Ray, Aubin-Mercier, Akhmedov, Wilkinson Move into Professional Fighters League Finals

Steven Ray had no time for those hoping for an Anthony Pettis renaissance.

Tactical takedowns, positional advances and suffocating control carried Ray to a unanimous decision over the former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder, as their Professional Fighters League lightweight semifinal headlined PFL 7 on Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 29-28.

Pettis (25-14, 1-4 PFL)—who had submitted to a modified twister from the Scotsman in June—once again struggled and ultimately failed to maintain a manageable distance. Ray (25-10, 2-1 PFL) set the tone with a strong first round, where he executed a takedown, passed to side control and threatened with a north-south choke. Pettis survived but conceded another takedown in the middle stanza, at which point his counterpart transitioned to the back and cemented his position with a body triangle. Ray slowed down across the final five minutes and allowed the Roufusport star some spurts of effective offense, but by then, the die was cast.

Ray will next appear as one half of the 2022 PFL lightweight final, where a $1 million showdown with Olivier Aubin-Mercier awaits in November. Aubin-Mercier moved forward in the 155-pound tournament with a virtually flawless performance, as the Tristar Gym product rolled to a lopsided unanimous decision over Alex Martinez in their three-round lightweight semifinal. Scores were 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26.

Martinez (10-3, 3-3 PFL) went nowhere. After a fairly competitive first five minutes, Aubin-Mercier found another gear and never looked back. He floored Martinez with left hands in the second and third rounds, assumed top position and transitioned to the back, adding another level of security with a tight body triangle. From there, Aubin-Mercier (16-5, 5-0 PFL) ran his counterpart through a seemingly endless gauntlet of cranks, chokes and half nelsons, all while valuable time ticked off the clock.

The loss snapped Martinez’s two-fight winning streak.

Meanwhile, Omari Akhmedov leaned on experience, guile and well-rounded skills, as he was awarded a unanimous decision over American Top Team stablemate Joshua Silveira in their three-round light heavyweight semifinal. All three cageside judges scored it for Akhmedov (24-7-1, 3-1 PFL), who has pieced together a three-fight winning streak.

A short-notice substation for Antonio Carlos Jr., Silveira (9-1, 1-1 PFL) never established a consistent rhythm. He executed takedowns in the first and third rounds, but the former two-division Legacy Fighting Alliance titleholder was otherwise ineffective. Akhmedov cut off his advances with counter right hands, low kicks and combination punching to the head and body.

Akhmedov will face Rob Wilkinson in the 2022 light heavyweight final in November, with a $1 million prize on the line. Wilkinson advanced in the 205-pound draw and did so in spectacular fashion, as he cut down Delan Monte with punches and a follow-up knee strike in the first round of their light heavyweight semifinal. Monte (9-3, 1-2 PFL) checked out 1:37 into Round 1.

The 30-year-old Wilkinson (16-2, 3-0 PFL) kept his composure under considerable duress. Monte stunned the former Hex Fight Series champion with overhand rights on more than one occasion, but his decision to fight fire with fire proved costly. Wilkinson let powerful hooks fly from both hands and connected with a crushing knee up the middle that sent the Brazilian to the canvas and prompted the stoppage.

Wilkinson has rattled off five consecutive victories.

In other action, Itso Babulaidze (2-0, 1-0 PFL) put away Mahmoud Sebie Fawzy (3-2, 0-1 PFL) with punches 1:30 into the first round of their welterweight tilt; and Marthin Hamlet (10-4, 4-3 PFL) took a split decision—29-28, 28-29, 29-28—from Cory Hendricks (9-5, 2-2 PFL) in a three-round light heavyweight qualifier, reserving his spot on the 2023 PFL roster; Brahyan Zurcher (4-0, 2-0 PFL) cruised to a unanimous verdict over Ricardo Jimenez (0-1-1, 0-1 PFL) in a three-round featherweight encounter, drawing 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 marks from the cageside judiciary; Elvin Espinoza (7-0, 2-0 PFL) walked away with a unanimous decision—30-27, 29-28, 29-28—over Corey Jackson (5-2, 0-1 PFL) in a three-round lightweight clash; Marcelo Nunes (0-1, 2-0 PFL) dismissed Dylan Potter (10-6, 0-1 PFL) with an arm-triangle choke 1:47 into the first round of their heavyweight qualifier, securing his position on the 2023 PFL roster; and Alexei Pergande (2-0, 2-0 PFL) eked out a split verdict—29-28, 28-29, 29-28—against Elvis Lebron Quiles (0-1, 0-1 PFL) in a three-round lightweight pairing.
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