The Professional Fighters League crowned six world champions on Monday at PFL 11: Championship inside Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In addition to some hardware, the PFL, which was rebranded from the World Series of Fighting in 2017, handed out six $1 million checks. It was the final show of the promotion’s inaugural year, which consisted of a regular season and a playoff.
In the night’s main event, welterweight Magomed Magomedkerimov (23-6) upset one of the year’s standouts in Ray Cooper III via second-round submission. The finish came at the 2:18 mark, when Magomedkerimov secured a tight guillotine during a scramble.
After nearly tapping to a rear-naked choke in the first round, Cooper succumbed to the guillotine. The finish snapped a four-fight win streak for Cooper.
“I feel very good,” Magomedkerimov said. “Everything went well.”
Cooper, of Hawaii, was one of the darlings of the PFL’s first season. The 25-year-old defeated veteran welterweight Jake Shields twice en route to the finale.
Magomedkerimov was ready for Cooper’s aggressive standup, however, and appeared to sap some of his confidence by scoring a takedown in the opening 10 seconds. Cooper did his best to press the action on the feet, but Magomedkerimov kept him off balance with counter striking, clinch work and offensive grappling.
The Dagestani extended his win streak to eight with the victory.
The PFL’s inaugural season aired on NBC Sports. The promotion has not yet announced its broadcast plans for 2019. It has announced the addition of a 155-pound female weight class, which will feature two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka Kayla Harrison.
Former WSOF champ Palmer dominates featherweight final
A four-time All-American collegiate wrestler at Ohio State, Palmer scored seven takedowns in the fight and did well controlling Siler on the floor. He landed several hard overhand lefts in the opening round, as well as plenty of inside leg kicks, but it was the wrestling pedigree that stood out overall.
“It’s not really this season or the past couple years training in MMA — it’s my entire life of competing going into this,” Palmer said. “I don’t think $1 million can repay all the hard work I’ve put in, but it’s a damn good start.”
Palmer, who fights out of Sacramento and Las Vegas, was a two-time WSOF featherweight champion, before the promotion rebranded itself to the PFL in 2017. The 30-year-old has won six fights in a row. He held a prior decision win over Siler from November 2017.
Other than a few unsuccessful submission attempts from his back and the occasional exchange on the feet, Siler could get nothing going against Palmer. His most effective strikes came at the end of the opening round, when he aggressively went after Palmer in the closing seconds after working up from a takedown.
Prior to the fight, Palmer, 30, hinted at a flashy purchase with the $1 million — but admitted he may not follow through.
“It was gonna be a car, but my wife would be pissed, so I’m not gonna do it,” Palmer said.
Lins puts Copeland away in heavyweight finale
Lins, of Brazil, lit up Copeland with strikes on the feet for the better part of 20 minutes, but Copeland simply refused to go down. The fight was mercifully waved off at 0:30 of the fourth, after Lins unleashed nearly 10 unanswered knees from the Muay Thai clinch. Even then, Copeland remained on his feet.
Early on, the story of the fight was Lins’ counter-punching versus Copeland’s attempts to blitz at him with punches. It took Lins some time to find his timing, but once he settled in, he regularly caught Copeland coming in with counter jabs and hooks.
As the fight wore on, the theme of the fight changed to Copeland’s toughness and the question of how long he could last. Out of fatigue and possibly frustration, he started to butt heads with Lins as he pressed forward, about which Lins complained to referee Dan Miragliotta.
Fighting out of American Top Team, Lins dedicated the performance to his father. The 33-year-old went undefeated in PFL’s format all year, with wins against Copeland, Jared Rosholt, Caio Alencar and Alex Nicholson.
O’Connell perseveres in war or attrition, announces retirement
The light heavyweight fight essentially turned into one sequence on loop. O’Connell would pepper Magalhaes (18-10) with the left hook and straight right on the feet, until the submission ace weakly dove for a takedown. O’Connell would step backward, force the referee to stand Magalhaes back up and the entire thing would repeat itself.
Immediately after the win, O’Connell, who fought for the UFC from 2014 to 2016, announced his retirement.
“[The PFL] showed all of us a ton of respect,” O’Connell said. “They believed in our talent and work ethic when maybe no other promotion would. They’re paying us real, life-changing money, and all you gotta do is win.
“It’s never going to be easy to walk away from this sport, but there’s no better way to do it than on a high note, in front of all my friends and family, in an iconic arena in American sport. I’m moving on. This will be the last time you see me competing, but I’m never going to leave this sport.”
Magalhaes, who fights out of Las Vegas, threatened to end the fight early with a heel hook attempt and strikes on the ground, but once O’Connell survived the early ground exchanges, it was obvious Magalhaes was exhausted. His face was swollen and his mouth was bloodied early in the third.
Prior to his run in the PFL, O’Connell, 35, hadn’t fought since December 2016.
Brazilian Schulte claims lightweight championship
Magomedov significantly out-landed Schulte in total strikes, but judges sided with Schulte’s pressure, takedowns and strikes in the clinch. All three judges scored it the same: 48-46 in favor of Schulte.
“I never fought for money; I just fought because I love doing this,” Schulte said through a translator. “The PFL gave me an opportunity to do what I love and make money to support my training. I’m extremely happy. What else can I be doing to make $1 million in an evening? I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
Magomedov, of Dagestan, was docked a point by referee Todd Anderson in the second round for an eye poke, which appeared to be accidental. He seemed to recover from the shock of the foul, though, landing good jabs and hooks to the body.
But Schulte, 26, continued to march forward in the face of anything Magomedov threw. He rarely got into a prolonged rhythm of his own, but he took Magomedov down a handful of times and worked his way into the clinch throughout the 25-minute fight.
Former high school coach Taylor scores highlight-reel KO
A 39-year-old former high school wrestling coach from Chicago, Taylor knocked out Magomedov with the first punch he threw: a sweeping left hook to the jaw. Magomedov flailed backward from the shot, arms to the sky, and crashed off the canvas. The 185-pound bout was waved off immediately.
“Did I open the show?” said Taylor, during his postfight interview. “Everybody wanted to keep doubting me. Everybody wanted to keep saying, ‘He’s this age.’ You’re as old as your mind. I’ve taken care of my body. I’ve never put in any of those toxins. This has been a great season. This is the Louis Taylor train and we riding it in 2019 because I want another check.”
Magomedov, of Germany, started the fight with a hard leg kick, but that was the extent of his offense. He went into Monday’s contest a more than 2-to-1 betting favorite.
Upon accepting the $1 million check, Taylor, flanked by his wife and two daughters, said he planned to use it on his family.
“The house is paid off, baby,” Taylor said. “Girls’ school is paid for. I don’t need a fancy car.”