All six PFL playoff brackets are set, with the heavyweights and light heavyweights whittled down to their respective top eights on Thursday.
PFL 6 provided clarity in the postseason picture. Denis Goltsov, in his first PFL season, is the top seed at heavyweight and the clear favorite. Emiliano Sordi stepped up and earned the No. 1 seed at light heavyweight courtesy of two finishes in the regular season.
The quarterfinals and semifinals will be held on the same night, Oct. 31, in Las Vegas. The winners then move on to the $1 million finals on Dec. 31.
Let’s go fight by fight and break down the brackets in each of these final two weight classes.
Denis Goltsov (1) vs. Satoshi Ishii (8)
Goltsov is one of the breakthrough performers in the PFL this year. He is an extremely skilled, multifaceted heavyweight. The Russian is 6-foot-5, fluid and athletic. If he were in the UFC right now, he’d be making major waves — and he’s just 29 years old. Goltsov is definitely the favorite to win here, coming off stoppages of fellow playoff participants Kelvin Tiller and Jared Rosholt. But Ishii will not make it easy. He’s durable and a former Olympic judo champion. The Japanese fighter has improved his striking immensely since moving to Croatia in 2017 to train with Mirko Cro Cop.
Kelvin Tiller (4) vs. Ali Isaev (5)
Tiller has big power and a nose for submissions. The main flaw in his approach? His inability to stop strong wrestlers. And Isaev just so happens to be a former Olympic wrestler from Russia. It’s not an ideal matchup for Tiller, but he still has a chance if he can land early. Isaev only has six career professional MMA fights, and he’s green, so the time to get him is now. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that Isaev could make it all the way to the $1 million final. Isaev beat Valdrin Istrefi and Carl Seumanutafa, two fighters who fell short of the playoffs, to get here. Tiller lost to Goltsov after stopping eventual No. 2 seed Muhammed DeReese.
There is no secret as to what either man will want to do in this fight. Barroso will be desperately trying to get the fight to the ground, while Nicholson will do everything in his power to stay standing, intent on landing with his massive power. How do we know this? This is a rematch from PFL 3, won by Barroso by split decision. Nicholson starched Zeke Tuinei-Wily in his second bout to earn the higher seed. Barroso beat Ben Edwards by unanimous decision his second time out with superior Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Muhammed DeReese (2) vs. Jared Rosholt (7)
It’s wild that DeReese snagged the No. 2 seed after looking bad in a submission loss to Tiller in his first fight. But the charismatic “Mo Muscle” absolutely smashed Istrefi in his second bout with a first-round TKO, and that’s all it took to vault up the standings. DeReese won an alternate bout against Mike Kyle during last year’s postseason, but he wasn’t ultimately utilized as a replacement. He has the power in his hands to make a run in the playoffs, with five of his eight career wins coming by TKO or KO. Rosholt will present a very tough out with his wrestling, though; he gutted out a decision win over Ishii to make it here after getting snuffed out by Goltsov in his first fight. This will be another big-time clash of styles.
Light heavyweight quarterfinals
Emiliano Sordi (1) vs. Sigi Pesaleli (8)
Earning the top seed at light heavyweight was huge for Sordi, and he was extremely deserving of the spot after finishing both of his regular-season bouts by KO/TKO. This matchup is very favorable for the Argentine striker. Pesaleli is just 3-2 as a pro MMA fighter, while Sordi has 27 pro fights, including 19 wins. This should be one-sided, especially considering how good Sordi looked in stopping Vinny Magalhaes and Bozigit Ataev during the season. The rest of this side of the bracket appears to be a favorable draw for Sordi as well, as he already defeated one of two potential semifinal opponents. He has to be considered a favorite at 205 to win the $1 million first-place prize.
Bozigit Ataev (4) vs. Viktor Nemkov (5)
At 40 years old, Ataev is the oldest man in this tournament. Don’t let the graying beard fool you, though. The Russian fighter absolutely smoked Dan Spohn during the regular season before falling by TKO to Sordi. He has power in his hands and a sterling 21-4 career record. Nemkov is probably a bit more well-rounded, though not nearly as spectacular. Nemkov has won three in a row and will probably be the favorite here due to his solid wrestling and technical striking. He beat Rakim Cleveland and Rashid Yusupov during the regular season.
Vinny Magalhaes (3) vs. Rashid Yusupov (6)
Magalhaes, last year’s runner-up, returned to his 2018 form in his second fight of the season, submitting Cleveland in the first round at PFL 6. That result followed a poor performance and TKO loss to Sordi in June. If Magalhaes is able to get the fight to the ground, he can submit anyone in this draw. Yusupov is a better striker than Magalhaes and more well-rounded; he beat Mikhail Mokhnatkin in his first fight but dropped a split decision loss to Nemkov in his second. This one could really go either way if Yusupov is able to neutralize Magalhaes’ submissions.
One of the most intriguing matchups of the PFL postseason — and it’s another rematch from PFL 3. Grishin beat Johnson by very close split decision in June, and both won their second fight of the regular season to set up this return fight in the playoffs. Johnson, who many observers thought won that first fight versus Grishin, is a terrific wrestler who left the UFC as a free agent after a 4-0 run. After three wins at light heavyweight to start his UFC career, Johnson briefly moved down to middleweight for his last fight in the promotion. His transition back to light heavyweight for this tournament wasn’t spectacular the first time out in the PFL, but Johnson’s performance at PFL 6 proved he still has the wrestling ability to win the $1 million. Grishin is well-rounded, has pop in his hands and showed the kind of skills to stop Johnson’s takedowns in the first fight. This one figures to be tight once again, especially because each quarterfinal fight is only a two-round contest.