The PFL completed its regular season earlier this month. and now it’s on to the playoffs. The 12 semifinals in six weight classes will be spread across three fight cards in August, with the winners advancing to the finals in the fall.
Three champions from the 2022 season remain in contention to grab a second oversized $1 million check, and there’s also one champ from a previous season, a few other familiar faces, and some brand-new ones.
Four of the fighters in these playoffs are undefeated, including two who will meet in a someone’s-0-has-got-to-go men’s featherweight semifinal.
And, of course, there also are the two fighters who, by all appearances, fell short of playoff spots but, after some behind-the-scenes scrambling by the PFL brass, got in anyway. (We’ll explain, or at least try to.)
Here are the semifinal matchups in each weight class (with playoff seeds in parentheses), along with notes on how the season reached this point and where it goes now:
How they got here: Goltsov is the No. 1 seed for the second straight year, although a visa problem prevented him from competing in the playoffs last season. The year before, he lost in the semifinals to Ante Delija, who did not qualify for these 2023 playoffs. Also not standing in Goltsov’s way is 2022 champion Bruno Cappelozza, one of 10 PFL fighters suspended for the season after testing positive for banned substances. So it’s clear sailing for the big Russian, right? Maybe not, as Goltsov’s semifinal opponent, Heiderman, is undefeated.
What to watch for next: The Goltsov-Heiderman winner will move on to face the survivor of a clash of fast finishers. Ferreira won his regular-season finale by knockout in 50 seconds. And Nunes won by first-round KO as well. As always, the heavyweight playoffs will be hold-your-breath viewing.
How they got here: This weight class was wrecked by the PFL’s rash of drug test failures, with five of the 10 suspended fighters being light heavyweights, including last year’s champion, Rob Wilkinson. So Kasanganay, a former UFC fighter who earned his way onto the roster in March on the PFL Challengers Series and won a showcase fight a month later, was a late addition to the regular season. He secured a playoff spot with one just fight. Meanwhile, 2022 semifinalist Silveira earned his top seed the old-fashioned way, with two first-round finishes.
What to watch for next: Is this finally Hamlet’s time to break through? (To be a champion or not to be, that is the … sorry, Bard.) The brawny Norwegian was a 2021 finalist and was on his way last season until he ran into a Silveira head kick. Hmm, so maybe this is Silveira’s time.
Sadibou Sy submits candidate for MMA knockout of the year
Sadibou Sy floors Shane Mitchell with a spinning head kick that is an absolute must-watch.
How they got here: Magomedkerimov might very well be the GOAT of the PFL. He won the championship in 2018, the PFL’s first season, was derailed by illness during the playoffs of his unbeaten 2019 season, was a finalist in 2021 and was unbeaten again in a 2022 season shortened by visa issues. He is 14-1 in his PFL run, including 2-0 in the 2023 regular season, with both wins coming by first-round knockout. The Dagestani is also the last man to defeat Sy, who captured the 2022 championship and has won six straight fights.
What to watch for next: Magomed vs. Magomed will have ramifications easy to identify. Magomedkerimov’s résumé is detailed above, and Umalatov’s features zero losses. As with Magomedkerimov, the most formidable obstacle in Umalatov’s way has been the US Department of State, as visa issues ended his 2022 playoffs. While Magomedkerimov enters this matchup off a pair of first-round TKOs, Umalatov is coming off a decision win — but has 12 finishes among his 14 victories, nine in Round 1.
How they got here: Burgos needed a finish in his regular-season finale June 23 to earn a playoff spot but could only manage a decision win, so he was out — which seemed a shame since these semis are in the Big Apple, just a few miles from the high-profile signee’s Long Island home. But the next day, in a stunning turnabout, Burgos was in. The change of fortune came about because the PFL suspended Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio, both past season champions, after Schulte’s tepid win to clinch the fourth seed. According to a statement from the promotion, the suspensions were for failing “to use their best efforts … skills and abilities as a professional athlete to compete.” Schulte and Manfio are best friends, and their fight did resemble a 15-minute kids’ game of patty cake. But honestly, it was far from the worst MMA fight ever seen. And what exactly did the bosses expect when booking a bout between a man and the beloved godfather to his child?
What to watch for next: Even though we’re getting Burgos vs. Collard under bogus circumstances, I’m all-in. It’s a pairing of fighters who historically like to stand and bang, something “Hurricane” Shane did not do in either of his fights during his first PFL regular season after jumping over from the UFC. And if Burgos manages to reach the final, he might get the rematch he craves against 2022 champ Aubin-Mercier, who spoiled his PFL debut in April.
Jesus Pinedo scores massive upset to clinch playoff spot
Jesus Pinedo finishes Brendan Loughnane early in the first round to clinch a spot in the PFL playoffs.
How they got here: Brendan Loughnane, the 2022 champ, was looking unbeatable until a knee to the chin earlier this month by Pinedo, 0-1 for the season at that point, put a sudden end to the Brit’s bid for a repeat title. It also derailed a possible Loughnane rematch with Khaybulaev, who defeated him on the way to winning the 2021 championship. Top seed Jenkins probably also would have loved another shot at Loughnane, who beat him in last year’s final.
What to watch for next: Braga is 11-0 and Khaybulaev is 21-0-1, making their semifinal the most consequential fight during the August playoff run. Khaybulaev, in particular, has to be considered the leading light in this division as the playoffs roll along.
How they got here: Kolesnyk was at the center of a captivating drama a couple of weeks ago — even while not fighting. She was shown backstage on the PFL telecast, watching Aspen Ladd try to secure the final playoff spot with a second-round finish. Ladd got the submission with three seconds to spare, and the eliminated Kolesnyk reacted with dismay. But by the end of the evening, that reaction had turned to celebration, as the PFL recalculated its tiebreaker and Kolesnyk was in the playoffs, bouncing Ladd out. It was a bad look for the promotion, but mistakes happen and (almost) everyone moves on. Kolesnyk’s reward: a semifinal matchup with 2022 champ Pacheco, who knocked her out in the first round last year.
What to watch for next: Pacheco was a surprise champ last season, pulling off a huge finals upset of two-time champ Kayla Harrison. (Remember Kayla? It’s been a while.) But Pacheco is a surprise no more, especially after blasting Leibrock in 45 seconds earlier this month. If Pacheco doesn’t win a second straight championship, that will be this season’s big surprise.
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