Preview – PFL 2021 #7: Playoffs

We have reached the playoffs stage in the PFL season. The action goes down this Friday night at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. First up are the Welterweight and Lightweight semi finals along with some non-tournament prelim bouts.

Welterweight Semi-Finals

#2 Rory McDonald (22-7-1) vs #3 Ray Cooper III (22-7-1)

This is the biggest fight of the 2021 season so far. McDonald is a BJJ black belt with great striking and wrestling. He was one of the first true MMA fighters when he came into the sport, the first of the new breed. The Red King comes into this with a 1-1 record in the regular season, losing a controversial decision to Gleison Tibau last time out. Ray Cooper III is one of the most exciting fighters around. He brings the violence to all his fights and is 1-1 this season, however that loss was only via missing weight – he won the actual fight. He’s a finishing threat wherever this goes and is tough as hell. This could be an all out war.

#4 Magomed Magomedkerimov (28-5) vs #5 Sadibou Sy (9-5-2)

Don’t let the ranking fool you, Magomedkerimov is the favourite to win this tournament as he did in 2018. He only fought once in the regular season, smashing through UFC veteran Curtis Millender with an Ezekiel choke within two minutes. He has a combat sambo base with BJJ and striking to back it up. He is a Dagestani phenom on a 12 fight win streak. Sadibou Sy is a flashy kick-boxer. He is replacing #1 seed João Zeferino who pulled out due to injury. Sy is going to have to have the fight of his life to reach the final here. He has to reach deep down and avoid takedowns at all costs. Whichever way the pendulum swings, violence should follow it.

Lightweight Semi-Finals

#1 Loik Radzhabov (14-3-1) vs #4 Alex Martinez (8-1)

This is a rematch from the first round of matchups. Martinez earned his spot in the playoffs with that split decision win. The fight was a toss up, it was that close. Radzhabov is always walking forward and likes to keep a high pace with plenty of volume. He likes to grapple and grind people on the cage. Martinez has been a nice find for PFL. The young Paraguayan is a submission specialist who has developed his stand up game a lot in the last while. Let’s see who changes it up most this time around with a place in the final at stake.

#2 Clay Collard (20-8) vs #3 Raush Manfio (13-3)

Collard is loving life at the moment. He had a spell as a prospect killer in pro boxing prior to this season. He continued to defy the odds with a victory over tournament favourite Anthony Pettis in the first round. He’s going to want to keep it standing and use his striking to dominate. Manfio is likely going to be the opposite, he’s going to want to bring this to the mat. The Brazilian won two split decisions so far over Pettis and Lutterbach. He is a BJJ black belt with a decent stand-up game, however he’s unlikely to want to dance with Collard in there.

Welterweight Non-Tournament Prelims

Curtis Millender (18-8) vs Gleison Tibau (35-15)

This is a battle between UFC veterans. Millender is in a desperate search for form after losing five of his last six. If he’s to snap that run, it’s likely going to be in kickboxing exchanges. Tibau is as solid as rock and is a tough out for anyone. He’s the type of fighter to drag you into a close rugged 15 minute scrap. Millender will be hunting the knockout. 

Magomed Umalatov (10-0) vs Micah Terrill (15-8)

Umalatov is the latest Russian sensation to hit the major American promotions. He is a masterful striker who can end things as quickly as they start. In his PFL debut, he knocked Kyron Bowen out with a huge overhand right at the start of the second round. He is a machine whose only setting is to destroy. Terrill is next up on the chopping block. He is also a knockout artist, albeit not at the same level as his opponent in either the offensive or defensive exchanges. He will try and stand and bang though so this will be a good one to watch. Don’t nip off to the kitchen for this one.

Kyron Bowen (9-6) vs Michael Lombardo (11-2)

Bowen gets a second whack in the PFL. He is a well rounded fighter who has legit knockout power. For better or for worse, he takes chances to finish fights. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Lombardo is a very solid wrestler who fully intends on using his grappling here. From there he’ll try to work in his submissions and strikes from top. Both men are Dana White Contender Series alumni.

Lightweight Non-Tournament Prelims

Olivier Aubin-Mercier (12-5) vs Darrell Horcher (14-4)

This is another battle of UFC veterans. The Canadian Gangster Olivier Aubin-Mercier only fought once in the regular season and narrowly missed out on the playoffs. He is a judoka with a strong submission game. If he gets your back, he’ll likely finish it soon after. Horcher is more of a standup fighter with reasonable power in his hands. He went 1-4 in the UFC and is looking to rediscover the form that got him there in the first place. Activity has been his issue lately, only fighting once since 2018.

Brett Cooper (27-15) vs Tyler Hill (10-5)

European scene fans will recognise Cooper from his ACA stint and occasional spells in KSW. Americans may recognise him from his Bellator run. He usually likes to stand and trade. He’s very experienced and has fought every style of fighter under the sun. Hill is more of a submission guy. He’s not afraid of a brawl, having competed in bare knuckle boxing in March of this year. This could be a low key fun fight.

Hopeton Stewart (5-1) vs Elvin Espinoza (5-0)

Stewart is another man who has struggled getting fights under his belt. This will be his sixth fight in seven years. He’s a well rounded fighter who will grab hold of any weakness he sees. Espinoza came into MMA with a good submission game and has shown huge improvements in his kickboxing in recent years. This is a great opportunity for both men to put their name forward for future tournaments.

PFL 2021 #7 is live on Friday night from 22:30 and is available on ESPN2 and ESPN+ in the USA, on MMA TV (PPV) in the U.K. and on YouTube / Eir Sport (on delay) in Ireland.

Seán Denny is a Dublin man who writes mostly on the European scene, with a keen interest in the Irish, UK and Polish scenes in particular. Follow me on Twitter at @DennyRants.