While many like to see in the New Year with a few drinks surrounded by their loved ones, Loik Radzhabov will be having a totally different kind of celebration to mark the turn of the calendar. The Tajikistan native is one fight away from being crowned the PFL 2019 season lightweight winner and receiving a life-changing $1 million which would well and truly start 2020 in style.
Radzhabov (13-1-1) was undefeated with eleven professional victories when he received the offer to take part in the new PFL season at the start of the year. He jumped at the opportunity but received a small setback when he dropped a unanimous decision victory to UFC veteran, Rashid Magomedov, in his first bout of the regular season. However, he rebounded with a split decision victory in July against Ylies Djiroun which earned him a place in the playoffs where he’d have to overcome two opponents in one night.
The 29-year-old drew with Islam Mamedov after two rounds of action but advanced due to the judges believing he had the most complete body of work before going on to pick up a unanimous decision victory against Chris Wade. With that successful night of work, he advanced to the final. Some online discussion was generated when Radzhabov’s corner spat water in his face between rounds in the clash with Wade and Radzhabov admitted it took him by surprise too.
“My corner actually wanted to wake me up,” discussed Radzhabov. “In that moment, they were guided by emotion so did what they felt they needed to do to send me out there in order to be successful. I actually thought it would be harder than it was to compete twice in one night but it was okay. The hardest part of the whole fight week was the weight cut by far.”
Standing in his way from glory and $1 million is the PFL 2018 season lightweight winner, Natan Schulte, who is looking to defend his crown on Tuesday night in New York. Schulte (19-3-1) is currently riding a nine fight unbeaten streak and has deposed of Jesse Ronson and Ramsey Nijem on his way to the final. Radzhabov has finished 10 of his 13 wins by stoppage so is capable of showing the finishing instincts to put his adversaries away but he is expecting a long and tough battle against the Brazilian.
“One year ago when I watched Schulte in the final against Rashid Magomedov, I thought to myself that I would use a different approach to the one Rashid used,” explained Radzhabov. “Schulte is a good opponent and I respect him a lot but now that I am in the position to face him, I am confident in my strategy to emerge victorious. I’ve put in a lot of hard work at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand for the past six weeks alongside members of Team Akbar. I think the fight will go five rounds and that is what I have prepared for. However, if there’s an opportunity to finish him, I will take it.”
Radzhabov always watched fight movies as a child which led him to stumbling across the first few UFC events and he liked what he saw. At that time, MMA was non-existent in his home country of Tajikistan, however, so he had to just start off by training wrestling. As soon as MMA became more well known and the option to practise the sport was a reality, he made the switch to focus on all aspects of martial arts. Radzhabov is extremely proud to represent his country whenever he competes and he has allowed himself to think what his life would be like if he won the championship and resulting $1 million.
“If I can get my hand raised and be crowned the best lightweight in the promotion during 2019, it would be very important not just for me, but for my country. Bringing that belt home to Tajikistan would be a historical day for us all. The prize money would be amazing too and of all the changes it could bring to my life, helping my family would be the most important.”
Looking forward to next year, Radzhabov has a contract already signed to compete in the PFL 2020 season. He loves the league format and is very appreciative of PFL president, Ray Sefo, and his manager, Ivan Dijakovic, for giving him the chance to fight for the promotion. If he can overcome Schulte on Tuesday night, he will definitely be entering the new year in the best way possible and with a whole lot more cash in the bank.
PFL 2019 Championships can be watched live at 6pmET/5c on ESPN2 in the US and fans in the UK can watch at 11pmGMT on Sports Channel Network or the PFL Live App. Irish viewers can tune in at the same time on eir Sport.