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Fight Facts: PFL 2021, a Year in Review


After a year away to gather itself, the Professional Fighters League came back in 2021 to stage a season that brought plenty of ups and downs with it. In this Fight Facts review, join us as we chronicle the story of PFL this past year, including a few repeat performances, incredibly high betting favorites that all won and a man that ran through the tourney in historic fashion.

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TOTAL NUMBER OF PFL FIGHTS IN 2021: 98
TOTAL NUMBER OF PFL EVENTS IN 2021: 10
Knockouts: 10
Technical Knockouts: 16
Submissions: 16
Unanimous Decisions: 40
Split Decisions: 11
Majority Decisions: 1
Draws: 1

Ten Shows in Six Months, Why So Condensed? The same as in 2019, PFL staged 10 events from start to finish in a short season that stretched from April to October. The record for the most events in a year for the company remains at 11, for the 2018 inaugural PFL tourney season.

The End of PFL NYE: As the tournament ended on Oct. 27 instead of Dec. 31, 2021 is the first year since 2017 in which the organization was active, but it did not put on a New Year’s Eve card.

All Five Ended by Finish: Before 2019, no women had ever served as the headliner for a World Series of Fighting-PFL card. That changed in 2019, when Kayla Harrison and Larissa Pacheco’s two 2019 bouts were the main events for their respective events. In 2021, five of the 10 fight cards drew women’s headliners.

Table Runners: Not a single tournament winner from any weight class lost a PFL match in 2021. The only blemish of any eventual champ came when Antonio Carlos Jr.’s bout with Vinny Magalhaes resulted in a no contest from an accidental knee to the groin.

Momentum vs. Nomentum: On the other hand, of the six losing finalists, Chris Wade and Taylor Guardado were the only two that had won both of their regular season bouts.

Slim Harvest: Two of the six No. 1 seeds won out in their divisions, with heavyweight Bruno Cappelozza winning the gold while Carlos Jr. did so at 205 pounds.

Back, Off and Back: Both Ray Cooper III and Harrison became repeat champions after prevailing in their brackets at welterweight and women’s lightweight. Cooper and Harrison both took home titles in 2019.

No Equal in PFL: Needing only 19 minutes and eight seconds of combat time in 2021, Harrison served as the lone competitor of the 2021 season to finish each of their opponents en route to winning the prize. She joins Emiliano Sordi as the only two fighters to win by stoppage in all of their PFL season outings.

Seventy Minutes in Heaven: In comparison, Raush Manfio at lightweight and Movlid Khaybulaev at featherweight earned victories in each of their four 2021 bouts. For both men, all four came on the scorecards, for the maximum possible time of 70 minutes in battle this year.

Disappointingly Easy Work: Harrison remained undefeated as she won her way through the tournament, lifting her overall record to 12-0 with a finish rate reaching 83% with four stoppages. She holds practically every WSOF-PFL women’s record as a result, including most appearances, wins, stoppages, championship victories, submissions and knockouts.

Abysmal Form: Top-seeded lightweight Pacheco earned two first-round knockouts to punch her ticket to the playoffs. Ahead of her semifinal match with eventual finalist Guardado, the Brazilian missed weight by two pounds and was ejected from the tournament.

No Pete and Repeats: None of the 2018 champions ended up winning in 2021, with Lance Palmer and Natan Schulte not even qualifying for the playoffs. 2018 welterweight champ Magomed Magomedkerimov reached the finals, only to get knocked out by Cooper in a rematch of their 2018 title tilt.

Tighter Field, Cleaner Numbers: With the playoffs shifting from six participants to four, no struggling fighter had an opportunity to make it into the postseason. Therefore, no combatant lost more than twice, while 22 participants did lose on two occasions, including non-tourney fights.

Tumbling Tumbleweed: The 2018 tournament season brought a high finish rate of 54.9% across the 122 bouts, and the subsequent season of 2019’s fell sharply to 45.6%. The stoppage percentage clocked in even lower in 2021, with only 42.9% of the fights ending inside the distance when not accounting for no contests.

Brick Hit Back: The quickest stoppage of the year, and the second-fastest knockout in company history, came in 13 seconds at PFL 2021 9 when Cezar Ferreira injured his leg after throwing a body kick at Marthin Hamlet.

Setting the Tone: When including the injury TKO, two of the fastest 10 finishes in company history took place this season. Beyond Ferreira-Hamlet, Loik Radzhabov earned a top seed in the lightweight bracket by smashing Akhmed Aliev in 27 seconds at PFL 2021 4.

Ezekiel 20:21: The only rare submission throughout the season came when Magomedkerimov snared Curtis Millender with an Ezekiel choke at PFL 2021 5 in June. It marked the second time this maneuver had been performed in PFL history, with the first from Denis Goltsov against Kelvin Tiller in 2019.

Technical Mastery: Exactly the same number of technical submissions occurred in 2021 as they did in 2019 (four). PFL 2021 2 saw Hamlet put Dan Spohn to sleep with an arm-triangle choke, while Brandon Sayles landed a consciousness-depriving rear-naked choke on Mohammad Usman at PFL 2021 3. At PFL 2021 7, Micah Terrill and Hopeton Stewart both fell victim to technical submissions at the hands and arms of Gleison Tibau and Elvin Espinosa, respectively.

No More Tiebreakers: Without any two-round bouts as the semifinals were simply three-round contests, only one single match in 2021 was scored a draw. That came unanimously between Sordi and Spohn at PFL 2021 5, following a point deduction to Sordi in the opening round.

You Could Name the Fighters Involved: Far fewer than the 2021 season, only five fights closed with betting odds featuring favorites at -1000 or above. Four of those involved Harrison, while Magomedkerimov came in at -1200 before Ezekiel choking Curtis Millender.

Does Whatever A Kayla Can: In all three PFL Championship events in which she has participated – 2018 in a non-tourney bout, as well as 2019 and 2021 – Harrison has clocked in as an overwhelming betting favorite. This year, she closed at an enormous -4000 against Guardado before winning the $1 million check.

Dave Tirelli, Cardo Urso: The largest betting upset this year – and the fourth-biggest in company history – occurred when +650 underdog Tibau stole a split decision win from -1000 favorite Rory MacDonald in Sherdog’s 2021 “Robbery of the Year” winner.

When You Miss, You Pay For It: Five fighters missed weight and still competed in regular season bouts, more than in any previous season. Of those five, Cooper was the only competitor to get his hand raised after botching the weight cut.

Negative Yardage: As a result of missing weight and suffering a penalty for doing so, both Alexey Kunchenko and Helena Kolesnyk ended their season with negative points. This is the first year to see multiple fighters fall out of the tournament with fewer points than they began with (zero).

Not Cool, Bro: Two additional competitors in Ali Isaev and Hatef Moeil found their seasons cut short as they each concluded with -1 points. This came from when Isaev fell ill to COVID and his fight with Moeil was scratched on fight week, resulting in a point deduction for both heavyweights.

That Management Team: Three fights this season ended by no contest, which gave both participants a single point for their effort. Sadibou Sy vs. Nikolay Aleksakhin ended due to an inadvertent eye poke, while Carlos Jr.-Magalhaes saw the knee to the groin stop the fight. In one additional case, Renan Ferreira had a win stripped away in just a few days when Fabricio Werdum’s team appealed to the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, successfully claiming that Ferreira landed illegal blows. Werdum did not continue in the tourney after this result.

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