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2021 PFL playoffs: A rematch, a coin flip and two women on a collision course

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Bruno Cappelozza makes quick work of Muhammed DeReese (1:25)

Bruno Cappelozza flattens Muhammed DeReese with an impressive flurry of strikes in Round 1. (1:25)

More than 60 fighters competed during the 2021 Professional Fighters League regular season, but by the end of the night at PFL 6, that number had been cut down to just 24. Four fighters each, in six divisions, will compete for one of six $1 million prizes that stand a tantalizing two fights away.

Defending champions are only back in three divisions, as light heavyweight Emiliano Sordi, welterweight Ray Cooper III and women's lightweight Kayla Harrison look to repeat. Two runners-up, in Larissa Pacheco and Loik Radzhabov, look to turn the tide as they return to the fray. Back-to-back winners Lance Palmer and Natan Schulte both failed to qualify for a chance at a three-peat.

The semifinal matchups, which take place over three weeks in August, run the spectrum from razor-thin margins to lopsided projections. There's a regular season rematch where the lower seed already defeated No. 1. Two fighters had such similar resumes that stood up to tiebreakers that a coin flip was necessary to determine the matchups. And there was only one division -- women's lightweight -- in which the top two competitors both earned a pair of first-round finishes in the regular season, as Harrison and Pacheco potentially line themselves up for a rematch.

Let's take a look at what's to come in the PFL playoffs.

Heavyweight

No. 1 Bruno Cappelozza vs. No. 4 Jamelle Jones

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Jamelle Jones wins PFL debut with vicious hammerfist KO

Jamelle Jones wastes no time in Round 1, knocking out Klidson Abreu with a flurry of hammerfists.

Bruno Cappelozza (12 points)

  • 12-5 (12 knockouts, 0 submissions)

  • 32 years old | 6-foot-2 | 79-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Round 1 KO/TKO over Ante Delija (PFL 3); Round 1 KO/TKO over Muhammed Dereese (PFL 6)

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Pettis dropped in Round 3 of split-decision loss

Anthony Pettis is dropped by the knee of Raush Manfio in Round 3 of his eventual split-decision loss.

Jamelle Jones (6 points)

  • 12-6 (8 knockouts, 2 submissions)

  • 33 years old | 6-foot | 75-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-0): Round 1 KO/TKO over Klidson Abreu (PFL 6)

The matchup (Aug. 19): Cappelozza has been a terror this season, with two first-round finishes, while Jones had a Round 1 stoppage in his only bout of the season. So don't expect a feeling-out process. Do expect heavy hands to be thrown.


No. 2 Denis Goltsov vs. No. 3 Ante Delija

Denis Goltsov (10 points)

  • 26-6 (11 knockouts, 10 submissions)

  • 31 years old | 6-foot-5 | 78-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Round 1 KO/TKO over Muhammed Dereese (PFL 3); Round 3 KO/TKO over Brandon Sayles (PFL 6)

Ante Delija (6 points)

  • 28-4 (7 knockouts, 7 submissions)

  • 30 years old | 6-foot-5 | 79-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-1): Lost by Round 1 KO/TKO to Bruno Cappelozza (PFL 3); Round 1 KO/TKO over Chandler Cole (PFL 6)

The matchup (Aug. 19): This is Goltsov's second straight time in the semifinals. He lost to eventual champ Ali Isaev in 2019. Now he has another shot at the big check, but it won't be easy, judging from Delija's first-round finish on Thursday.


Light heavyweight

No. 1 Antonio Carlos Junior vs. No. 4 Emiliano Sordi

Antonio Carlos Junior (7 points)

  • 11-5 (0 knockouts, 9 submissions)

  • 31 years old | 6-foot-2 | 79-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-0-1): Round 1 submission (guillotine) over Tom Lawlor (PFL 2); no contest vs. Vinny Magalhaes (accidental low blow) (PFL 5)

Emiliano Sordi (4 points)

  • 23-8-1 (16 knockouts, 6 submissions)

  • 30 years old | 6-foot-2 | 77-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-0-1): Unanimous decision over Chris Camozzi (PFL 2); unanimous draw vs. Dan Spohn (PFL 5)

The matchup (Aug. 27): For weeks, the narrative on Sordi was his tenuous spot in the standings. Was the defending champ even going to make the playoffs? He did make it, but his first obstacle is formidable, especially if Carlos Junior -- a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion -- can get the fight to the canvas.


No. 2 Cezar Ferreira vs. No. 3 Marthin Hamlet

Cezar Ferreira (6 points)

  • 14-9 (4 knockouts, 4 submissions)

  • 36 years old | 6-foot-1 | 78-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-1): Round 1 KO/TKO over Nick Roehrick (PFL 2); lost by unanimous decision to Chris Camozzi (PFL 5)

Marthin Hamlet (5 points)

  • 7-2 (2 knockouts, 3 submissions)

  • 29 years old | 6-foot-1 |75-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-1): Round 1 technical submission (arm triangle) over Dan Spohn (PFL 2); lost by Round 3 submission to Cory Hendricks (PFL 5)

The matchup (Aug. 27): Both men are coming off losses in their most recent regular-season bouts after winning their openers, so both have showed both bright signs and flaws. Between now and Aug. 19, one of these men is going to need to build some confidence.


Welterweight

No. 4 Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. No. 5 Sadibou Sy

Magomed Magomedkerimov (5 points)

  • 27-5 (10 knockouts, 9 submissions)

  • 31 years old | 6-foot-1 | 73-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-0): Round 1 submission (Ezekiel choke) over Curtis Millender (PFL 5)

Sadibou Sy (4 points)

  • 9-5-2, 1 NC (6 knockouts, 0 submissions)

  • 34 years old | 6-foot-3 | 80-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-0, 1 NC): No contest (accidental eye poke) vs. Nikolai Aleksakhin (PFL 2); unanimous decision over Aleksei Kunchenko (PFL 5)

The matchup (Aug. 13): Magomedkerimov, the 2018 season champion, was robbed by injury of a chance to win again in 2019, and then visa issues kept him out of the cage until late in the 2021 regular season. His quick submission was a reminder for the 170-pound division that the Russian is going to present problems. Sy drew some attention at the start of the 2019 PFL season with a 17-second liver kick TKO against David Michaud, but he's 1-1-1 with a no contest since that night.


No. 2 Rory MacDonald vs. No. 3 Ray Cooper III

Rory MacDonald (6 points)

  • 22-7-1 (7 knockouts, 8 submissions)

  • 31 years old | 6-foot | 76-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-1): Round 1 submission (rear-naked choke) over Curtis Millender (PFL 2); lost by split decision to Gleison Tibau (PFL 5)

Ray Cooper III (5 points)

  • 22-7-1 (14 knockouts, 7 submissions)

  • 28 years old | 5-foot-7 | 70-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Round 1 submission (arm triangle) over Jason Ponet (PFL 2); unanimous decision over Nikolai Aleksakhin (PFL 5) (-1 point for missing weight)

The matchup (Aug. 13): MacDonald fell into this fight after a questionable decision went against him in his second regular season fight, while Cooper failed to make weight ahead of his second fight, costing him points. But the result is this matchup, which is the fight of the semifinals and pits the defending champion against the star signee. The winner's "reward"? Maybe a date in the cage with the relentless Magomedkerimov.


Men's lightweight

No. 1 Loik Radzhabov vs. No. 4 Alexander Martinez

Loik Radzhabov (6 points)

  • 14-3-1 (7 knockouts, 4 submissions)

  • 30 years old | 5-foot-8 | 68-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-1): Lost by split decision to Alexander Martinez (PFL 1); Round 1 KO/TKO over Akhmed Aliev (PFL 4)

Alexander Martinez (3 points)

  • 8-1 (2 knockouts, 4 submissions)

  • 27 years old | 6-foot | 73-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (1-1): Split decision over Loik Radzhabov (PFL 1); Lost by split-decision to Natan Schulte (PFL 4)

The matchup (Aug. 13): These two both went 1-1 this season, with Martinez getting his win by split decision in his opening bout against ... Radzhabov. Now they meet again, after Radzhabov rebounded in a big way with a 27-second knockout of Akhmed Aliev.


No. 2 Clay Collard vs. No. 3 Raush Manfio

Clay Collard (6 points)

  • 20-8 (10 knockouts, 3 submissions)

  • 28 years old | 6-foot | 74-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Unanimous decision over Anthony Pettis (PFL 1); split decision over Joilton Lutterbach (PFL 4)

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Larissa Pacheco stuns Olena Kolesnyk with incredible combo

Larissa Pacheco knocks out Olena Kolesnyk with an incredible one-two punch combo.

Raush Manfio (6 points)

  • 13-3 (7 knockouts, 0 submissions)

  • 29 years old | 5-foot-9 | 73-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Split decision over Joilton Lutterbach (PFL 1) | split decision over Anthony Pettis (PFL 6)

The matchup (Aug. 13): Both of these men got here by beating Anthony Pettis, and both earned narrow split decisions over Joilton Luttenbach. Collard had the more dominant victory over Pettis, although he got clipped near the final horn while Manfio just grew stronger and stronger in his Pettis fight.


Women's lightweight

No. 1 Larissa Pacheco vs. No. 4 Taylor Guardado

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Kayla Harrison forces Cindy Dandois to tap out in Round 1

Kayla Harrison keeps her dominating streak alive with a first-round submission of Cindy Dandois.

Larissa Pacheco (12 points)

  • 15-4 (6 knockouts, 8 submissions)

  • 26 years old | 5-foot-6 | 69-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Round 1 KO/TKO over Julija Pajic (PFL 3); Round 1 KO/TKO over Olena Kolesnyk (PFL 6)

Taylor Guardado (6 points)

  • 2-1 (0 knockouts, 0 submissions)

  • 29 years old | 5-foot-6 | 69-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Unanimous decision over Olena Kolesnyk (PFL 3); Unanimous decision over Laura Sanchez (PFL 6)

The matchup (Aug. 19): Ever since losing to Kayla Harrison on New Year's Eve 2019 -- her second loss to Harrison that season -- Pacheco has been aiming for a rematch. She needs to be careful here to not look past Guardado, who is inexperienced professional, but has proven she can grind out a win. Guardado returned to MMA after a nine-year hiatus in March 2020, and her lone loss in a 9-1 amateur career was a 2011 loss to Ronda Rousey.


No. 2 Kayla Harrison vs. No. 3 Genah Fabian

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Genah Fabian flattens Julija Pajić with devastating head kick and punch

Genah Fabian sends Julija Pajić to the mat after an incredible head kick and follows it up with a punch.

Kayla Harrison (12 points)

  • 10-0 (4 knockouts, 4 submissions)

  • 30 years old | 5-foot-8 | 66-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Round 1 KO/TKO over Mariana Morais (PFL 3); Round 1 submission (armbar) over Cindy Dandois (PFL 6)

Genah Fabian (8 points)

  • 4-1 (3 knockouts, 0 submissions)

  • 31 years old | 6-foot | 74-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Unanimous decision over Laura Sanchez (PFL 3); Round 2 KO/TKO over Julija Pajic (PFL 6)

The matchup (Aug. 19): Let's go out on a limb and say Fabian is going to have her work cut out for her. That would have been the case no matter who earned a spot across the cage from the defending champ, a two-time Olympic judo gold medalist.


Featherweight

No. 1 Brendan Loughnane vs. No. 4 Movlid Khaybulaev

Brendan Loughnane (9 points)

  • 21-3 (12 knockouts, 1 submission)

  • 31 years old | 5-foot-9 | 72-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Round 1 KO/TKO over Sheymon Moraes (PFL 1); majority decision over Tyler Diamond (PFL 4)

Movlid Khaybulaev (6 points)

  • 16-0-1 (6 knockouts, 2 submissions)

  • 30 years old | 5-foot-6 | 70-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Unanimous decision win over Lazar Stojadinovic (PFL 1); unanimous decision over Lance Palmer (PFL 6)

The matchup (Aug. 27): Khaybulaev is 17-0-1 and bounced two-time champion Lance Palmer from playoff contention. Loughnane has won seven in a row, hasn't lost since 2017 and has been among the most impressive fighters in the PFL this season. There's reason to be excited for this matchup, which was decided by a coin flip for seeding between Khaybulaev and Jenkins.


No. 2 Chris Wade vs. No. 3 Bubba Jenkins

Chris Wade (8 points)

  • 19-6 (1 knockout, 5 submissions)

  • 33 years old | 5-foot-10 | 70-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Unanimous decision over Anthony Dizy (PFL 1); Round 2 KO/TKO over Arman Ospanov (PFL 4)

Bubba Jenkins (6 points)

  • 16-4 (6 knockouts, 3 submissions)

  • 33 years old | 5-foot-8 | 72-inch reach

  • 2021 PFL results (2-0): Unanimous decision over Lance Palmer (PFL 1); unanimous decision over Bobby Moffett (PFL 4)

The matchup (Aug. 27): Wade is coming off his first career KO win and has the more well-rounded skill set that was built off an amateur wrestling career in junior college and Division III. But Jenkins' wrestling background is a little bit deeper, as he's a 2011 NCAA Division 1 national champ. Jenkins handed two-time defending champion Lance Palmer his first loss in the PFL in April.