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PFL playoffs: Why former UFC champ Anthony Pettis is not the $1 million favorite

Anthony Pettis, right, secured his top playoff seed early in the lightweight season, then was surprised against Stevie Ray. Cooper Neill/PFL

The Professional Fighters League playoffs are set to commence on Aug. 5 in New York City with semifinals in the light heavyweight and men's lightweight divisions. From there, the playoffs will visit Cardiff, Wales, on Aug. 13 (featuring heavyweights and welterweights) and London on Aug. 20 (featherweights, women's lightweights) before wrapping up 2022 with a night of six championship bouts in November at a location to be determined.

It has been an interesting year in the PFL. Several of the promotion's top names have suffered upsets but still squeaked into the playoffs. Plenty of former champs are scattered among the playoff contenders in the six weight classes, and a few playoff first-timers are included as well.

Who is the fighter to beat in each division? And who is a wild card to keep an eye on? Here's my view headed into the postseason.

Heavyweight

Editor's note: Bruno Cappelozza, the defending champion and our original favorite, has withdrawn from his playoff bout.

Favorite: Ante Delija

With last year's tournament winner, Cappelozza, bowing out of this year's playoffs due to injury, I feel like I have to make Delija the favorite. It would almost feel disrespectful not to, and Delija is a guy who often does get overlooked. We shouldn't make that mistake now. He was competitive against Cappelozza over five rounds in last year's PFL finals. He went undefeated in the 2022 regular season. His first-round matchup is against a guy with a lot of hype in Renan Ferreira, but also one who showed a lack of experience and well-roundedness in a regular-season loss to Klidson Abreu. Delija is the safest pick of the four to walk away the winner.

Wild card: Renan Ferreira

As I just mentioned, Ferreira is facing Delija in the semifinals, and that's a tough matchup. Ferreira has 12 professional bouts under his belt, and many of those have ended in the first round. Delija has more than twice the amount of experience, with 26 professional fights. Still, Ferreira's potential has already wowed the PFL audience several times. Prior to a three-round decision loss to Abreu in June, his last two fights had ended in KO victories in under a minute. If Ferreira can be a quick learner and take something away from that loss to Abreu, his KO ability can always turn into an ace up his sleeve.


Light heavyweight

Editor's note: Antonio Carlos Junior, the defending champion and our original favorite, has withdrawn from his playoff bout.

Favorite: Robert Wilkinson

With Antonio Carlos Junior out of the playoffs due to injury, don't be surprised if Wilkinson turns into a trendy pick to win it all in 2022. The 30-year-old Australian looked outstanding during the regular season, recording finishes of Bruce Souto and Viktor Pesta. He had struggled to find fights early during the pandemic, so much so he fought only once in two years (plus one professional boxing match), but he looks to have improved during that time and has been a handful so far this year. His most recent loss in MMA came in 2018 against none other than UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya.

Wild card: Josh Silveira

Now, this is interesting. Silveira, who is the son of renowned MMA coach Conan Silveira from American Top Team, is a last-minute addition to the playoffs as the alternate for Carlos Jr. He only managed one regular season appearance this year, but was able to secure six points by knocking out Marthin Hamlet in the very first round. Silveira doesn't have the experience of some of these other light heavies, but we have no idea what the ceiling is for this 29-year-old. If he wins it all, it would be a very improbable run to the top, but it doesn't feel like it's outside the realm of possibility.


Welterweight

Favorite: Rory MacDonald

No one in this weight class has accomplished nearly as much as MacDonald has over the course of his career, and he deserves to be the favorite going in. But one has to wonder how much of the reason for that is his name value, and how much of it is his prowess in the cage.

Things are not perfect for MacDonald going into the playoffs. He secured a No. 1 seed early, because he finished Brett Cooper in the first round of their season-opening bout, but overall, MacDonald is just 2-5 in his past seven, and he struggled mightily to get things going in his latest fight against Sadibou Sy, who is the No. 2 seed.

MacDonald is the favorite, but his competition at 170 pounds doesn't fear him like it used to.

Wild card: Magomed Umalatov

Umalatov's back was against the wall when it came to making the 2022 playoffs, as he had only one appearance to earn enough points after having to withdraw from his opening bout in May. OK, no problem -- he knocked out Jarrah Al-Silawi in the first round to net six points and a playoff berth.

Umalatov doesn't have a lot of name value, but those who have been paying attention know his 12-0 professional record is no joke. The American Top Team product could absolutely get past MacDonald in the semifinals, and if he does, he would likely be favored to win it all.


Men's lightweight

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Martinez, Collard put on a show in PFL main event

Alexander Martinez and Clay Collard go back and forth in a PFL main event.

Favorite: Olivier Aubin-Mercier

I expected to make Anthony Pettis the favorite in this division, almost by default. You see Pettis' name and a No. 1 seed attached to it -- how can he not be the favorite? But quietly, Aubin-Mercier is proving to be very difficult to beat in this PFL format.

He left the UFC in 2019 on a three-fight skid, but two of those losses came against very highly ranked competition in Gilbert Burns and Arman Tsarukyan. Aubin-Mercier is buttoned up. He fights smart and has great cardio. He's not a guy who is going to beat himself. Stylistically, I think he matches up just fine with anyone he's going to run into in the playoffs. The lightweight division feels like it's up for grabs with no clear favorite, but I would say OAB is a small one.

Wild card: Alex Martinez

Martinez will get a chance to take down the man I just named the favorite in his semifinals matchup, as he faces Aubin-Mercier at that first playoff event in New York. Martinez has been this division's wild card all year. He has flown well under the radar in bouts against Stevie Ray and Clay Collard, but we got to see what he's capable of in his final regular-season bout against Collard. A lot of fans wanted to see Collard in the playoffs, not only because of his style but because he felt he got robbed in a decision loss that kept him out of the playoffs in 2021. But Martinez played spoiler in June, and he has the tools to take out some more well-known names in the playoffs.


Women's lightweight

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Kayla Harrison makes easy work of Kaitlin Young with 1st-round finish

Kayla Harrison doesn't even need a full round to finish off Kaitlin Young at PFL 6.

Favorite: Kayla Harrison

Obviously. Harrison went to a decision in May against Marina Mokhnatkina, and it almost felt like a loss despite the fact she had cruised to a clean sweep on the scorecards. Harrison routinely hovers between a 20-1 and 40-1 betting favorite. The majority of her career has not even come close to looking competitive. It's why her free agency in 2021 drew so much attention, because fans want to see her challenged. Whether there is a lightweight in this group who is capable of doing that remains to be seen. As of right now, frankly, it doesn't look like it.

Wild card: Larissa Pacheco

I wish I could give an answer other than the top-seeded Pacheco, but she is the one woman in this division who has shown us anything in terms of potentially offering Harrison a challenge. They have already fought twice, with both bouts going the distance. Pacheco was unable to win a single round in either fight, including their five-round finals matchup in 2019. What would Pacheco have going for her in a third fight? Well, she's 27 now and in the prime of her career. She would have familiarity with exactly what she's getting herself into with Harrison, and she has finishing ability. Everyone is a long shot when facing Harrison, but Pacheco would appear to have the best chance.


Featherweight

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Ryoji Kudo folds Alejandro Flores with a massive right hand punch

Ryoji Kudo lands a powerful punch against Alejandro Flores and grabs a KO victory.

Favorite: Chris Wade

It just feels like Wade's year. It has felt that way pretty much since the 2022 season began. The Long Island-based fighter bowed out of the PFL lightweight semifinals in both 2018 and 2019 and lost in the featherweight finals in 2021. Will his perseverance finally pay off in 2022? He's scheduled to face Brendan Loughnane in London -- enemy territory, as Loughnane is from Manchester, England -- despite Wade being the No. 1 seed. He's coming off a sensational first-round finish of Kyle Bochniak in June. He also has a win over Bubba Jenkins, whom he might see in the finals. Wade is in control of his own destiny and he's the sure-fire favorite until someone topples him in the cage.

Wild card: Ryoji Kudo

No one is going to pay attention to Kudo going into these playoffs, which could be a huge mistake. Between Wade, Jenkins and Loughnane, Kudo is running with some of the most recognizable names in the PFL, so it's inevitable that he's going to be overshadowed. But perhaps more than anyone else at 145 pounds, Kudo carries legitimate one-punch knockout power. He's a threat to anyone he faces in the playoffs. He won't be a favorite, but do not overlook him. And if any of his opponents do, they might be sorry.