The final night of the PFL's regular season saw the return of the heavyweights and light heavyweights -- and they didn't disappoint in terms of fireworks.
After only a handful of finishes at PFL 3 earlier in the season, more than half (six) of the 11 tournament fights were closed out within the first two rounds Thursday night in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Emiliano Sordi locked up the No. 1 seed at light heavyweight with a first-round TKO of Bozigit Ataev. Denis Goltsov dominated Kelvin Tiller for two rounds and ultimately finished their fight in the second round with a neck crank submission -- locking up the top seed for the heavyweights.
The top eight fighters in the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions will return to action with quarterfinal and semifinal fights set for the same night -- Oct. 31 in Las Vegas.
This story was updated in real time.
With murmurs that the veteran wrestler might hang up the gloves with a bad showing, Rosholt pulled out a grinding unanimous decision win over Ishii in the main event of PFL 6. The victory gave Rosholt 3 points on the season -- enough to slip into the No. 7 spot in the heavyweight playoffs. He'll meet No. 2 Muhammed DeReese in the first round.
Ishii will also make the playoffs, courtesy of his win over Zeke Tuinei-Wily in his first bout. Ishii, the No. 8 seed, faces top-seed Goltsov to start the postseason. Rosholt was able to slip ahead late in the third round with hard punches. Rosholt, a former All-American college wrestler, and Ishii, a former Olympic judo gold medalist, nullified each other's grappling, so it became a clinch fight with dirty boxing mixed in.
Ishii looked solid with his striking in the first and second rounds, but Rosholt took the momentum late in the second with a takedown and probably sealed the deal with a stunning right hand late in the third. Judges scored the fight 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 in Rosholt's favor.
The old Magalhaes is back. After two straight losses in the PFL, Magalhaes returned to his old form, submitting Cleveland with an armbar at 1:56 of the first round.
Magalhaes needed a victory here -- and he did one better. The former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion earned 6 points and the No. 3 seed in the light heavyweight playoffs with this win. Cleveland, who went 0-for-2 this season after making the playoffs last year, was eliminated.
Magalhaes landed a takedown right away in the first round, advanced to side control, and then moved to a mounted crucifix with workmanlike efficiency. Initially, Magalhaes attempted a kimura, but when Cleveland defended, Magalhaes turned it into an armbar. Cleveland had no choice but to tap; Magalhaes said he would have broken his arm if he hadn't.
Magalhaes (19-11) lost to Sean O'Connell in the $1 million PFL light heavyweight final last December when he retired after three rounds.
Nemkov did just enough against his Russian countryman Yusupov to pull out a win. Yusupov dropped Nemkov with a right hand in the third round and rode out the rest of the way on top. But Nemkov took the first two rounds on two of the judges' scorecards -- giving him the win via split decision; judges scored the fight 29-28, 28-29, 29-28. The first two rounds were extremely close. Nemkov caught a Yusupov kick in the second to ground him, which was the most effective technique of that frame.
Nemkov (30-7) earned 3 points with the win, giving him 6 total for the light heavyweight regular season. Both he and Yusupov clinched playoff berths here; Yusupov's loss coming by split decision ultimately helped him with the tiebreaker. Nemkov, 32, has won three straight fights overall, and earned two victories in his debut season in PFL. He avenged a split decision loss to Yusupov from 2016 in M-1 in Russia.
Seumanutafa raised his hand while the result of his fight against Isaev was being announced, but it was not to be. The Samoan fighter put on a respectable performance as a heavy underdog. He was hanging onto a kimura attempt late in the third round, but Isaev still picked up the unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win -- and he was the clear choice.
Isaev, a former Olympic wrestler, earned 3 points with the victory, giving him 6 points total and a spot in the postseason. Isaev (6-0) used his wrestling early, nearly submitting Seumanutafa in the first with an arm triangle after Seumanutafa (12-11) couldn't quite lock in a guillotine choke. Isaev, 35, landed a nice spinning back kick, an impressive technique for a 6-foot-3 Russian who walks around near the heavyweight limit, in the third round.
Grishin is making waves in his second PFL season. The Russian fighter starched Mokhnatkin with a right cross and finished on the ground at 48 seconds of the first round.
The victory earned Grishin 6 points, putting him at 9 for the season after a close split-decision win over Jordan Johnson at PFL 3. Grishin, 35, clinched a light heavyweight playoff spot and the second seed. Grishin (30-7-1) did not lose last year in PFL and is unbeaten in his past eight fights; he fought Smealinho Rama to a draw in the quarterfinals and Rama advanced due to winning the first round. Mokhnatkin (11-5-2) has dropped three straight fights.
Istrefi will rue the day he charged at a recovering DeReese. After an Istrefi kick below the belt, DeReese took his time in recovering. He had a full five minutes but didn't take it all. The moment the fight resumed, Istrefi (13-4) ran full bore at DeReese, who weathered the storm, caught Istrefi with a combination, dropped him and finished the fight on the ground only 13 seconds after the fight resumed after the low blow.
The wild ending came at 2:06 of the first round. DeReese, a 31-year-old Ultimate Fighter veteran who won twice in PFL last year, earned 6 points for the first-round finish and earned a No. 2 seed.
The future looks bright for Nurmagomedov. The question is, what's next for the blue-chip prospect?
Nurmagomedov, the cousin of UFC lightweight champion Khabib, beat Honorio by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a comprehensive performance. Nurmagomedov's style is different from his older cousin, though -- he's more of a striker with flashy kicks. But he can also wrestle and dominate in top position, as Honorio found out when he decided to pull guard on several occasions.
Nurmagomedov (11-0) is not part of PFL's 2019 season. He's a bantamweight, and the PFL does not have that division right now; this was simply a showcase bout for the 23-year-old. Perhaps in 2020, the PFL will add 135 pounds -- or maybe Nurmagomedov could end up in the UFC.
Once Barroso took things to the ground, he had his fight against Edwards well in hand. Edwards, who was making his PFL debut, gave Barroso trouble early on the feet, but Barroso was able to get Edwards down early and often and worked his superior Brazilian jiu-jitsu for a unanimous decision win; judges scored the fight 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 in his favor.
With his second straight decision win, Barroso pushed his total for the season to 6 points, clinching a heavyweight playoff berth. Barroso (24-7-1) is unbeaten in his past six fights, and the 39-year-old UFC veteran has not lost since he was in the UFC, back in January 2018.
Goltsov is the PFL's heavyweight top seed, and for good reason. The Russian fighter absolutely dominated Tiller for the better part of two rounds en route to a neck crank submission win at 3:40 of the second. The victory earned Goltsov 5 points, giving him 11 total for the season and the top spot in the heavyweight playoffs. Tiller came in with 6 points and will also make the postseason.
Goltsov used a devastatingly quick jab early in the fight and Tiller (11-3) had no answer. Goltsov busted up Tiller's eye and nose in the early going with the jab, which might have contributed to Tiller repeatedly losing his mouthpiece. In all, Tiller looked totally overmatched; Goltsov outstruck Tiller 41-1 in the first round. In the second, Tiller landed two takedowns, but Goltsov quickly regained control both times; the second time, Goltsov got into mount and applied a version of the ezekiel choke for the finish. Tiller had to tap.
Goltsov (24-5) stopped Rosholt by TKO in the first round of his first PFL fight this year. The 29-year-old Russian fighter has won five straight fights overall, 19 of his past 20 and seems to be the favorite to win the $1 million heavyweight title.
PFL's light heavyweight division has its $1 million favorite.
Sordi ran through Ataev, stopping him via knockout at 1:23 of the first round -- good enough to earn 6 points. Sordi landed a right-left combination that wobbled Ataev, then dropped him with a grazing right uppercut. Sordi then followed up two monster right hands from top position to put Ataev out.
With the stoppage, Sordi (19-8) has a total of 11 points, putting him in the driver's seat in the 205-pound standings as the No. 1 seed. The 28-year-old Argentina native won his first fight of the season via second-round TKO against Magalhaes. Sordi has won all of his 19 career wins by stoppage. Ataev (21-4), a 40-year-old Russian fighter, has 6 points on the season courtesy of a first-round TKO over Dan Spohn in his first fight.
Nicholson has new life in the PFL. After a split decision loss in his first fight of the season, the UFC veteran knocked out Tuinei-Wily at 3:07 of the first round to earn the maximum 6 points. Nicholson landed a step-in body kick that hurt Tuinei-Wily, and followed up with a right hand that dropped him. Nicholson then pounced with punches on the ground to seal it.
Nicholson (14-8), who has finished all of his career wins, clinched a playoff spot with the early stoppage and sits in the top half of the postseason bracket. The 29-year-old Florida native, a 2018 PFL semifinalist, snapped a two-fight losing streak with the victory.
Johnson notched his first PFL win and locked up a spot in the playoffs to kick off the PFL 6 broadcast. The UFC veteran beat Pesaleli by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a dominant performance but could not get a finish, which means he earned only 3 points for the victory -- probably leaving him to claim one of the lower playoff seeds in the light heavyweight division.
Johnson (11-1), who lost his first fight to Grishin, was able to use his wrestling to ground Pesaleli throughout. The 30-year-old Arizona resident went 4-0 in the UFC before signing with PFL as a free agent. Pesaleli (1-2), a 25-year-old New Zealand native, dropped both of his PFL fights this season, but earned 3 points for a walkover ahead of his first fight because Ronny Markes -- enough to get him the No. 8 seed.