The PFL’s October postseason has become very interesting.
The lightweight and featherweight divisions — two of the best weight classes in PFL — completed their regular season with a mix of some obvious outcomes and a few surprises along the way. Both of the defending champions — Natan Schulte and Lance Palmer — are the No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets, but they will certainly have game challengers.
The quarterfinals and semifinals for the 155- and 145-pound divisions are scheduled for Oct. 17 in Las Vegas. In order to make it to the $1 million championship bout, fighters will have to win twice in a single night at Mandalay Bay.
Let’s go fight by fight and break down the brackets in each weight class:
Natan Schulte (1) vs. Ramsey Nijem (8)
Schulte’s incredible PFL run continues. The Brazilian has not lost a single time in his seven fights with the promotion and he’s the defending 155-pound lightweight winner.
Schulte will be heavily favored in this matchup against Nijem, who backed his way into the playoffs in a bizarre manner. Nijem got three points when his first opponent, Ronys Torres, couldn’t pass medicals and had to withdraw from the first fight. Before his second bout, Nijem could not weigh in successfully because, per the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB), he would not put both of his full feet on the scale. So, Nijem didn’t fight once this season, yet still made the playoffs.
This is one of the most intriguing matchups of the quarterfinals in any division. The winner here could go on and win the lightweight title. Both men are talented, technical Russian strikers and strong grapplers who can wrestle Both are also coming off very close decision losses.
It’s an evenly matched bout, but Magomedov might have a slight advantage due to his experience. He left the UFC with a winning record in the promotion to pursue the $1 million PFL prize before falling in last year’s finals to Schulte. Aliev made his PFL debut this season and has looked solid, especially in a first-round finish of Carlao Silva in his first bout.
Chris Wade stuns Akhmed Aliev with a relentless attack, but Aliev catches Wade with a low blow when they lock in the clinch against the cage. For more PFL, sign up for ESPN+ http://www.espn.com/watch/espnplus.
Maybe this year is Wade’s time to shine. He went a perfect 2-0 in the regular season, including a victory over Andrews in his first bout. Wade should be a heavy favorite here. The Long Island native and UFC veteran has only lost twice in PFL, both times coming at Schulte’s hands last year — one of which came in the semifinals.
Andrews has done well in his first PFL season, though. The Rhode Island native picked up a huge win over Magomedov in his second bout and has a pressuring, unorthodox style that can give opponents fits. Andrews cannot be counted out. If he can hang with and beat Magomedov, he’ll be a tough out for anyone.
Islam Mamedov (2) vs. Loik Radzhabov (7)
Mamedov has looked as good as anyone in the lightweight division this season in his pair of wins, including a first-round wrecking of Yincang Bao in his second bout. The Russian fighter, who trains out of New Jersey, has not lost since 2009. That’s 17 consecutive victories. An illness knocked him out of the PFL semifinals last year, and he’ll be looking to fight his way back there again this season.
Radzhabov is coming off a split decision win over Ylies Djiroun, a common opponent with Mamedov. Both beat Djiroun by split decision. Radzhabov is a MMA pioneer in his home country of Tajikistan. He’ll have plenty of support back home, but will be facing an uphill battle against Mamedov.
Lance Palmer (1) vs. Gadzhi Rabadanov (8)
“The Party” is the favorite to repeat in the featherweight division in 2019. He has eight straight wins and has never lost in the PFL. Palmer moved to New Jersey from Sacramento to train under striking coach Mark Henry heading into this season, and the change of scenery might have made him even more dangerous. He already has some of the best wrestling in PFL.
Rabadanov was unable to weigh in for his second fight due to weight issues, which is a major concern heading into the playoffs. He won his first bout of the season, though, beating last year’s finalist Steven Siler.
Gilpin had the most impressive finish of the second night of the featherweight regular season. The Wisconsin native choked out Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Freddy Assuncao with a nasty standing guillotine. Gilpin also was competitive against Palmer in a decision loss in his first fight.
Harrison is similar to Palmer — he’s going to come with excellent wrestling — so, it’ll be interesting to see if Gilpin has made any adjustments since June. Harrison was a semifinalist in 2018 and can be oppressive with his wrestling and grappling. He fought to a majority draw in his second bout of the season against Movlid Khaybulaev. He has just one career loss — to Palmer.
So, they meet again. Laurentino had one of the best finishes of the PFL regular season when he knocked out Kennedy in just 23 seconds with a head kick on the opening night for featherweights. Kennedy gets a chance for revenge here. In his second fight, Laurentino was finished by TKO in the third round by Palmer.
Kennedy gutted out a unanimous decision win over Siler to make the playoffs. With his UFC pedigree, Kennedy will definitely be hungry coming into this one, but Laurentino has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year in the PFL.
Movlid Khaybulaev (2) vs. Daniel Pineda (7)
This could end up being the fight of the quarterfinals. Both Khaybulaev and Pineda bring heat. Khaybulaev knocked out Damon Jackson with a jumping knee in just 10 seconds in his first fight, then dropped Harrison with a similar technique in his second bout. Khaybulaev vs. Harrison went to a draw eventually, but Khaybulaev proved he could deal with a great wrestler and still do some serious damage.
Pineda has yet to fight this season in PFL. A late-season replacement, he earned three points in a walkover when Rabadanov missed weight. Pineda filled in for Jackson, who could not return for a second fight due to a 90-day medical suspension from the Khaybulaev knockout.