By Philip O'Connor
(Reuters) - Mixed martial artist Brendan Loughnane will be top of the bill when the Professional Fighters League (PFL) returns in Atlantic City next week thanks to the votes of fans using blockchain-based tokens to show their appreciation for him.
The fans, who purchased the tokens via the Socios.com app, voted the British featherweight's bout with Brazil's Sheymon Moraes as "The People's Main Event" when the league resumes on April 23 after a long layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's not something I've ever been a part of before, but we won, so I can't complain!" Loughnane told Reuters as a decision usually handled by promoters and matchmakers was handed to fans.
"I think this is the way things are going to go. When I first started in this sport, you fought in old sports halls with men smoking cigarettes, so for me it's bizarre, the way things are changing, but I'm moving with the times," he said.
"The world's moving fast, you have to be open nowadays and I'm kind of glad the way it's going," added the 31-year-old who has not fought since beating Brazilian David Valente on Dec. 31 2019.
A blockchain is a database shared across a network of computers. Once a record has been added to the chain it is very difficult to change. The computer network makes constant checks to ensure all copies of the database are the same.
Blockchains are used to underpin cyber-currencies like bitcoin and other uses are emerging.
Socios.com partners with some of the world's biggest soccer clubs, such as Barcelona, Juventus and Paris St-Germain, and the PFL is the first sports league to join the platform.
Originally priced at $2, the first tranche of 300,000 PFL fan tokens sold out quickly, with thousands of fans using their tokens to vote for Loughnane to top the card.
"It's about creating a digital way to give fans a share of influence in the fan-related experience," Socios.com CEO Alex Dreyfus told Reuters, adding that he expected to add more clubs and leagues to the platform during 2021.
The PFL uses a regular-season format followed by playoffs and a championship bout across six weight classes, with each winner pocketing $1 million in prize money and Loughnane said he might make some alternative investments if he wins.
"I've got investments, I've got some properties and I'm starting to get into the crypto world, having a go at that. I think I have another good two or three years left in me where I'm at my peak," he said.
But there is a downside to the blockchain-powered popularity for Loughnane, who has a huge fanbase in his native Manchester.
"It's a double-edged sword - I was due to open the card and fight at 5:30 PM in America, which is half-past ten back home, but now it's going to be a bit later for fans in England!" he said.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)