Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream the PFL and UFC on ESPN+ live on your computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
Ali Isaev’s timing could not have been more perfect.
The undefeated Olympian cut down top-seeded Denis Goltsov with punches in the third round of their Professional Fighters League Season 2 heavyweight semifinal at PFL 9 on Thursday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Goltsov (25-6, 3-1 PFL) -- who earlier eked out a majority decision over Satoshi Ishii (22-10-1, 1-2 PFL) in the quarterfinals -- succumbed to blows 4:59 into Round 3, halting his run of consecutive victories at six.
Neither man showed much initiative in the two-plus rounds preceding the stoppage. Isaev (8-0, 4-0 PFL) was effective with his grappling but seemed content to circle and retreat during most of the standup exchanges. In the waning moments of the third round, he floored Goltsov with an overhand right, trailed him to the canvas and unleashed punches from both hands in a crouched position until referee Herb Dean had seen enough.
Isaev will face three-time NCAA All-American wrestler Jared Rosholt in the heavyweight final on Dec. 31 in New York. Rosholt utilized takedowns, repeated submission attempts and blanketing control, as he cruised to a unanimous decision over Kelvin Tiller in the other heavyweight semifinal. Rosholt (20-7, 6-3 PFL) -- who earlier put away Muhammed DeReese (8-2, 3-2 PFL) with punches 3:41 into the first round of their quarterfinal pairing -- swept the scorecards with 30-27 marks from all three judges.
Tiller (11-5, 3-5 PFL) had no answer for what the burly Idaho native brought to the table. Rosholt closed the distance with ease, pressed his advantages along the fence and struck for takedowns in all three rounds. Once in top position, he smothered the overmatched Tiller, hunted submissions and bled time off the clock.
Francimar Barroso (25-7-1, 5-0-1 PFL) earlier defeated Alex Nicholson by unanimous decision and was Rosholt’s original opponent in the semifinals, but he could not secure medical clearance to compete again. Nicholson (14-9, 3-4 PFL) was tabbed as his replacement, only to also be turned down by the medical team. That cleared the way for Tiller’s unlikely return to the competition.
Meanwhile, top-seeded Emiliano Sordi submitted Pride Fighting Championships alum Bozigit Ataev with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their light heavyweight semifinal. Ataev (21-5, 4-4 PFL) conceded defeat 4:26 into Round 1.
Sordi (21-8, 5-1 PFL) -- who earlier put away Sigi Pesaleli (1-3, 0-3 PFL) with first-round punches in the quarterfinals -- controlled a majority of the exchanges. Ataev dropped him to a knee with a right hand, prompting the Argentinian to pivot to a grappling-centric approach. Sordi secured a takedown, softened his opponent with punches and climbed to mount with roughly a minute to go in Round 1. He then transitioned to the back, secured his position with a body triangle and cinched the rear-naked choke for the finish.
Ataev fought to a draw with Viktor Nemkov (30-7-1, 2-0-1 PFL) in the quarterfinals but curried enough favor from the judges to advance on a tiebreaker.
Sordi will confront Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Jordan Johnson (12-1-1, 2-1-1 PFL) in the light heavyweight final on New Year’s Eve in New York. Johnson leaned on a steady jab, well-timed takedowns and relentless ground-and-pound, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over former M-1 Global champion Rashid Yusupov in their three-round light heavyweight semifinal. All three cageside judges scored it for Johnson: 30-26, 30-26 and 29-27.
After a slow start, Johnson found another gear. He executed his first takedown in the second round and taxed Yusupov (12-3, 2-3 PFL) with positional control and ground-and-pound. Johnson -- who earlier fought to a majority draw with Maxim Grishin (30-7-2, 4-0-2 PFL) in the quarterfinals but was awarded the decision via the judges’ tiebreaker -- stepped up his attack in Round 3. There, he delivered another takedown, climbed to a seated mount and maintained a dominant position for much of the period, all while assaulting Yusupov with punches.
Yusupov advanced to the semifinals by knocking out Vinny Magalhaes (19-12, 5-3 PFL) with a straight left 2:46 into the first round of their quarterfinal clash.