After six regular season events came and went, PFL is now set to begin their playoffs. Their semi-final brackets will kick off on Friday night, as welterweights and lightweights will take to the cage at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, USA.
In the main event of the card, former Bellator Champion Rory MacDonald will meet defending PFL champ Ray Cooper III.
Here’s a full preview of the card.
Preliminary Card (5:30PM EDT) (ESPN+ / TSN Direct)
Bout 1: Hopeton Stewart (5-1) vs. Elvin Espinoza (5-0) (Lightweight)
Before the four playoff bouts happen on the main card, a six-fight preliminary card will air earlier in the evening. These fights have no direct implications on the playoffs, although they feature many fighters who took place in the regular season.
With that being said, the first fight on the card sees two PFL newcomers in Hopeton Stewart and Elvin Espinosa.
Espinoza is undefeated as a pro through five fights. He has been competing since 2018, and is coming off a 19-second head kick knockout he scored over Luis Campa in April. Stewart has a similar record with one blemish involved. He last appeared on a Global Legion FC card, where he submitted winless pro Christopher Lavant within a round.
Bout 2: Kyron Bowen (9-6) vs. Michael Lombardo (11-2) (Welterweight)
PFL newcomer Michael Lombardo will face Kyron Bowen in the second bout of the card.
Bowen lost his PFL debut earlier this year to Magomed Umalatov. While the fight was during a PFL regular season event, it did not actually count towards the standings. The fight was Bowen’s second consecutive loss, with his previous outing being against Collin Huckbody on UFC TV show “Dana White’s Contender Series.”
Lombardo last appeared on the 2020 season of the aforementioned “Contender Series.” Despite winning his fight against Korey Kuppe, he was not selected for a UFC contract at the end of the episode. Lombardo has won three of his last four, with the other being a no contest.
Bout 3: Magomed Umalatov (10-0) vs. Leandro Silva (25-9-1) (Welterweight)
Undefeated welterweight Magomed Umalatov will look to extend his record when facing veteran Leandro Silva on Friday night.
Umalatov made his U.S. debut earlier this year when defeating Kyron Bowen at PFL’s May 6th card. The fight was quite the dominant performance and moved his undefeated run to double digits.
Umalatov will now get the toughest test of his career, as he will face an experienced fighter with a strong record.
Silva, an eight-fight UFC vet, has competed as a pro since 2008. He is coming off a loss he took against David Kozma on an OKTAGON card in May. Even more recently he fought in a boxing bout, defeating Antonio Todd via decision last month.
Silva missed weight for his bout on Thursday, coming in one-and-a-half pounds over the welterweight non-championship limit.
Bout 4: Brett Cooper (27-15) vs. Tyler Hill (10-5) (Welterweight)
The incredibly experienced Brett Cooper will touch down in PFL for a fight against Tyler Hill on Friday.
Cooper has fought all around the world since 2005. This includes IFL, KSW, Bellator, and more. Most notably he has a dozen fights in Bellator with seven wins out of them. He enters PFL after winning three of his last five in ACA/ACB.
Hill will be fighting to return to the win column in his respective PFL debut. His last MMA appearance was in September, where Jonny Parsons took him out within a round with strikes. He has fought outside of the sport once since then, losing a bare-knuckle boxing bout in March.
Bout 5: Olivier Aubin-Mercier (12-5) vs. Darrell Horcher (14-4) (Lightweight)
Former UFC fighters Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Darrell Horcher will collide on Friday’s prelims.
Aubin-Mercier had a successful PFL debut two months back, fighting to a unanimous decision over Marcin Held. The victory snapped a three-fight skid that he had developed near the end of his 12-fight UFC run. Unfortunately for Aubin-Mercier, the win did not score enough points to get him into the playoffs.
Horcher is joining the PFL roster after scoring a 29-second win against Vadim Ogar on a CFFC card late last year. The matchup was his first appearance since wrapping up a UFC stint in 2018.
Horcher greatly missed weight for this bout, coming in just over three pounds over the lightweight limit. Despite this, the fight will remain in the lineup.
Bout 6: Gleison Tibau (35-15) vs. Micah Terrill (15-8) (Welterweight)
The prelims will come to a close with Gleison Tibau versus Micah Terrill.
Tibau just barely missed the playoffs this year, finishing the regular season with three points. The veteran competitor started the year with a loss to Joao Zeferino, but bounced back two months later with a scorecard win against Rory MacDonald, a controversial split decision win that many, including MacDonald, disputed.
Terrill, a veteran of the regional scene, is making his PFL debut in this fight. He has competed for promotions in the past like CFFC, CES, LFA and others. His biggest fight yet was a Bellator bout in 2019, which resulted in a quick loss to Sabah Homasi.
Terrill has returned to the win column since then with a victory over Estevan Payan in March.
Main Card (9:00PM EDT) (ESPN+ / TSN 2)
Bout 7: Loik Radzhabov (14-3-1) vs. Alexander Martinez (8-1) (Lightweight)
In the first of two lightweight semi-final bouts, Loik Radzhabov will take on Alexander Martinez in a rematch.
Martinez has been somewhat of an underdog through the entire season. He entered the promotion on short notice to replace Johnny Case. He was entering the season with just seven fights – one of the smaller track records for his weight class. Despite this, he started the season strong with a split decision win over Radzhabov. While he lost his second fight of the season to defending champ Natan Schulte later on, the three points from the first fight did enough to advance him into the playoffs.
Having lost his first fight of the year, Radzhabov was in a must-win position for his second fight of 2021. He did just that, stopping Akhmet Aliev in just 27 seconds to earn six points and secure a spot in the playoffs. On Friday he will not only get the chance to earn his spot in the grand finals, but to also avenge one of the three losses on his record.
Bout 8: Clay Collard (20-8) vs. Raush Manfio (13-3) (Lightweight)
The stories of Clay Collard and Raush Manfio are weirdly similar. Both of their roads to the playoffs can at times feel like the same story.
Consistency earned both of these fighters a spot in the playoffs. While they didn’t have any flashy knockout or submission wins in the regular season, they both got in with six points due to two consecutive decision wins.
Collard spoiled the PFL debut of former UFC fighter Anthony Pettis in PFL’s first main event of the year, defeating him via unanimous decision. Manfio was also able to defeat Pettis via split decision two months later.
Bout 9: Magomed Magomedkerimov (28-5) vs. Sadibou Sy (9-5-2) (Welterweight)
PFL veterans Magomed Magomedkerimov and Sadibou Sy will fight for a spot in the welterweight finals in the co-main event.
Magomedkerimov has been undefeated since joining PFL in 2016 (then known as WSOF). He was the champion in the promotion’s inaugural season, defeating Ray Cooper III in the grand finals of the 2018 bracket. He looked to become a two-time champion the next year – and he was on pace to potentially do just that. However, an illness took him out of the semi-finals of the tournament, preserving his win streak but taking away the possibility of becoming the 2019 champion.
Now two years later, Magomedkerimov could get one step closer to actually becoming a champion in two PFL seasons. He only fought once in the regular season, clinching a playoff spot with a first-round submission against Curtis Millender.
Sy had a rough start to his season, as his fight against Nikolay Aleksakhin in April concluded with a no contest due to an accidental eye poke. This forced both fighters to walk away with only one point in the standings. Sy boosted his score up to four in his second fight, defeating Alexey Kunchenko in June.
Sy has made it to the PFL playoffs twice before, although he has never advanced to the finals.
Bout 10: Rory MacDonald (22-7-1) vs. Ray Cooper III (22-7-1) (Welterweight)
One of the biggest fights that can be made in PFL’s welterweight division, a clash between Rory MacDonald and Ray Cooper III, will take place in the main event of Friday’s card. The winner of the fight will subsequently secure a splot in the grand finals of the welterweight tournament.
Cooper III is PFL’s 170-pound defending champion. He was a runner-up in the 2018 season and was able to claim the belt in 2019. He has maintained a clean sheet in 2021 thus far, scoring a first-round submission win over Jason Ponet and a decision against Nikolay Aleksakhin to finish the season with a steep nine points.
He has a significantly tough challenge in front of him Friday in former Bellator champ and UFC alum MacDonald.
MacDonald is currently in his debut year with the PFL. His spot in the playoffs relied solely off a victory he scored early in the season, which was a first-round rear naked choke submission over Curtis Millender. He wasn’t able to score points in his second bout, as he was on the losing end of a controversial decision against Gleison Tibau.