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PFL 2021 Playoffs results and highlights: Ray Cooper III, Magomed Magomedkerimov return to final

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Four fighters punched their tickets to the PFL 2021 Tournament Finals.

Magomed Magomedkerimov defeated Sadibou Sy in the PFL MMA welterweight semifinals.
Magomed Magomedkerimov defeated Sadibou Sy in the PFL MMA welterweight semifinals.
PFL MMA

The PFL welterweight and lightweight divisions have their $1 million championship matchups confirmed.

At welterweight, 2019 champion Ray Cooper III comfortably outclassed former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald to advance to the final. It certainly wasn’t the barnburner like other Cooper fights tend to be, but MacDonald’s performance was a major reason for that. Magomed Magomedkerimov had a workmanlike performance as he swept the scorecards to defeat Sadibou Sy to get back to the final for the first time since winning against Cooper in 2018.

In the lightweight division, top-seeded Loik Radzhabov avenged a regular season loss to Paraguay’s Alexander Martinez to punch his ticket to October’s tournament final, whereas Raush Manfio scored a somewhat controversial upset decision win over Clay Collard in the other semi.

Here’s how the fights played out.

Welterweight tournament semifinals

Ray Cooper III def. Rory MacDonald by unanimous decision (30-27 x3)

MacDonald immediately clinched up and sought the takedown. The strategy to slow the Hawaiian down didn’t really work to tremendous success, as it was Cooper who fought out of the body lock and then scored a takedown of his own. Towards the end of round one he nearly submitted MacDonald with an arm-triangle choke. You could argue the cage prevented Cooper from turning and tightening that choke even more.

After a left hook by Cooper, MacDonald shot for a takedown and had it stuffed. Cooper then countered with another takedown and put Rory on his back in full guard. Not a ton happened and the referee stood them up, but after a short exchange of strikes it was once again Cooper whose wrestling was the story of the contest.

Cooper attacked MacDonald with hard punches and the Canadian sort of panic wrestled and it led to him being taken down again instead. A feeble armbar try by MacDonald gave way to Cooper scrambling to half guard. The referee stood them up again in the closing seconds

Magomed Magomedkerimov def. Sadibou Sy by unanimous decision (30-27x3)

Magomedkerimov took Sy down inside of 20 seconds. If you’ve seen Sy’s striking you probably would want to take him down quickly, too. The 2018 PFL champion Magomedkerimov had a hard time generating much damaging offense but he did threaten with an Ezekiel choke, which Sy defended. It was total defense mode for Sy the whole way as Magomed comfortably took the opening frame.

Sy did catch Magomed with a sharp counter jab early in round two, as there wasn’t the immediate urgency for a takedown by Magomedkerimov as there was in the previous round. Sadibou sprawled on a double leg by the Russian and had good success with his striking, particularly on low kicks. Unfortunately for him, Magomedkerimov snatched up a single and despite Sy’s efforts to hop his way out of it he was put on his back.

Round 3 was just totally nondescript. Not good to watch at all. Sy really needed a lot more offense to win the round and even more to win the fight. He barely mustered anything of consequence and Magomed got a shutout.

Lightweight tournament semifinals

Raush Manfio def. Clay Collard by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)

As expected, it was all about striking in this fight. Collard took a competitive round one with higher volume and a higher success rate, not to mention some excellent body work to go along with his jab. Manfio had his moments and tagged Collard with several low kicks. A big flying knee by Manfio looked to land to the head but it seemed to mostly hit chest.

Round 2 saw Manfio really land some powerful strikes with his boxing, while Collard was attacking with his own leg kicks. It looked as if Manfio was on his way to a fairly clear 10-9 round in his favor before a barrage of body shots by Collard in close looked to have hurt Manfio — at the very least he lost his balance. Collard was in full mount and then moved to the back for a rear-naked choke but it was not under the chin. Perhaps a round stealer?

Manfio stunned Collard early in the final round with a big right hand. The Brazilian’s boxing certainly was looking sharper late on. No doubt that Manfio was outstriking Collard in the last five minutes but Clay showed an exemplary chin. A failed takedown by Collard led to a d’arce attempt for Manfio that proved unsuccessful. Collard ended a great battle with a kimura from the guard that really never had a shot at tapping Raush.

As it turns out, two judges gave Manfio the fight-deciding 2nd round and the one who gave Collard that round inexplicably had the first round to Manfio.

Loik Radzhabov def. Alex Martinez by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Radzhabov started out pressuring heavily and searching for the early takedown, which he eventually got a minute into the fight but with hardly any damage dished out before Martinez got back up. Truth be told there was sparse section in round one before they started slinging bombs, with Radzhabov clocking Martinez several times with right hands and cutting him up.

Martinez continued to display impressive takedown defense and scrambling abilities but that doesn’t score. There wasn’t a whole lot of offense from either man in round two until a leg kick dropped Martinez and that allowed Radzhabov to get on top. He advanced to side control and threatened a rear-naked choke when he took the back but Martinez scrambled out of trouble and got back to his feet.

The fighter out of Tajikistan got the takedown early in the final round, but Martinez countered by going for a guillotine. No dice there and Radzhabov remained in top position but scarcely landing strikes. He got in a few shots while looking to take the back and even when Martinez got to his feet, Radzhabov kept the body lock and tripped him down to the mat a couple more times. Martinez aggressively went for submissions out of desperation and in a wild moment in the final minute, Martinez had Radzhabov in a tight standing guillotine. Radzhabov escaped and that really saved a win for him. Loik was denied a $1 million tournament win in the final in 2019, but he’ll look to make amends and come through this time.

Prelims Results

Gleison Tibau def. Micah Terrill via technical submission (arm-triangle choke) at 2:18 of Round 1

Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Darrell Horcher via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-26, 29-27)

Brett Cooper def. Tyler Hill via KO (punches) at 2:32 of Round 1

Magomed Umalatov def. Leandro Silva via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Michael Lombardo def. Kyron Bowen via TKO (leg kicks) at 3:42 of Round 1

Elvin Espinoza def. Hopeton Stewart via technical submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:45 of Round 1