Another regular season is about to come to an end for the Professional Fighters League. Only two divisions are in need of finalized playoff brackets, and they take to the cage on Thursday, Aug. 8, at the PFL’s sixth show of the season. The light heavyweights and heavyweights are ready to determine their fate and move one step closer to a championship and a nice payday.
The light heavyweight field has already seen some surprises this season. UFC free agent Jordan Johnson took his first loss in June when he fell on the scorecards to Maxim Grishin. Meanwhile, 2018 finalist Vinny Magalhães was surprisingly torched by Emiliano Sordi. Now, the two unseated favorites look for redemption and a ticket into the postseason in a field that also features Bozigit Ataev, Rashid Yusupov, Viktor Nemkov, Sigi Pesaleli, Rakim Cleveland, Mikhail Mokhnatkin, Dan Spohn and Ronny Markes.
At heavyweight, the PFL brought in Satoshi Ishii and Denis Goltsov to shake things up for 2019. Both men emerged as winners in their first go-around, with Ishii slipping past Zeke Tuinei-Wily and Goltsov clobbering Jared Rosholt. Now, Ishii gets his turn at Rosholt, while Goltsov has to deal with the tough Kelvin Tiller. They’re joined in the heavyweight field by Ali Isaev, Francimar Barroso, Alex Nicholson, Valdrin Istrefi, Carl Seumanutafa, Mo De’Reese and Ben Edwards.
The sixth and final event of the PFL’s 2019 regular season also features a showcase fight for Umar Nurmagomedov. The bantamweight fighter takes on Sidemar Honorio.
Atlantic City, N.J., and the Ocean Casino Resort play host to yet another PFL event. The festivities kick off on ESPN 2 at 8 p.m. ET for the four-fight preliminary card. The remaining bouts air live on ESPN+ with a start time of 10 p.m. ET.
At the first heavyweight event of the 2019 season, two big men — Denis Goltsov and Kelvin Tiller — delivered first-round finishes. Now, they collide in the evening’s main event. Which man will continue to lead the pack through the second set of heavyweight contests?
This should be a fun showdown between the current Nos. 1 and 2 in the heavyweight field. One man has to lose, but their prior stoppage victories should ensure both men a trip to the postseason.
Tiller, 29, has been a presence for the PFL, but his loss to Jared Rosholt in the 2018 playoffs is a huge black mark on an otherwise perfect campaign. Tiller got off to a strong start in 2019 with his kimura finish of Mo De’Reese, but he’ll find a far more difficult challenge in Goltsov.
The 29-year-old Goltsov shook off a rough start to his pro campaign and has been finishing opponents left and right through his last 19 fights, with only one blemish. He absolutely obliterated the aforementioned Rosholt in June, but Rosholt’s chin has never been very reliable.
Goltsov, a Russian who specializes in sambo, has a far more balanced record of 10 knockouts and nine submissions. Tiller, who fights out of Kansas, leans far more to his strengths in the grappling department for a total of seven submissions to just three knockouts. However, Goltsov’s early fights include a number of submission losses, so he could be a potential mark for another tapout on Thursday night.
This is a tough fight for both men, but Goltsov seems to have corrected many of the holes in his game. He’s been a killer lately, and he could deliver another highlight-reel finish against Tiller.
At light heavyweight, the quick finishers earlier this season were Bozigit Ataev (first-round finish of Dan Spohn) and Emiliano Sordi (second-round stoppage of Vinny Magalhães). Now, these two men meet in Atlantic City. Can one of these men score a second finish?
This won’t be their first encounter. Sordi lost to Ataev in last season’s playoffs (Ataev turned around and lost to Magalhães later the same night). The end came quickly, as the Russian dropped Sordi in under two minutes. This rematch should be more of the same, likely securing Ataev the top seed in the playoffs, an impressive feat for the 40-year-old.
Sordi did score a bit of a stunner with his finish of Magalhães, but that’s probably going to be the highlight of his season. The Argentinian fighter has never displayed much consistency, and he’s lost to some very questionable competition. He can throw some heavy leather, so he has a puncher’s chance against Ataev at the very least. However, the Russian has been a juggernaut on the feet, with the exception of losses to Spohn, Magalhães and Alistair Overeem. Age might eventually catch up to him, but Ataev should keep rolling for the time being.
The PFL’s light heavyweight playoff picture includes two spots occupied by losing fighters from earlier in the season. Can Jordan Johnson and Rakim Cleveland hold on to these postseason spots, or will they be overtaken by someone from the group Mikhail Mokhnatkin, Vinny Magalhães, Dan Spohn and Ronny Markes?
Johnson entered the season as the favorite, but he was given a reality check by Maxim Grishin in June. It seems like the PFL has done him a favor here, though, by pairing him with Sigi Pesaleli. The New Zealander technically lost his first fight of the season to Ronny Markes, but he was awarded the victory since Markes failed to make weight. Overall, Pesaleli is just 1-1 and should be an easy target for Johnson, who was perfect through 10 fights before running into Grishin. The win, likely to be an early stoppage, should easily secure Johnson a spot in the postseason.
The rest of these fighters are vying for either the other spot that will go to a fighter who locks down a win or they could leapfrog the competition and push a fighter with three points from the cut. Magalhães is headed for a battle with Cleveland, Mokhnatkin draws Maxim Grishin, and Markes has to handle both the scale and Spohn.
Magalhães has already scored one first-round submission of Cleveland, and a repeat is not out of the question. However, the Brazilian’s inconsistency makes it just as likely that Cleveland can come out and score a quick knockout. Regardless of which scenario plays out, one of these men should solidify their standing for the postseason.
Markes should already be sitting pretty, but his blunder with the weight cut makes this a do-or-die fight against Spohn. Neither man has turned heads lately, but they’ve both suffered some stoppage losses. This could lead to a playoff spot for the winner, but this one feels like it could be a snoozer.
Meanwhile, Mokhnatkin is likely doomed. Grishin has already played spoiler to early favorite Johnson, and that victory was no fluke. Grishin’s only loss since 2011 came against Magomed Ankalaev, who is now 2-1 in the UFC. The 35-year-old Russian should get past Mokhnatkin and easily advance into the playoffs, while Mokhnatkin is sent packing for the season.
The heavyweight division also has two wide-open spots to be claimed for the playoffs. Which of the winless big men make it in?
In the heavyweight division, Alex Nicholson, Zeke Tuinei-Wily, Valdrin Istrefi, Carl Seumanutafa, Mo De’Reese, Jared Rosholt and Ben Edwards are all in need of a victory if they want to survive into the playoffs. Nicholson and Tuinei-Wily are set to meet on Thursday night, Edwards draws Francimar Barroso, Seumanutafa is lined up with Ali Isaev, Rosholt clashes with Satoshi Ishii, and De’Reese gets Istrefi.
This lineup guarantees that at least two of these men are in the running. Nicholson hasn’t fared well in recent years, but he has to be considered a favorite to score a win over Tuinei-Wily. De’Reese and Istrefi should engage in a much closer battle, but De’Reese, a former The Ultimate Fighter contestant, should overcome height and reach disadvantages to pull out a victory on the scorecards. Whether that’s good enough to punch a ticket to the postseason largely depends on the results of the other fights.
Isaev should have his way with Seumanutafa, which will eliminate the latter from the playoff race. The rather green Edwards should be easy pickings for Barroso. The wild card is how Ishii handles Rosholt. This is bound to be a grinder, but Ishii’s failure to pick up a clear victory over Tuinei-Wily raises some concerns. If Rosholt can plod his way to a decision win, he’ll make the playoff picture a lot more complicated. If Ishii wins, which he should, then Nicholson and De’Reese are likely to end the night in celebration.
What’s with the bantamweight fight on this card?
That’s a good question. The company has featured Umar Nurmagomedov for one fight a season. Last year, he appeared on an August card with the promotion and decisioned Saidyokub Kakharamonov. This season, he makes his first appearance against Sidemar Honorio. In between, he’s made a couple of stops on the Russian regional circuit.
So, what’s up with this fight? Well, it’s part of the PFL’s “New Fighter Showcase.” These are fights that aren’t part of a season-long competition. It makes sense right now for Umar, the cousin of UFC star Khabib Nurmagomedov. Umar is a bantamweight fighter, and the PFL has yet to include the division as part of one of its seasons.
Nurmagomedov has a very winnable fight against Sidemar Honorio, a Bellator and World Series of Fighting veteran. Honorio has had an infrequent fight history in recent years. He has only fought once per year since 2015, leading to a 3-1 mark in that span. He’s also struggled against almost every high-level opponent he’s met.
Fans should hope the PFL builds a division around Nurmagomedov for the 2020 season to give him more chances to shine.
Main Card (ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)
HW: Kelvin Tiller vs. Denis Goltsov
HW: Satoshi Ishii vs. Jared Rosholt
LHW: Vinny Magalhães vs. Rakim Cleveland
LHW: Rashid Yusupov vs. Viktor Nemkov
HW: Ali Isaev vs. Carl Seumanutafa
LHW: Maxim Grishin vs. Mikhail Mokhnatkin
HW: Valdin Istrefi vs. Mo De’Reese
BW: Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Sidemar Honorio
HW: Francimar Barroso vs. Ben Edwards
Preliminary Card (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET)
LHW: Bozigit Ataev vs. Emiliano Sordi
HW: Alex Nicholson vs. Zeke Tuinei-Wily
LHW: Jordan Johnson vs. Sigi Pesaleli
LHW: Dan Spohn vs. Ronny Markes
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