Fight Facts: Professional Fighters League 2018, a Year in Review

By Jay Pettry Jan 4, 2019

Fight Facts is a breakdown of all of the interesting information and cage curiosities on every card, with some puns, references and portmanteaus to keep things fun. These deep stat dives delve into the numbers, providing historical context and telling the stories behind those numbers.

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Total number of PFL Fights in 2018: 122
Total number of PFL Events in 2018: 11

With 11 events taking place in the Professional Fighters League 2018 tournament, PFL had a historic year, visiting six different states from June to December. In this Fight Facts review, join us as we chronicle the story of PFL this year, including thrilling performances, shocking upsets and stone-cold locks, and the full rotation of six tournaments resulting in six fighters each winning $1 million.

10 Million Dollars
6 Titles
11 Knockouts
32 Technical Knockouts
24 Submissions
37 Unanimous Decisions
3 Split Decisions
4 Majority Decisions
1 Technical Decision
9 Draws

NEW WORLD ORDER Previously a relatively standard MMA organization with a few sporadic tournaments, the mid-2017 rebranding of World Series of Fighting to PFL brought with it a massive change: every year, starting in 2018, would feature tournaments to crown their champions. As such, only six bouts in the whole year took place outside of the tournament structure.

THEY WENT UP TO 11 Putting on eleven events in 2018, PFL held more events this year than any other in the promotion’s history.

SEEDING IS NOT BELIEVING Of the six No. 1 seeds from each division, the only top seed to win a tournament was Natan Schulte at lightweight, with the other five falling short, including four in the finals.

RESTORING YOUR FORMER GRACE Five former WSOF champions -- Alexandre Almeida, Andre Harrison, Bekbulat Magomedov, Lance Palmer and Smealinho Rama -- competed in the tournaments, and only former featherweight champ Palmer again won gold in his division.

YOU WERE SO VERY CLOSE Two fighters -- Vinny Magalhaes and Ray Cooper III -- won all four of their bouts leading up to the finals, only to be finished in their championship matchups.

VETERANS OF FOREIGN ORGANIZATIONS 81 total fighters competed in the PFL 2018 tournaments across six weight classes, with 32 previously appearing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Five of the 12 fighters competing in the finals were UFC veterans, while only one -- Sean O'Connell -- won his tournament.

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL Light heavyweight tournament champ O'Connell also made his PFL broadcasting debut at PFL 2, calling the first four fights of the night on play-by-play before competing several bouts later and winning by knockout. O'Connell returned to call more fights throughout the season, also competing later on some of those nights as well.

PARTY TIME! EXCELLENT! Palmer and Magomed Magomedkerimov both won all five of their PFL appearances this year, more than any other fighter. Each also ended the year one million dollars richer.

THREE TO GET READY Winning the featherweight tournament and subsequently the 145-pound championship, Palmer became the first three-time champion in PFL history.

SHE’S THE FUTURE Harrison competed three times in 2018, winning all three and tying Jessica Aguilar for the most appearances and wins by a female fighter in promotional history. The three bouts for Harrison were the first between women in WSOF-PFL since 2014.

DIDN’T MAKE THE MOST OF IT Eddie Gordon, Jumabieke Tuerxun and Yuki Kawana each lost both of their tournament qualifying bouts, but Gordon and Tuerxun made it into the tournament by replacing injured opponents. Kawana took a third qualifying match and lost that as well. Thiago Tavares lost once in the qualifying round but still made it into the tournament, where he lost but replaced his victorious opponent who withdrew due to injury, only to lose again. Each suffering three losses in 2018, the four ended the year tied for the most defeats.

WHAT PEOPLE COME TO SEE With 43 fights ending by some form of knockout this year, 2018 ended with the most knockouts in the company’s six-plus year history.

NO TIME FLAT The three fastest finishes in company history took place in the 2018 tournament, including two at one event. Emiliano Sordi knocked out Jason Butcher in 16 seconds at PFL 7, Cooper stopped Pavel Kusch in 18 seconds at PFL 6, and Handesson Ferreira flattened Paul Bradley in 20 seconds also at PFL 7.

BONE CRUNCHING RARITIES A few knockouts happened only once this year at PFL, including a head kick, a spinning back kick and one corner stoppage. Also of note, three fights ended by flying knee, more this year than in every previous year combined.

OH, THE HUMANITY! Robert Watley finished Tavares with an accidental groin kick at PFL 2 in Chicago, Illinois. A rule specific to Illinois states that if a fighter struck by a low blow could not continue after five minutes, that fighter would lose the bout by technical knockout, which is exactly what happened.

NOT SURPRISING IN THE LEAST The three most common submissions performed in 2018 for PFL were the rear-naked choke (37.5 percent), the guillotine choke (25 percent) and the armbar (8.3 percent).

YOU KNOW YOU NEED UNIQUE NEW YORK Five different submissions were performed exactly once in PFL in 2018: an arm-triangle choke, a flying triangle kimura, a kimura, a neck crank and a triangle choke. One fighter tapped to strikes this year, and one more verbally submitted due to an injury.

HANG ON, WHAT? The flying triangle kimura performed by Magalhaes at PFL 9 was the first of its kind in PFL history, and the move has also never been seen before in any Zuffa-owned organization or Bellator MMA.

WOKE UP ON THE WRONG SIDE OF BED Five fighters were finished by technical submissions, including two by guillotine choke and another three by rear-naked choke. However, the guillotine choke of Jason High at PFL 2 was deemed highly controversial as High was still conscious when the referee stopped the fight.

WHY TAKE UNNECESSARY DAMAGE At PFL 9, Mike Kyle was forced to tap out due to punches in a heavyweight alternate bout against Muhammed DeReese. He was the only PFL fighter to tap to strikes in 2018.

COMES WITH THE TERRITORY PFL featured nine draws in 2018, accounting for more even scorecards this year than the UFC, Bellator, Invicta Fighting Championships, Legacy Fighting Alliance, KSW and One Championship combined (6).

THEM’S THE RULES Landing an illegal upkick to the head of a grounded Steven Siler, Almeida lost by disqualification at PFL 8. It was the third disqualification in company history, with the first at WSOF 13 in 2014, when Tenyeh Dixon’s split decision over Emmanuel Walo was overturned by the commission into a DQ win for Walo. Another came later at WSOF 18 in 2015, when Cody McKenzie was disqualified against Andrew McInnes for throwing an intentional headbutt.

WORST WAY TO WIN Kicked repeatedly in the groin by Artur Alibulatov, Dan Spohn ended up winning a technical decision when the bout was stopped at 56 seconds into the third round.

HIGH RISK, LOW REWARD Five PFL fights in 2018 closed with one fighter as a -1500 favorite or above, and two included Kayla Harrison. The only massive favorite to lose of those five was Magomed Idrisov, who lost via first-round triangle choke to Siler at PFL 1.

READY TO SHOCK THE WORLD Siler, a +1100 underdog, shocked the MMA community by tapping the -2000 Idrisov in the first round at PFL 1, marking the biggest betting upset of the year not only for PFL but also including other major promotions like Bellator and the UFC.

THERE’S ALWAYS ONE Only one fighter missed weight this year for PFL: Efrain Escudero at PFL 2, who came in six pounds heavy and deemed ineligible to earn playoff points. He went on to win controversially by technical submission over High.

Jay Pettry is an attorney and a statistician. Writing about MMA since he started studying the “Eminem Curse” in 2012, and writing for Vice Sports and Combat Docket along the way, he put together many fight result and entrance music databases to better study the sport. You can find him on Twitter at @jaypettry.
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