Fight Facts: PFL 2019, a Year in Review

By: Jay Pettry
Jan 7, 2020

With 10 events taking place during the Professional Fighters League’s 2019 season, the promotion saw ebbs and flows in its sophomore campaign. In this Fight Facts review, we chronicle the story of PFL over the past 12 months, including a few repeat performances, incredibly high betting favorites who all won and a man that ran through his tournament in historic fashion.

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WHY DON’T YOU JUST MAKE TEN LOUDER?: Putting on 10 events in 2019—one fewer than the year before—the organization held as many shows as it did in 2015. The record for PFL shows remains 11 in 2018.

AND IT WAS THE SAME FIGHT BOTH TIMES: Prior to this year, no female fighters had ever headlined a World Series of Fighting-PFL card. Kayla Harrison-Larissa Pacheco served as the main event for PFL 1 2019, and their rematch stood atop the PFL 2019 Championships.

JUST WIN, BABY: Of the six fighters to win $1 million, five went undefeated all season to get to the top. The only eventual victor to suffer a defeat all year was Ray Cooper III, when John Howard knocked him out at PFL 4 2019.

NOT AN UNFAMILIAR FEELING: Every single fighter who made it to a final and lost had already suffered at least one defeat earlier in the season.

SEED PLANTED, CROP HARVESTED: Three of the six No. 1 seeds took home $1 million: featherweight Lance Palmer, lightweight Natan Schulte and light heavyweight Emiliano Sordi.

NEXT VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST: Palmer and Schulte won their divisional tournaments for the second year in a row.

FOUR TO GO: By winning the featherweight tournament and subsequently the featherweight championship, Palmer became the first four-time champion in PFL history.

A SORDI(D) AFFAIR: Sordi captured light heavyweight gold by stopping each of his five opponents this season. He is the first fighter to win a full season by finishing every opponent.

CLUTCHING THAT ‘0’ TIGHTLY: Two unbeaten fighters—Harrison and Ali Isaev—remained undefeated as they won their respective tournaments.

IS ANY OF THIS A SURPRISE?: Harrison competed five times in 2019, winning all five and far surpassing Jessica Aguilar for the most appearances and wins by a female fighter in promotional history. Pacheco now has the second-most bouts with four.

JUST MAKES YOU SICK: Beyond returning champs Palmer and Schulte, Magomed Magomedkerimov of the welterweight division was primed to repeat after three dominant performances in 2019. Upon falling ill backstage at PFL 7 after winning his quarterfinal matchup against Chris Curtis, he was removed from the tournament.

THE PAST IS IN THE PAST: The three remaining champions from 2018—Philipe Lins, Sean O'Connell and Louis Taylor—did not participate this year for various reasons. Lins was knocked out of the tournament due to an injury; O'Connell retired to become the official play-by-play broadcaster; and after the PFL cut the middleweight division, Taylor was unable to meet the 170-pound limit.

I’M OUT, I’M IN, I’M OUT: Curtis retired after losing to Magomedkerimov at PFL 7 2019. Moments later, he learned that Magomedkerimov could not continue, so Curtis came out of retirement but lost by knockout. Curtis reportedly retired once more after the second loss, making him one of the only fighters in MMA history to ever call it quits twice in one night.

RESPECT FOR COMING BACK: Curtis dropped a decision to Magomedkerimov in the quarterfinals and stepped up to face Cooper as an injury replacement, only to lose again. He is the third fighter in company history to lose twice in the same night, along with Thiago Tavares in 2018 and Jorge Patino at WSOF 25 in 2015.

EASY TO LEARN, DIFFICULT TO MASTER: Four fighters suffered three defeats in the calendar year: Curtis, Alex Gilpin, Kelvin Tiller and Sigi Pesaleli. All four combatants made it into the playoffs.

WILL WE BE BLESSED WITH A FOURTH MATCH?: No fighter in any major MMA promotion had ever recorded three victories over the same opponent in the span of less than eight months, until Palmer beat Gilpin three times this year.

A SHARP DECLINE: The PFL’s 2019 campaign featured a finish rate of about 45.6 percent throughout its second season. This is a steep dropoff from the year before, when 54.9 percent of bouts ended by stoppage.

MOVLID ON OVER: Movlid Khaybulaev recorded the quickest knockout in company history when he starched Damon Jackson with a flying knee in 10 seconds at PFL 2 2019.

A BRIGHT SILVER LINING: Three of the 10 fastest finishes in organizational history took place in the 2019 season. In addition to Khaybulaev, Luis Rafael Laurentino dispatched Jeremy Kennedy in 23 seconds, and Daniel Pineda stopped Khaybulaev with a leg kick and follow-up punches in 29 seconds.

HE PULLED ON HIS NECK LIKE A NINJA!: Gilpin hit the first ninja choke in PFL history when he put Andre Harrison to sleep with one at PFL 8 2019. The submission marked the first time Harrison had ever been finished in his 24-fight career.

ZEKED: Denis Goltsov landed the first Ezekiel choke to ever take place in a WSOF or PFL cage by tapping Tiller at PFL 6 2019. The only other major promotions to see Ezekiel chokes have been the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pride Fighting Championships.

TWO AND TWO: Four technical submissions were pulled off in 2019, fewer than the year before (five). Two came at the hands of Gilpin, who used a ninja choke on Andre Harrison and also put Freddy Assuncao to sleep with a guillotine choke. Schulte scored the other two, rendering Akhmed Aliev and Ramsey Nijem unconscious on the same night with an arm-triangle choke and a rear-naked choke at PFL 8 2019.

PRIDE RULES RULE: After considerable criticism of it 2018 draw tiebreaker in which the winner of the first round of a fight advanced, the PFL changed its two-round scoring system this season. If two competitors in the 2019 playoffs fought to a draw, the bout would then be scored in its entirety, a la Pride rules. Five bouts were scored as draws this season, fewer than the year before (nine).

THE LUCKIEST 13: Thirteen fighters across the season—including all four of Kayla Harrison’s bouts in which odds were available—closed as -1000 favorites or higher. All 13 won.

WELL THAT’S JUST SILLY: Kayla Harrison clocked in as the biggest favorite in PFL history when she closed at -5000 against short-notice replacement Bobbi Jo Dalziel at PFL 7 2019. She won by first-round armbar.

ALL THAT, FOR NOTHING: Pineda scored the fifth-biggest upset in company history when, as a +500 underdog, he knocked out the previously unbeaten -800 Khaybulaev in the opening frame.

A FUTILE EFFORT: Two fighters this season—Zane Kamaka and Ronny Markes—missed weight and still competed at their events. However, they were deemed ineligible to win points in victory. Both lost by second-round stoppage.

WAY TO GO: Kamaka missed weight at PFL 1 2019 and then again at PFL 4 2019. The second time he came in over the welterweight limit, he was not permitted to fight and was expelled from the tournament altogether.

SAY NO TO DRUGS: Five fighters this season tested positive for banned substances that ranged from marijuana to multiple steroids, including featherweight finalist Pineda and heavyweight quarterfinalist Alex Nicholson.

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