Six massive questions forward of PFL’s $1 million playoff push

MMA

In 2019, the final time the Skilled Fighters League staged their playoffs and topped six $1 million winners, the champion of every division seemed indomitable on their title runs.

Now, after a misplaced 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic, the PFL is again with playoff semifinals set for 3 playing cards this month at Seminole Onerous Rock Resort & On line casino in Hollywood, Florida — and never one of many 2019 champs feels totally in cost this time round.

Three of these most up-to-date champions aren’t a part of these playoffs. One did not even set foot within the cage as a result of he was not medically cleared. The others, each two-season champs, didn’t earn sufficient regular-season factors to safe one in every of their divisions’ 4 playoff spots. And even the champs who did make the playoffs aren’t high seeds.

Whereas it appears inconceivable that undefeated Kayla Harrison would fall in need of efficiently defending at ladies’s light-weight, the place she is the No. 2 seed however as dominant as ever, it’s fully doable that every one 5 of the opposite weight courses might need new champions by the tip of the 2021 finale.

There are open questions all through the PFL’s six weight courses. Listed here are a couple of to keep watch over.

PFL 7 (Welterweight & males’s light-weight)

Friday, Aug. 13 (5:30 p.m ET. on ESPN+; 9 p.m. on ESPN2/ESPN+)

Is Magomed Magomedkerimov the actual foremost man at welterweight?

This card’s foremost occasion is a battle the PFL brass absolutely had pegged — fingers crossed — for the season last: 2019 champion Ray Cooper III vs. this season’s shiniest signee, Rory MacDonald — a former Bellator champion and UFC title challenger. However that bout is as an alternative going down within the semifinals, and the survivor nonetheless may have a major piece of labor to do to earn the massive test.

On the opposite facet of the bracket is Magomed Magomedkerimov, winner of 12 fights in a row, together with a 2018 finale victory over Cooper. Magomedkerimov is definitely the No. 4 seed, with the highest spot occupied by Joao Zeferino. However that is as a result of Magomedkerimov accomplished solely as soon as this season, in a battle he gained by submission in lower than two minutes. He is a pressure, and the one to beat.

Clay Collard has gone from feel-good story to legit championship contender within the PFL’s males’s light-weight division. Elsa/Getty Photographs

Can Clay Collard go from novelty to light-weight champion?

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Whereas Collard entered the season with 27 fights underneath his belt in a decade-long MMA profession, he actually made his title in boxing. From the summer time of 2019 by the yr that adopted, he gained eight of 9 fights within the ring, together with a pair towards rising boxing prospects, all on massive exhibits (High Rank, Golden Boy, Premier Boxing Champions). He turned the unlikely breakout star of the fan-less period of boxing, knocking off a sequence of younger, undefeated prospects.

However as soon as Collard returned to MMA, he instantly made his presence recognized. In his PFL debut in April, he dominated former UFC champion Anthony Pettis. Collard adopted with a slimmer win in June. And now, even because the No. 2 seed, he enters his semifinal towards Raush Manfio (who additionally went 2-0 within the common season) as a critical contender for the million.

On the alternative facet of the boys’s light-weight bracket, high seed Loik Radzhabov — the one fighter to document a end within the division through the common season — takes on No. 4 Alexander Martinez. Martinez certified for the playoffs on the power of 1 win, which simply so occurred to come back over Radzhabov.

PFL 8 (Heavyweight and girls’s light-weight)

Thursday, Aug. 19 (6 p.m. ET on ESPN+; 9 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN+)

Can Larissa Pacheco give defending ladies’s light-weight champion Kayla Harrison one thing to consider?

Harrison, the two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka who’s 10-0 in MMA, rolled by her two fights this season, ending each within the first spherical. However so did Pacheco, and she or he did it quicker, which is what earned the Brazilian the highest playoff seed. Pacheco and Harrison met twice in 2019, the second time within the $1 million finale, and Harrison gained each occasions.

Each fights went the space, although — the one two fights in Harrison’s profession through which she didn’t get a end. Is Pacheco nonetheless a distant second-best, or has she closed the space? If each ladies get previous their semifinal matchups — and it might be a stunner if they do not — we’ll get to see how these two now stack up.

Pacheco faces Taylor Guardado, who quietly breezed to 2 choice wins to make the minimize for the playoffs. Guardado returned to MMA in 2020, practically a decade after a standout newbie profession that included wins over UFC veterans Raquel Pennington and Ashlee Evans-Smith, together with her solely newbie loss coming by the hands of Ronda Rousey.

Harrison faces Genah Fabian, a New Zealand native who fights out of Metropolis Kickboxing — the house of present UFC champions Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovksi, amongst a number of different massive names.

Can flashy fights make up for a scarcity of title recognition because the PFL crowns a brand new heavyweight king?

From one-punch knockouts to back-and-forth slobberknockers, heavyweights are inclined to have a strong impression on the game of blended martial arts. And but within the PFL, this division has but to drum up as a lot curiosity as the opposite weight courses, regardless of a mess of thrilling outcomes to this point in 2021.

That might very properly boil all the way down to who’s producing these outcomes. The PFL tried so as to add star energy by signing former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum, however he was knocked out within the first spherical in his Could debut (later overturned to a no contest) and has not been seen since. The 2019 champion, Ali Isaev, by no means even made it to the cage this season.

Among the many 4 fighters within the playoffs, No. 1 seed Bruno Cappelozza and No. 2 Denis Goltsov each had KOs of their two regular-season bouts. Can one in every of them make a reputation for himself — and his weight class?

Cappelozza fights late entrant Jamelle Jones, who himself recorded a first-round end in his lone common season bout. Goltsov fights Ante Delija, who made the playoffs in his second PFL season. Between the 2019 and 2021 PFL seasons, Delija practically fought Ciryl Gane, who fights for the UFC interim heavyweight title on Saturday, in October 2020 earlier than contract issues scuttled the battle.


PFL 9 (Mild heavyweights and featherweights)

Friday, Aug. 27 (6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+; 10 p.m. on ESPN2/ESPN+)

Emiliano Sordi squeezed into the 2021 PFL playoffs by the narrowest of margins, however the defending mild heavyweight champion is one in every of three who has an opportunity to defend their titles after successful in 2019. PFL

Is the 2019 PFL mild heavyweight champ on his option to scraping his method again to a repeat championship?

Emiliano Sordi was dynamic within the 2019 PFL common season and playoffs, successful all 5 of his fights by end — 4 of them within the first spherical. The Argentine was not as dominant in 2021. He gained his first battle by choice and, because of a foul for unlawful blows, was held to a attract his second. That put him in a tie for the ultimate playoff spot, which he squeaked into through tiebreaker. Regardless of being the bottom seed, although, Sordi seems to be the category of this area.

High-seeded Antonio Carlos Junior has gained simply one in every of his final 5 fights, along with his most up-to-date bout ending in a no-contest following an unintended low blow. Second seed Cezar Ferreira has misplaced three of 4, and No. 3 Martin Hamlet is coming off a loss. Sordi is in prime place to increase his reign, so long as he can recapture a little bit little bit of what made his 2019 run so particular.

In his two PFL common season fights, top-seeded featherweight Brendan Loughnane proved he can win in a wide range of methods, with a first-round knockout over Sheymon Moraes, and weathering a storm in a brutal slugfest towards Tyler Diamond (pictured). AP Picture/Matt Rourke

Is Brendan Loughnane vs. Movlid Khaybulaev within the featherweight semifinals the under-the-radar battle of the yr within the PFL?

Loughnane has been spectacular from the get-go, successful his PFL debut with a two-minute end of UFC veteran Sheymon Moraes. He enters the PFL playoffs as a high seed on a seven-fight successful streak. However there is a roadblock instantly forward. Khaybulaev is 17-0-1, and comes into the playoffs having knocked off two-time defending featherweight champion Lance Palmer. The Dagestani is simply the No. 4 seed as a result of each of his fights went the space, denying him the bonus factors that include a end. Can Khaybulaev now bounce one other star performer?

On the alternative facet of the bracket, Chris Wade returns to the PFL playoffs after transferring all the way down to featherweight. He gained each of his fights, and wrapped up the No. 2 seed with a second-round end in June. Wade fights Bubba Jenkins, who gained each common season fights by choice and opened the season by defeating Palmer.

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