks PFC is a joke, or whoever thinks it’s a game, you will change your mind once you get beat across the head by a champion like me." – Hauley Tillman