After winning a pair of bouts on the PFL Challenger Series — one each in 2022 and 2023 — Taylor Johnson gets a huge opportunity to clinch a light heavyweight playoff spot in his PFL debut. A 12-fight veteran with eight stoppages, including six knockouts, Johnson is a wrestling expert and former NAIA wrestling champion.
His opponent, Andrew Sanchez, is also a former NAIA champion who is making his PFL debut. Sanchez is competing in just his second MMA bout since the end of his tenure with another noteworthy MMA promotion.
Both men are in a win-or-go-home situation here. Each needs a win to remain in playoff contention and then needs to wait and see the results of the remaining 205-pound fights. They would lose a tiebreaker against any fighter who fought twice unless they beat that fighter head-to-head.
Both men come out loose, feeling each other out. One-two by Sanchez. Johnson attempts to come forward as both men are still trying to get a read about a minute in. Some clinch work sees Johnson work Sanchez over with some dirty boxing, though he missed a head kick. Sanchez lands a low kick before clinching back up and pinning Johnson against the cage.
The pressuring Sanchez very briefly gets Johnson to a knee, but Johnson gets back up. Sanchez continues to work Johnson over before fully getting a takedown and getting right into side control. Johnson gets back into half guard with about a minute left. Sanchez looks to improve position as his wrestling is dictating the fight at this point. Johnson rolls to his knees and is able to get back to his feet.
Unfortunately for Johnson, he landed a knee to the head when Sanchez’s knees were still on the ground, prompting a time-out. After a visit from the doctor, Sanchez gets up and is able to go on. Johnson is deducted a point for the illegal strike.
Body kicks by both men to start. Sanchez goes in for another takedown, but Johnson rolls right into a kneebar! Sanchez gets through it and gets back on top, though Johnson gets an arm around Sanchez’s neck and is looking to get back to his feet. Sanchez did a decent job holding Johnson down for a time until Johnson got back up about 90 seconds into the round.
The two break off with about three minutes left and get back to the center of the SmartCage. Johnson lands a strong right hand to the head. Johnson looking to pressure Sanchez but misses a knee. Another big right hand from Johnson before he lands a knee to the body. Left hook by Johnson backs up Sanchez, but Sanchez briefly clinches up for a reset.
Johnson blocks a one-two and answers with a left. Small combination from Johnson. With about 15 seconds left in the round, Johnson blasts Sanchez with a hard right. Sanchez is able to go for a helicopter kick before the bell.
Sanchez lands a brief, awkward takedown almost right away, but Johnson gets up and lands a right. The two start trading power punches. A brief exchange is followed by Johnson landing a takedown that Sanchez gets up from right away. Against the cage, Sanchez is able to lock in a body lock. Johnson attempts to get out of the grasp of Sanchez by traveling along the SmartCage. Johnson gets off the fence but Sanchez pummels to hold on for a little longer before the separation.
Johnson lands a couple of singular shots. Johnson, though tired, goes aggressive and looks to get something big in the final minute. A right hand by Johnson gets Sanchez to back up to the fence. Sanchez, however, is able to pin Johnson to the SmartCage once more in a clinch. Johnson looked to land a big kick off the break but couldn’t get it.
Andrew Sanchez def. Taylor Johnson via split decision (29-27, 27-29, 29-27)