PFL bans fighters, friends for substandard bout, alters playoffs

Natan Schulte sobs after PFL victory over friend Raush Manfio (0:39)

Natan Schulte becomes emotional after a victory over his friend and training partner Raush Manfio. (0:39)

The PFL has suspended former lightweight champions Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio from its 2023 playoffs, following their substandard fight at PFL 6 on Friday in Atlanta.

Schulte (25-5-1) defeated Manfio (17-4) via unanimous decision in a fight that barely resembled a light sparring match. The win initially sent Schulte to the 2023 playoffs; however, the PFL announced Schulte's suspension and removal from the playoffs on Saturday. Shane Burgos, one of the PFL's highly prized acquisitions in 2022, will take Schulte's place in the four-man playoffs.

"Last night, Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio did not meet the standards which all PFL fighters agree to uphold in competition," the PFL stated. "All fighters in their PFL fight agreements agree to use their best efforts ... skills and ability as a professional athlete to compete ... and defeat any opponent. It was very clear that Natan and Raush did not meet that contractual standard in yesterday's bout."

Schulte, a PFL champion in 2018 and 2019, said he was very "unsatisfied" with the organization's decision and even appealed to recent heavyweight signing Francis Ngannou. Ngannou signed a lucrative contract with the PFL earlier this year, which included a position on its Global Athlete Advisory Board. PFL promoted itself as a fighter friendly league in talks with Ngannou.

"I am very unsatisfied with the decision that was taken by the PFL last night to favor Shane Burgos' entry into the playoffs," Schulte wrote. "You remember Francis Ngannou's fight against Derrick Lewis [in 2018] he didn't throw six punches in the whole fight and he wasn't cut for his performance that night. So, I ask you, Francis Ngannou, since you protect the rights of the fighters, do you think this decision is correct?"

Schulte and Manfio are close friends and training partners at American Top Team in Florida. They have lived with each other and are the godfathers of each other's children. They spent the entire fight week together in Atlanta, and even cut weight with one another ahead of Thursday's weigh-in. Manfio told ESPN ahead of the bout he was trying to approach the bout very "cold," but it was obvious throughout that neither lightweight was throwing with bad intentions.

The change shakes up the entire 155-pound bracket. No. 1 seed Clay Collard was initially slated to face Bruno Miranda in the semifinals, while Olivier Aubin-Mercier squared off with Schulte. Following Saturday's restructure, Collard will now face Burgos, who went 1-1 in the regular season and just missed heading to the PFL playoffs. Aubin-Mercier will face Miranda.