Pillow fighting has been around for a long time and it’s exactly what you think it is.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the game is most commonly played between kids at sleepovers and involves hitting each other with pillows. Seems like a game that would never become something more than it is, right? Wrong.
Pillow Fight Championship
Photo credit: PFC Pillow Fight Championship
The Pillow Fight Championship held its first live pay-per-view event in Florida earlier this year on Jan. 29. So, how did we get from a friendly game between friends to a professional combat sport?
“It started with an idea that our founders — Steve and Paul Wiliams — had [three or four] years ago,” said Vice President of digital and social media Mark Keys. “They were remembering childhood memories and I think all the ideas were on the back of a napkin. It was like, ‘why don't we do pillow fighting and see what happens?’”
Keys, Steve, and Paul thought it was a crazy idea. So crazy that it just might work. The trio started their pillow fight league at small events and would even tag along at other MMA events. But going to the event is one thing; actually orchestrating a pillow fight match is something else entirely.
The first hurdle: the pillow.
The pillow couldn’t be just a standard pillow people sleep with at night. The stuffing has to be a specific type of stuffing, not just feathers or foam. The construction and overall design of the pillow includes three handles on one side and is made with sail canvas.
“We've actually trademarked the pillow and the sound that the pillow makes,” Keys said. “It’s like when a boxing glove hits a bag.”
For most combat sports, there are weight classes for fighters. What PFC has is a pillow weight class — child’s pillow, women’s pillow, and men’s pillow. Each type of pillow is a different weight for youth fights as well as men and women fights.
The second hurdle: finding fighters.
Keys and his team started recruiting past and current UFC as well as MMA fighters. After a little bit of training, the fighters would get in the ring. And get gassed by the end of the first round. So fighters had to start getting innovative, while also following the rules.
“Traditionally, MMA and UFC fighters tend to fight closer together,” Keys said. “With pillow fighting, you have to stand six feet away, or else you're not going to get a good swing. The rules are pretty simple too. Hit them in the head as many times as you can, do it with finesse, and/or knock them on the ground.”
As you know, pillow fighting involves a lot of head and also leg hitting, and as techniques evolve, so do the rules. What the PFC saw was the fighters blocking every shot so a new rule was enforced that said fighters can only hold the pillow with one hand. Another rule stated that you can’t bring your arm up to block a hit any higher than your neck.
Even with newer techniques, pillow fighting is still exhausting, but the fighters like it because they can leave the ring with their teeth. The audience likes it too because it’s a game they can relate to and play. Another reason the audience is liking pillow fighting more is that they are getting more bang for their buck. Other combat sports keep running into problems with their high pricing for pay-per-view events that only show one fight and end early, but with PFC, the audience gets 14 events and it’s family-friendly.
The third hurdle: surviving in the ring.
A different type of combat sport comes with a different type of training, focused more on cardio. Keys described a previous event where two fights ended 10 seconds into the second round because the fighters just couldn’t last any longer.
Kendahl Voelker and opponent.
Photo credit: Instagram
“Training specifically for pillow fighting involves a lot of cardio and a lot of healthy joint mobility,” said fighter Kendahl Voelker. “You have to be very flexible and strong. You also have to work on different striking methods. So you need to make sure that you have a solid muscular foundation to even get your arm into those angles and positions. Then having to actually spar with someone with a pillow is important too, which involves training with another person and [learning] to defend properly.”
Voelker, who has roughly 20 years of volleyball experience under her belt, said she’s been doing sports her whole life and trains in mixed martial arts, stick fighting, and more. It was her volleyball training however that helped her most in her preparation for pillow fighting.
“I was able to use all my volleyball swings so I would take a weighted dumbbell or kettlebell and I would try to swing with it,” Voelker said. “It's intense. I go hard. I take it very seriously.”
You may be wondering how a retired volleyball player got into pillow fighting. That story began on a regular Friday night. Voelker was at the gym training when a friend of hers invited her out to dinner. It was at dinner when Voelker met the founder of PFC, Steve, and soon dinner turned into a networking connection that would soon change her life.
At Voelker's first pillow fight, she didn’t know what to expect — she just wanted to have a great time. Her opponent however came to win and steamrolled Voelker out of the ring. After the match, Voelker was ready to get back in.
“I was like, ‘I don't want this to happen ever again,’” Voelker said. “I started training really hard for the next series.”
So, is pillow fighting the newest professional combat sport? Or will it stay a novelty? No one can know for sure, but it is certainly an entertaining sport to watch.