One. More. Shot.
The final event of the 2021 PFL Playoffs is here, as featherweights and light heavyweights take the cage Friday, Aug. 27, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., with a chance to punch their ticket to the greatest night in MMA: The $6 PFL World Championship.
The event caps three consecutive win-or-go-home weeks of PFL Playoffs action, building plenty of momentum as competitors head toward the final showdown.
Friday’s fight card is headlined by a Featherweight Semifinal matchup between No. 4 seed Movlid Khaybulaev and No. 1 seed Brendan Loughnane on ESPN2.
And what a matchup it is.
Two of the most dangerous strikers in the PFL 145-pound division, Khaybulaev and Loughnane can finish any fight in a flash, making this a can’t-miss affair for fight fans Friday evening.
Loughnane’s goals are two-fold: Win the PFL featherweight strap and $1 million and become the UK’s next great fighter. He’s well on his way, earning the top seed in the 2021 PFL Playoffs with a ferocious first-round knockout and a back-and-forth, gritty decision victory during the Regular Season.
Now with a shot to become the first fighter from his home city of Manchester, England to win a major MMA belt, Loughnane has all the motivation he needs to come out swinging Friday against Khaybulaev.
That, however, may not be the wisest move, as Khaybulaev holds the fastest stoppage in PFL history: A 10-second flying knee knockout of Damon Jackson in 2019. Get too aggressive against Khaybulaev, and you just might pay the price with your consciousness.
Before Loughnane and Khaybulaev jump into the cage, though, Friday’s PFL Playoffs card brings a stacked deck of high-octane matchups to the table. The ESPN2 fight card kicks off with a Light Heavyweight Semifinal between No. 2 seed Cezar Ferreira and No. 3 seed Marthin Hamlet then rolls straight into a No. 4 vs. No. 1 showdown between Emiliano Sordi and Antonio Carlos Jr.
A classic striker vs. grappler matchup, Sordi vs. Carlos Jr. has the potential to steal the show Friday evening. Sordi, a 2018 PFL Light Heavyweight Quarterfinalist and the 2019 PFL Light Heavyweight Champion, holds the PFL record for most finishes in one season with five, and he’s looking to add Carlos Jr. to the list en route to another Finals appearance.
Carlos Jr., however, represents one of the most devastating finishers in MMA in his own right, with nine of his 11 professional wins coming by submission –– six in the first round.
Following that juicy 205-pound scrap, fans will be treated to a featherweight showdown between No. 2-ranked featherweight Chris Wade and No. 3 seed Bubba Jenkins.
All that plus a red-hot Prelim card featuring Chris Camozzi vs. Cory Hendricks, Jason Knight vs. Bobby Moffett, and much more begins with the ESPN+ card, airing live at 6:30 p.m. ET. The broadcast then shifts at 10 p.m. ET for the ESPN2 card. For additional broadcast details, click here.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the matchups through the eyes of PFL President Ray Sefo, a six-time world kickboxing and Muay Thai champion and three-time combat sports Hall of Famer.
Note: This post reflects the betting odds at time of posting. Visit DraftKings, the official sportsbook of the PFL, for the latest odds.
Featherweight: Brendan Loughnane (No. 1 seed, 21-3, +130 underdog) vs. Movlid Khaybulaev (No. 4 seed, 17-0-1, one no-contest, -150 favorite)
Two of the best featherweights on the planet square off Friday evening in the PFL Playoffs main event, as Brendan Loughnane takes on Movlid Khaybulaev. With high expectations and even higher stakes, this fight promises to cap the fight card with a bang.
Ray’s Take: This is just a high-level matchup at its core. You have two fighters who can truly do it all –– and do it all at a high level –– in Loughnane and Khaybulaev. Now add in the fact that this fight determines who punches his ticket to the PFL World Championship, and it’s the type of fight that gets me fired up as both a fan and a promoter.
Loughnane hasn’t lost in his last seven fights, and his first-round knockout of Sheymon Moraes during the 2021 PFL Regular Season went a long way in snagging him that coveted No. 1 seed. But Khaybulaev doesn’t have a loss on his record through 19 pro fights, and he’s coming off an impressive victory over longtime 145-pound champ Lance Palmer.
It seems Khaybulaev is peaking at the right time –– he is actually the betting favorite in this bout –– but will it be enough to dethrone the top-seeded Loughnane?
We find out Friday. Clear your calendars and make this one a priority.
Featherweight: Chris Wade (No. 2 seed, 19-6, +160 underdog) vs. Bubba Jenkins (No. 3 seed, 16-4, -190 favorite)
The first Featherweight Semifinal of the evening features two longtime vets with impressive pedigrees in Chris Wade and Bubba Jenkins.
Wade went 5-2 in the UFC before coming to the PFL in search of that $1 million prize, while Jenkins is a former D-1 NCAA champion wrestler who went 8-3 in Bellator and previously secured the BRAVE featherweight title.
Now, they meet Friday to determine who moves on who goes home.
Ray’s Take: For much of his career, Chris Wade was seen as a technically sound, high-level fighter who lacked finishing instincts and abilities.
And then he head-kicked Arman Ospanov to the canvas back in June during the 2021 PFL Regular Season. That’s one way to change a narrative, right?!
With this new wrinkle on display, it will be interesting to see how Bubba Jenkins approaches his upcoming Semifinal matchup against Wade. Jenkins is a dominant wrestler, using his grappling to great effect in defeating Lance Palmer and Bobby Moffett in the 2021 Regular Season, but if he can’t get inside Wade’s range, he could potentially force a shot and eat a hard counter in the process.
I’ll be honest: I have no idea how this one’s going to go. But I know I can’t wait to see it unfold.
Light Heavyweight: Emiliano Sordi (No. 4 seed, 23-8-1, +140 underdog) vs. Antonio Carlos, Jr. (No. 1 seed, 11-5, two no-contests, -160 favorite)
Striker vs. Grappler. Former champ vs. PFL debutant.
Categorize this matchup between Emiliano Sordi and Antonio Carlos, Jr. however you want, the fact remains: This fight rules. We’ll let Mr. Sefo take it away.
Ray’s Take: This is a classic fight: Striker vs. Grappler.
That in its own right always makes for a fun scrap, but when you consider the level of striking from Sordi vs. the level of grappling from Carlos Jr., I’m not sure it gets any better in the light heavyweight division.
Sordi strung together the most dominant season in PFL history back in 2019: Five fights, five finishes. In fact, 22 of his 23 wins have come via stoppage, making him unquestionably one of the most dangerous fighters on our roster.
Carlos Jr., meanwhile, is an IBJJF World Champion who has defeated BJJ legends such as Leandro Lo and Garry Tonon –– both by flying triangle –– and is roommates with Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, one of the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioners of all time.
Oh, and no big deal, but the winner gets to fight for $1 million and the PFL light heavyweight belt. I’ll be glued to this one. Count on it.
Light Heavyweight: Cezar Ferreira (No. 2 seed, 14-9, +130 underdog) vs. Marthin Hamlet (No. 3 seed, 7-2, -150 favorite)
Friday’s PFL Playoffs fight card opens up on ESPN2 with some Light Heavyweight Semifinal action between No. 2 seed Cezar Ferreira and No. 3 seed Marthin Hamlet.
Interestingly, both men come into this fight off losses. Ferreira lost a unanimous decision to Chris Camozzi in June after a spectacular first-round knockout victory in April, while Hamlet lost via third-round submission to Cory Hendricks in June after winning via second-round submission in April.
Now, one of them needs to reverse course and get back in the win column to advance to the PFL World Championship and the shot at the $1 million prize.
Ray’s Take: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love to see fighters respond to adversity. How will you fight coming off a loss? How do you move on and improve?
This fight between Ferreira and Hamlet will answer those questions. Both men looked poised for a shot at the No. 1 seed after impressive finishes in the opening round of the 2021 PFL Regular Season.
...then both fighters lost their next bouts.
That dynamic makes this fight incredibly interesting. With $1 million and the PFL Light Heavyweight title in the balance, will they play it safe? Will those losses affect their aggressiveness, or will it instead be the fire they needed to come out and dominate?
So many questions surround this crucial matchup –– and we’re about to get our answers.