Editor's note: This story was originally published ahead of PFL4.
The MLB season fills a wide swath of the calendar with 162 games, an entire summertime (and beyond) of ups and downs. The NBA and NHL seasons have only half as many games, but the twists and turns keep the ride going for months. The same is true in the NFL, with its recently expanded 17-game regular season slate stretched out over the fall and winter.
Then there's the PFL season. Two fights. That's all you get to prove yourself and secure a playoff spot.
That means the 2021 season is both at its halfway point and in its homestretch, with three fight cards across the next three weeks to settle the standings in six weight classes. No one is assured one of each division's four playoff spots yet, although several fighters who earned six points for first-round finishes in their opening bouts are in enviable positions. Among those going strong is the biggest 2021 debutee, former Bellator welterweight champion and UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald.
But the real story might be those who are not in position to advance. A pair of two-season champions, lightweight Natan Schulte and featherweight Lance Palmer, both lost their first bouts and have zero points. So does former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. And another ex-UFC titlist, heavyweight Fabricio Werdum, has just one point after seeing his opening result -- originally deemed a loss -- overturned.
This month will make or break the hopes and $1 million dreams of a lot of fighters. Here is the lineup of remaining fights in the six weight classes, with one bout in each division singled out for special attention.
Ali Isaev (-1 point) vs. Renan Ferreira (1 point)
Ferreira knocked out Fabricio Werdum in his season-opening bout. That happened, no question about it. But he has only a single point because of what might have happened right beforehand, and shortly after.
Ferreira was trapped in a Werdum triangle choke and made a motion that some interpreted as a tapout. The ref didn't see it, though, so the fight continued until Ferreira finished it with punches. Werdum later appealed, and the New Jersey commission overturned the result to a no contest. Werdum was ultimately not medically cleared, and was forced to drop out ahead of the second round of regular season fights.
And while Ferreira was hoping for a rematch with Werdum, he instead gets Isaev, the 2019 PFL champion, who was pulled from his opening bout for an undisclosed reason and comes into this one desperate for points. Denis Goltsov and Bruno Cappelozza are in prime position for a playoff spot after first-round finishes, but with the withdrawals of Werdum and Mohammed Usman, the other two playoff spots are wide open for the taking.
Other heavyweight bouts:
Carl Semanufafa (0) vs. Renan Ferreira (1)
Denis Goltsov (6) vs. Brandon Sayles (3)
Bruno Cappelozza (6) vs. Muhammed Dereese (0)
Ante Delija (0) vs. Chandler Cole (0)
Klidson Abreu (0) vs. Jamelle Jones (0)
Anthony Pettis (0 points) vs. Raush Manfio (3 points)
June 25 (rescheduled for PFL 6)
Closing out a fight card is always a point of pride, a symbol of an athlete's skill and marketability. For Pettis, there was added value in that positioning. And while the former UFC lightweight champion derived a competitive advantage from his original placement on the June 10 fight card as the last regular season bout (prior to the technical main event that will feature Claressa Shields' pro MMA debut), everything took a slight turn on June 9, with the news that Pettis had to pull out of PFL 4 due to illness. But his rescheduled bout, against Manfio at PFL 6, still affords him the knowledge of exactly how many points he needs and what kind of result is required in order to secure a playoff spot.
This weight division is wide open, with no finishes in any of the first five lightweight bouts of the season. Five fighters sit tied with three points. Pettis is not part of that lead pack, after dropping his opening bout to Clay Collard. Two-time-defending champ Schulte has zero points as well. There will be a lot of jockeying for position throughout the night, culminating with Pettis's last stand.
Other men's lightweight bouts (June 10 at PFL 4):
Clay Collard (3) vs. Joilton Lutterbach (0)
Natan Schulte (0) vs. Alexander Martinez (3)
Marcin Held (3) vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier (-1)
Kayla Harrison (6 points) vs. Cindy Dandois (0 points)
Based on her first PFL fight performance, it does not look good for Dandois. That doesn't make her any different from the other women in the lightweight field, though. No one has shown anything that would suggest that she can hang with Harrison.
But Dandois is at least an interesting opponent. She is a UFC, Bellator and Invicta veteran with a victory over recent UFC title challenger Megan Anderson. But most interesting of all is that the Belgian's core martial art is judo.
Will that help her against the two-time Olympic judo gold medalist? Will Dandois have just enough judo chops to nullify that realm and turn this into a striking contest? Or will the judo background embolden Dandois beyond her abilities, making her susceptible to being ragdolled over and over?
Other women's lightweight bouts:
Larissa Pacheco (6) vs. Olenda Kolesnyk (0)
Antonio Carlos Junior (6 points) vs. Vinny Magalhaes (-1 point)
Carlos and his fellow UFC veteran from Brazil, Cezar Ferreira, both maximized their scoring opportunities in their opening bouts, earning six points for first-round finishes. Now Carlos takes on another countryman who also has a UFC pedigree. Magalhaes did not even make it to the cage for his first PFL fight last month, as he missed weight and was pulled from the bout.
Now he's back, with a negative point total and a lot of ground to make up. The fight within the fight: Both Carlos and Magalhaes are multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champions. Let the black belt grappling begin.
Other light heavyweight bouts:
Cezar Ferreira (6) vs. Chris Camozzi (0)
Magomed Magomedkerimov (-1 point) vs. Curtis Millender (0 points)
This could be our only opportunity to see Magomedkerimov, the 2018 season champion and a winner of 11 fights in a row. The Russian was poised to repeat in 2019, as he made it to a semifinal slot against Ray Cooper III, whom he had defeated in the previous year's finale. But Magomedkerimov had to pull out because of illness, and Cooper went on to win the million bucks.
Magomedkerimov pulled out of this season's opener as well, this time for visa complications. So he sits in last place, with even a finish in this bout not a guarantee to buy him a ticket to the playoffs. Let's see what he can do against Millender, who fought in the UFC and Bellator and dropped his first bout of the 2021 PFL season to Rory MacDonald.
Other welterweight bouts:
Rory MacDonald (6) vs. Gleison Tibau (0)
Brendan Loughnane (6) vs. Tyler Diamond (3)
How good is Loughnane? It's been a topic of hot debate since he was on Dana White's Contender Series. That was in 2019, and even a dominant victory (albeit without a finish) did not earn him a UFC contract. But that worked out in the PFL's favor, and perhaps Loughnane's too.
If what we saw in his opening bout -- a two-minute knockout win over a one-time World Series of Fighting title challenger -- is an accurate depiction of the 31-year-old Englishman's level as a fighter, Loughnane will be a serious threat to pocket $1 million on New Year's Eve.
Other featherweight bouts: