The PFL concluded its regular season earlier this month. And now it’s the playoffs. The 12 semi-finals in six weight classes will be spread across three fight maps in August, with winners advancing to the finals in the fall.
Three champions from the 2022 season remain in contention for the second oversized $1 million check, plus there’s a champion from a previous season, a few other familiar faces, and some brand new faces.
Four of the fighters in these playoffs are undefeated, including two who meet in the men’s featherweight semifinals.
And, of course, there are the two fighters who, by all appearances, missed out on the playoff spots but nevertheless prevailed after some behind-the-scenes infighting by the PFL leadership. (We’ll explain, or at least try.)
Here are the semifinals in each weight class (with playoff standings in parentheses), along with notes on how the season got to this point and where it’s going now:
August 18 in New York
Denis Goltsov (1) vs Jordan Heiderman (4)
Renan Ferreira (2) vs Marcelo Nunes (3)
How they got here: Goltsov is the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row, despite a visa issue preventing him from making the playoffs last season. The year before, he lost in the semifinals to Ante Delija, who didn’t qualify for those 2023 playoffs. Nor is 2022 champion Bruno Cappelozza standing in the way of Goltsov, one of 10 PFL fighters suspended for the season after testing positive for banned substances. So everything is clear for the great Russian, right? Maybe not as Goltsov’s semi-final opponent Heiderman is undefeated.
What to look out for next: The Goltsov-Heiderman winner will face off against the survivor of a fast finisher clash. Ferreira won his regular season finale by knockout in 50 seconds. And Nunes also won by KO in the first round. As always, the heavyweight playoffs will be exciting.
August 4th in San Antonio
Josh Silveira (1) vs Ty Flores (4)
Martin Hamlet (2) vs. Impa Kasanganay (3)
How they got here: That weight class has been devastated by the PFL’s numerous failed drug tests, with five of the ten suspended fighters being light heavyweights, including last year’s champion Rob Wilkinson. So Kasanganay, a former UFC fighter who fought his way into the roster at the PFL Challengers Series in March and won an exhibition match a month later, came late into the regular season. With a single fight, he secured a spot in the playoffs. Meanwhile, 2022 semi-finalist Silveira secured her first-place finish the old-fashioned way, with two first-round finishes.
What to look out for next: Is it finally time for Hamlet to break through? (To be a champion or not, that’s the…sorry bard.) The beefy Norwegian was a 2021 finalist and was well on his way last season until he got caught in a headbutt from Silveira. Hmm, maybe now is Silveira’s time.
Sadibou Sy unveils a candidate for MMA Knockout of the Year
Sadibou Sy knocks out Shane Mitchell with a must-watch spinning head kick.
August 23 in New York
Magomed Magomedkerimov (1) vs. Magomed Umalatov (4)
Carlos Leal (2) vs. Sadibou Sy (3)
How they got here: Magomedkerimov could very well be the GOAT of the PFL. He won the championship in 2018, the PFL’s inaugural season, was unbalanced by illness during the playoffs of his unbeaten 2019 season, was a finalist in 2021 and went unbeaten again in a 2022 season curtailed by visa issues. He has a 14-1 record in his PFL run, including 2-0 in the 2023 regular season, both wins coming by first-round knockout. The Dagestani is also the last man to defeat Sy, who won the 2022 championship and has won six fights in a row.
What to look out for next: Magomed vs. Magomed will have easily recognizable consequences. Magomedkerimov’s CV is detailed above, and Umalatov’s has no casualties. As with Magomedkerimov, the biggest obstacle in Umalatov’s path has been the US State Department, as visa issues ended his 2022 playoffs. While Magomedkerimov goes into this match with two TKOs in the first round, Umalatov has picked up a decision win – but he has had 12 of his 14 wins, nine of them in Round 1.
August 23 in New York
Clay Collard (1) vs. Shane Burgos (4)
Olivier Aubin-Mercier (2) vs. Bruno Miranda (3)
How they got here: Burgos needed a finish in their regular-season finale on June 23 to secure a playoff berth but could only secure a decision win, so he was eliminated – which seemed a shame given that those semifinals are held in the Big Apple, only a few Miles away The high profile signer’s home on Long Island. But the next day Burgos was in a stunning turn. The tragedy came as the PFL suspended Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio, both last season’s champions, after Schulte clinched a tepid win to secure fourth place. According to a statement from the promotion, players were banned for failing to “do their best…skills and skills as a professional athlete to compete.” Schulte and Manfio are best friends and their argument was akin to a 15-minute game of kid pies. But honestly, it wasn’t nearly the worst MMA fight ever. And what exactly did the bosses expect when planning a dispute between a man and his child’s beloved godfather?
What to look out for next: Even if we get Burgos vs. Collard under the wrong circumstances, I’m all in. It’s a pair of fighters who historically like to stand and hit, which “Hurricane” Shane didn’t do in any of his fights in his first PFL regular season after moving from the UFC. And if Burgos manages to reach the final, he could get that second leg against 2022 champion Aubin-Mercier, who blew his PFL debut in April.
Jesus Pinedo scores with a surprise goal and thus secures a place in the playoffs
Jesus Pinedo defeats Brendan Loughnane early in the first round to secure a PFL playoff berth.
August 4th in San Antonio
Bubba Jenkins (1) vs. Jesus Pinedo (4)
Gabriel Braga (2) vs Movlid Khaybulaev (3)
How they got here: 2022 champion Brendan Loughnane seemed unbeatable until a knee kick to the chin by Pinedo earlier in the month, 1-0 at that point this season, put an abrupt end to the Brit’s quest for a repeat title. It also prevented a potential rematch between Loughnane and Khaybulaev, who defeated him en route to winning the 2021 championship. Top seed Jenkins would also likely have welcomed another try against Loughnane, who beat him in the finals last year.
What to look out for next: Braga is 11-0 and Khaybulaev is 21-0-1, making their semi-final the most consequential fight of the August playoffs. Above all, Khaybulaev must be considered as the leading player in this division in the run-up to the playoffs.
August 18 in New York
Larissa Pacheco (1) vs Olena Kolesnyk (4)
Marina Mokhnatkina (2) vs. Amber Leibrock (3)
How they got here: Kolesnyk found himself at the center of riveting drama a few weeks ago – even if he wasn’t fighting. She was shown backstage on the PFL show watching as Aspen Ladd attempted to secure the last spot in the playoffs with a second-round result. Ladd received the assist three seconds from time and the eliminated Kolesnyk reacted in dismay. However, by the end of the night that reaction turned to jubilation as the PFL recalculated their tiebreaker and Kolesnyk was in the playoffs and Ladd was eliminated. Things didn’t look good for promotion, but mistakes happen and (almost) everyone moves on. Kolesnyk’s reward: a semifinal duel with 2022 champion Pacheco, who knocked her out in the first round last year.
What to look out for next: Pacheco was a surprise winner last season and caused a big surprise in the finals against two-time champion Kayla Harrison. (Remember Kayla? It’s been a while.) But Pacheco is no longer a surprise, especially after he blew up Leibrock in 45 seconds earlier this month. If Pacheco doesn’t win the championship for the second year in a row, The will be the big surprise of this season.