The Professional Fighters League's version of March Madness takes place in October, and it is already percolating. A third of the promotion's 2019 playoff bracket is set.
On Thursday, the welterweight and women's lightweight divisions wrapped up their regular seasons. The top eight welterweights and top four lightweights are heading to the postseason, which begins Oct. 11 in Las Vegas. The men will fight two-round quarterfinal fights, followed by three-round semis the same night. The women, with four playoff participants, will fight just the three-round semis. The survivors move on to the Dec. 31 finals.
Let's go fight by fight and break down the brackets in each weight class:
Women's lightweight semifinals
Kaufman skated into the playoffs with a first-round finish of Morgan Frier in May and a walkover victory Thursday when her opponent, Roberta Samad, did not make weight. Kaufman took a calculated risk by not fighting Samad and settling for three points, rather than fighting her and trying for the bonus points that would have come with a finish. It worked out perfectly for the Canadian, though, as she still landed the top seed.
Across from Kaufman (21-4, 1 NC) will be fellow UFC veteran Pacheco (12-3), who fell to Kayla Harrison by decision in her first fight and stopped Bobbi Jo Dalziel in the first round last week. Kaufman will be a big favorite. She's a former Strikeforce and Invicta FC champion at bantamweight. Pacheco, who also has fought at bantamweight and featherweight, has 15 pro fights but is just 24 years old.
Kayla Harrison (2) vs. Genah Fabian (3)
Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, earned the second seed Thursday by finishing Frier with a first-round submission. She defeated Pacheco by decision in her first fight. Fabian knocked out Moriel Charneski in the first round last week to get into the playoffs, after falling to Dalziel in her first fight.
This will be your classic styles clash: grappler vs. striker. Harrison (5-0) is obviously world-class in the clinch and on the ground. But Fabian (2-1) is a former professional kickboxer with punching power, strength and reach. While Harrison is expected to be able to close the distance and get Fabian to the ground, this could be the toughest test of Harrison's very young MMA career. Harrison has not felt the kind of power Fabian wields, except maybe from training partner Amanda Nunes in the American Top Team gym.
Both had strange paths here. Franca (21-5) knocked out Sadibou Sy in the third round Thursday when he was down on the scorecards, while Fialho (10-2) earned three points on a walkover when opponent Zane Kamaka missed weight. Franca is the clear favorite here -- he's been excellent since being released by the UFC in 2016, with a nose for finding finishes. But Fialho is a live underdog, a veteran out of American Kickboxing Academy. Fialho is the only member of the playoff bracket who did not win a fight inside the cage. Don't let that be a reason to count him out, though.
Michaud (16-5) had perhaps the most unusual regular season. He was knocked out by Sy in 17 seconds in his first fight, only to rebound and stop Handesson Ferreira by first-round TKO in his second outing. Howard (28-15) knocked out Ray Cooper III with heavy punches Thursday to clinch a playoff berth. Both of these men are well-rounded UFC veterans with power in their hands. This should be one of the most interesting matchups of the quarterfinal round.
Get ready for fireworks. Both of these men do their best work on the feet. Sy can pick apart opponents at range and has great kicks -- to the legs, body and head. Cooper, on the other hand, is a bruiser who can starch foes in close and pound them out on the ground. It's hard to imagine this one going to decision. Both Sy and Cooper, last year's welterweight runner-up, didn't see a fight go to the judges in the regular season -- only finishes for them, whether in victory or defeat. Sy's 17-second body-kick knockout of Michaud was one of the year's best in any promotion. Here, though, each has kind of backed his way into the playoffs, coming off stoppage losses. So they will be hungry.
Magomedkerimov had one of his toughest PFL fights Thursday night when he took on Curtis. Guess whom he draws in the quarterfinals: the same man. Curtis (21-6) was jawing at Magomedkerimov (25-5) throughout their three-round bout, which was won by unanimous decision by Magomedkerimov, the defending PFL welterweight champion. But Curtis was able to catch Magomedkerimov several times in the third round and was the fresher man in that frame. This will be one of the most anticipated matchups of the quarterfinals in any weight division because of the potential bad blood and Curtis' potential pull off an upset over a man who has won 10 straight and has become one of the PFL's top fighters.