It’s a new year for Rakim Cleveland, who was the eighth seed in the PFL light heavyweight tournament last year. Cleveland’s goal moving forward is to always be a presence in the playoffs.
Uniondale, NY – Rakim Cleveland comes into PFL 3 2019 as a returning face. A four-point season earned Cleveland a playoff spot, but overall he was 1-2 in 2018. The 30-year-old now has experience in the promotion that will benefit him this year.
“Second season of PFL, just more development. First season was kind of up-and-down for me. Second season you’ll see a more aggressive, more action-packed, more violent Rakim.”
While a stoppage victory in his first PFL fight gave him a cushion regarding the playoff picture. Losing by submission is never fun (which is what happened in his second regular season bout), even if he still had the chance to compete for a million dollars at the end of the day.
“You want to win all your fights. Winning the fight and taking home that win bonus is always a plus. Especially when you have family at home. Losing the fight is not an option. It happens. That’s the sport we do. It’s hard to go undefeated, especially when you’re fighting good guys. You always want to win all your fights, get as many points as you can, get as high as you can in the rankings. But knowing when you’re in position that you’re locked into the playoffs already, it’s a little less stress. But you still pay close attention to that bubble you’re on and how far you’re dropping down, who you’re facing because that matters. You definitely want to win everything you can.”
Viktor Nemkov will be standing across the cage from Cleveland. The 32-year-old Russian won the world title in Sambo back in 2011, presenting a daunting challenge for Cleveland at PFL 3 2019.
“My opponent is going to try to take me down. All of them will. Once I start touching them, they’re going to shoot. It’s no secret. I look forward to it. I can’t wait to stuff his face into the mat and beat him unconscious. Sambo champion man, submission grappler. But I train with some of the best jiu-jitsu coaches and Steve Macco, the best wrestler to ever grace this planet. Especially in the USA. They put me through a lot. A lot of different submissions, a lot of different situations. Getting taken down, getting up, starting on the bottom. So I’m prepared for that. My opponent is in for a hard night.”
Rakim Cleveland trains at American Top Team, which means he got to witness his teammate, Natan Schulte, take home a million dollars in last years lightweight tournament.
“It’s definitely motivation because I was in position to do the same thing by making the playoffs last year. I got submitted in the first round, so it’s definitely fuel for the fire. I was joking around with my brother and my dad and a couple of my teammates saying, ‘Look, when it comes to this format, I’m like the New England Patriots. Every time you look up, I’m going to be in the playoffs. I’m getting better and better.’ They laugh, but I’m dead serious. If you’re always there, if you’re always at the top, sooner or later, you’re going to get yours. I’m going to get better and better every time I show up. That’s the goal. I’ll get that belt.”
See if Rakim Cleveland can get his quest for a belt off on the right foot when he takes on Viktor Nemkov at PFL 3 2019 tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on ESPN+ and check out the rest of the scrum above.