What can Movlid Khaybulaev do for an encore?
He dominated top-seeded featherweight Brendan Loughnane on Friday night in the PFL semifinals at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, and claimed one of four championship spots on the line across the PFL's featherweight and light heavyweight divisions.
But while the bout had a championship feel, it was just a semifinal. In order to take home the $1 million season prize, Khaybulaev will have to defeat Chris Wade in the Oct. 27 final. Wade thoroughly outwrestled Bubba Jenkins on his way to a championship spot after losing in the semifinals at 155 pounds in both 2018 and 2019.
The other final set up on Friday was at light heavyweight, which will have a new champion after 2019 winner Emiliano Sordi was beaten by Antonio Carlos Junior. The Brazilian will face Marthin Hamlet, who earned his spot when his opponent, Cezar Ferreira, injured his leg just 13 seconds into their semifinal.
As for Khaybulaev's performance, he was thoroughly dominant through the first two rounds, and spent most of that time on the canvas in controlling position. And while he got bloodied up in Round 3 by a Loughnane punch, the undefeated Dagestani fighter (18-0-1) sewed up the result with a late takedown.
Khaybulaev's performance certainly was more stellar than that of Daniel Torres, who was one of the cageside judges. While the other two scored the bout for the obvious winner, Khaybulaev, by scores of 30-27 and 29-28, Torres inexplicably turned in a 29-28 scorecard for Loughnane, drawing an incredulous laugh from PFL play-by-play man Sean O'Connell.
With the finals now set in all six PFL divisions, here's a first look at what to expect from the featherweight and light heavyweight divisions.
Light heavyweight: Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Marthin Hamlet
Carlos Junior is a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, but he will be against an opponent whose strength is as a wrestler. Typically, wrestlers take charge of where a fight is fought -- they take down dangerous strikers, and keep grappling threats standing and unable to get their submission game going. So Carlos Junior might have to rely on his power punching, while Hamlet will be looking to wear him down.
Featherweight: Movlid Khaybulaev vs. Chris Wade
Wade outwrestled a former NCAA Division 1 national champion on Friday night, but he's going to have a harder time keeping Khaybulaev off of him. The Dagestani is an explosive threat on the feet, and that sets up his takedowns. Overall, Khaybulaev is simply a better and more well-rounded mixed martial artist than Bubba Jenkins. But Wade was dominant in his fight, and as a former longtime lightweight he has the strength to avoid being overwhelmed.
Jenkins danced like Ray Lewis during his walkout. Then he began the bout by making like Jorge Masvidal with a run across the cage to unleash a flying knee, which missed. Wade, meanwhile, just fought.
A state champion wrestler in high school, Wade outwrestled a NCAA Division 1 national champ in a dominant performance that earned him a spot in the PFL featherweight final, as he awaited the winner of the Brendan Loughnane-Movlid Khaybulaev main event.
"I know you guys were talking, saying I'm only a state champion, but I'm a two-time All-American, too," said Wade. "I can wrestle with anybody in the world."
The 33-year-old from Islip, New York, made the playoffs in the PFL's first two seasons as a lightweight and twice lost in the semifiinals, before moving down 10 pounds. He got the nod from all three judges against Jenkins, as they scored the fight 30-27, 30-27, 29-28.
There will be a new PFL light heavyweight champion in 2021, as Sordi, who won the $1 million prize in 2019, surrendered a takedown late in Round 2 and two more in the final round that proved decisive, as Carlos Junior edged the Argentine.
Carlos Junior, who is 31 and from Brazil, is a multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion, but early on he had trouble cornering Sordi and getting him to the canvas. That changed in the latter part of the middle round.
"He defended takedowns pretty well in the first round," said Carlos Junior, who has not lost in his three most recent fights. "But after that I could put my game on, get some takedowns, connect [with] some punches and get my spot in the final. I'm really happy."
All three judges scored the bout for the Brazilian, with one giving him every round and the other two turning in 29-28 scorecards. Carlos Junior will face Marthin Hamlet in the Oct. 27 final.
Sordi, 30, saw a seven-fight unbeaten streak (six straight wins, followed by a draw) come to an end.
Light heavyweight semifinal: Marthin Hamlet def.
After an hour between fights in the leadup to the first PFL playoff semifinal of the night getting into the cage, it took just 13 seconds for that fight to end.
In the very first exchange, Ferreira threw a left kick that connected to the body, and immediately grabbed the back of his other leg and fell backward to the canvas, with an apparent hamstring injury.
Hamlet moved in looking to rain down punches, but referee Larry Folsom was right there to jump in and end the bout.
That gave Hamlet, who is 29 and from Norway, his third win in his last four fights and sent him into the final against the winner of the Antonio Carlos Junior-Emiliano Sordi fight, which was set to immediate follow this bout.
Afterward, Hamlet acknowledged that this was not the way he wanted to earn his spot in the final, but he looked at the big picture. "Every person has a destiny," he said, "so maybe this is my destiny."
Ferreira, a 36-year-old Brazilian, has lost four of his last five.
Both men threw big punches at the exact same time in the final seconds of Round 2. Both appeared to land. But as Moraes stood firm, Stojadinovic staggered backward, then fell to the canvas. Moraes pounced on his opponent with punches, Stojadinovic covered up without returning fire, and that was all referee Keith Peterson needed to see before jumping in to wave off the bout at 4:45.
Moraes, a 36-year-old Brazilian, has won two in a row after dropping three straight. Both of the victories came in tightly contested, back-and-forth fights that ended suddenly.
Stojadinovic, who is 32 and from Miami, lost his second in a row.
There was nothing flashy about Camozzi, but his steady flow of striking and his defensive wrestling got the job done and earned him his second straight victory.
The 34-year-old from Lakewood, Colorado, landed three times as many strikes as Hendricks, and while Camozzi never had his opponent in deep trouble, he led the dance from start to finish, earning 30-27 scores from two judges and a 29-28 edge from the other.
Hendricks, who is 33 and from Washington, saw a two-fight winning streak come to an end.
Stirn moved to his left. Stirn moved to his right. Standing right in front of him, patiently, was Dizy who, when his moments came. landed a punch on Stirn, took his opponent to the canvas or locked him up in a clinch.
It wasn't pretty, but the 33-year-old Frenchman was the more effective fighter and got the nod from all three judges by 29-28 scores.
While Stirn covered more mileage inside the cage, Dizy was the busier man in terms of producing offense, and that gave him his third win in his past four fights. Both Dizy and Stirn lost their PFL regular-season finales, setting up this consolation bout.
Ahead of his return to the cage on Friday, Knight had detoured to bare-knuckle fighting in recent years -- but his game is submission fighting, with 15 of his 22 victories coming by tapout. Early on in this fight, he threatened to add to that total by clamping an inverted triangle on Moffett.
But Moffett has never been submitted, and his defense held strong. That was especially true at the start of Round 3, when Knight tried to take the fight to the canvas and ended up being smothered by Moffett for most of the rest of the fight -- and that ultimately decided the outcome.
All three judges scored the bout 29-28 in favor of Moffett, a 31-year-old from Homewood, Illinois.
It was a largely uneventful 15 minutes, and often that type of fight is decided by whatever big moments the judges can hang their scorecards on. In this case, though, while Flores had to overcome a pair of flash knockdowns, he was the busier fighter, and his movement dictated how the fight played out.
All three judges scored it 29-28, with two of them favoring the 30-year-old Flores, who is from Mexico and has won three in a row.
Deaton, who is 31 and from Michigan, but trains in Las Vegas, did floor Flores twice in Round 2, but did little else over the rest of the three-round fight but stalk his opponent as he lost his second fight in a row.
Nicknames in sports, mixed martial arts in particular, often are fueled by hyperbole. That is not the case with Jenkins, at least not on this night. The 29-year-old from Las Vegas lived up to his "Human Highlight Reel" nickname with a flying knee that flattened Kilburn at 2:56 of Round 1 in the opening fight on the card.
For Jenkins, who was making his PFL debut, it was the 12th stoppage in 14 career wins, and his sixth first-round finish.