It all comes down to the next three Fridays for PFL fighters hoping to continue their chase of a $1 million season championship. The lightweights and light heavyweights fight their second and final regular-season bouts this Friday at PFL 4 (main card on ESPN and ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET, prelims on ESPN+ at 7 p.m.).
The main event at Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta pits 2021 lightweight semifinalist Clay Collard against Alexander Martinez, with both sitting in a tie for third place with one other fighter, all of whom have 3 points. The top four point earners in each division advance to the playoffs.
Lightweight defending champion Raush Manfio, who eliminated Collard last season, is in second place going into his bout with Olivier Aubin-Mercier, the other fighter with 3 points. Leading the way in the division with 6 points is Anthony Pettis, who is scheduled to compete against Stevie Ray at PFL 5 on June 24.
In Friday's co-main event, the 2021 season's light heavyweight champ, Antonio Carlos Junior, faces Bruce Souto. Carlos Junior has six points, putting him in a first-place tie with Omari Akhmedov, who fights Teodoras Aukstuolis.
There's a lot to sort out, starting Friday. Here's what I envision happening, along with playoff scenarios calculated by the PFL.
Lightweight: Clay Collard vs. Alexander Martinez
Collard is coming off an exciting win over seasoned veteran Jeremy Stephens. Collard showed every aspect of his evolved game in that fight, including a granite chin. Martinez doesn't bring the same type of power that Stephens does, but he has a ground game that could be threatening if Collard gets reckless on the ground. Look for Collard to keep the fight on the feet, where he will be the better striker. Prediction: Collard to win.
What Collard needs to make the playoffs: A finish in any round.
What Martinez needs: A finish in any round.
Light heavyweight: Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Bruce Souto
Carlos Junior is unbeaten in five straight and will be looking to continue his success when he takes on Souto, a PFL Challenger Series contract winner. Souto, coming off a TKO loss to Robert Wilkinson, will be looking to pull off the biggest upset on the card. Souto tends to start slowly in hopes of breaking down his opponent, but that approach didn't work so well in his last fight, as he was never able to get situated and was dominated from start to finish. Look for Carlos Junior, who has been looking nothing but spectacular since his PFL debut last season, to do what he does best -- get the fight to the floor and look for the submission victory. Prediction: Carlos Junior by submission.
What Carlos Junior needs: A win of any kind.
What Souto needs: A first- or second-round finish to stay in the running.
Lightweight: Raush Manfio vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
For the sixth time in his PFL career, Manfio enters a fight as the betting underdog. He has won his last five, including last season's playoff final. Manfio must get going early and not wait to catch Aubin-Mercier with counterstrikes. Aubin-Mercier does a lot of in and out and lateral movement to avoid damage. However, as we saw in his last fight, Aubin-Mercier's production tends to slow down as the fight goes on. If he can't get the fight to the floor, I think Manfio's counterstriking will pose a problem. Prediction: Manfio to win.
What Manfio needs: A win of any kind.
What Aubin-Mercier needs: A finish in any round.
Lightweight: Jeremy Stephens vs. Myles Price
With both men coming off losses, this is not just a must-win scenario but possibly a must-finish for a chance of getting into the playoffs. That type of fight favors Stephens. In Price's first fight, he was dropped early by Anthony Pettis. If Price doesn't get the fight to the floor early to avoid the power of Stephens, he will eventually get hit by one of those strikes and go to sleep. Prediction: Stephens via TKO.
What Stephens needs: A win to stay in the running.
What Price needs: A win to stay in the running.
Light heavyweight: Omari Akhmedov vs. Teodoras Aukstuolis
In his last fight, Akhmedov made a huge statement with a vicious KO win over Viktor Pesta. Akhmedov has always had the skill to be a top contender in the division, but his gas tank has prevented him from getting to the next level. Look for Akhmedov to control the pace when the fight is standing, but if necessary, he can rely on his ground game. If he doesn't gas out, this should be another great win for Akhmedov. Prediction: Akhmedov to win (put him in a parlay).
What Akhmedov needs: A win of any kind.
What Aukstuolis needs: A first- or second-round finish just to stay in the running.
Lightweight: Marcin Held vs. Natan Schulte
This is a rematch from last season's fight, won by Held. I fully expect Schulte to get off to a quicker start and pressure Held from bell to bell. In last year's fight, Held was able to counter the two-time PFL champ. However, Schulte has since shown that he can make the proper adjustments. In a must-win situation, I believe Schulte will get it done. Prediction: Schulte to win.
What Held needs: Cannot clinch a playoff berth in the night's first lightweight bout, but a first- or second-round finish will keep him in the running.
What Schulte needs: Cannot clinch a berth, but a finish by 4:16 of Round 1 would put him in first place (with all other lightweight fights still to come).
Light heavyweight: Delan Monte vs. Emiliano Sordi
Sordi recaps his fight vs. Vinny Magalhaes
Emiliano Sordi breaks down what he was able to do right when he surprised the MMA community and defeated Vinny Magalhaes at PFL 3 June.
In his last fight, Sordi was finished surprisingly by Cory Hendricks. Hendricks' kicks took a toll on Sordi, to the point where the 2019 PFL champ couldn't stand properly. Monte lost his first fight of the season similarly, as he got rocked by a punch from Antonio Carlos Junior, then was submitted. As long as Sordi is healed up, I favor him to get the win. Monte is a wild striker, and Sordi is very methodical with great counters. Prediction: Sordi to win (put him in a parlay).
What Monte needs: A first- or second-round finish just to stay in the running.
What Sordi needs: A first- or second-round finish just to stay in the running.
Light heavyweight: Robert Wilkinson vs. Viktor Pesta
Pesta will be looking to bounce back after a tough KO loss to Omari Akhmedov, and to do so, he must deal with arguably the division's dark horse. Not only did Wilkinson look massive for the weight class in his first fight, but he also performed flawlessly. I expect the same from Wilkinson here, as he is better than Pesta everywhere. Prediction: Wilkinson to win (put in a parlay).
What Wilkinson needs: A win of any kind.
What Pesta needs: A first- or second-round finish to stay in the running.
Light heavyweight: Josh Silveira vs. Marthin Hamlet
Coming off his contract-earning win in the PFL Challenger series, Silveira will be making his debut against the very tough Hamlet. I am surprised that Silveira is the betting favorite here as Hamlet has fought the higher level of competition and has been successful in doing so. I also think Silveira is undersized for a weight class in which Hamlet is one of the bigger fighters. At underdog odds, I am taking Hamlet here. I believe his size and strength will be a factor as he leans on his wrestling to neutralize the striking of Silveira. Prediction: Hamlet to win.
What Silveira needs: Cannot clinch a playoff berth and must get a finish before 2:13 of Round 2 to avoid elimination.
What Hamlet needs: A finish in any round; he can stay in the running with a decision win, pending other results.