In a fight that did not lack for action, Natan Schulte took home the million dollars for the second year in a row, winning the PFL Championship 2019 at lightweight.
Natan Schulte was one of two fighters looking to repeat as champion in the PFL 2019 championship. Schulte last lost in 2017, and had won every single bout since the WSOF had become the Professional Fighters League. He looked to continue that streak in the lightweight finale on New Year’s Eve, where he took on Loik Radzhabov at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
A million dollars was on the line at the finale in New York — a second million, in fact, for Brazil’s Schulte. Lance Palmer had become the first two-time PFL champion earlier in the night, and Schulte was looking to join him.
Getting off to a fast start, both Schulte and Radzhabov traded leg kicks. Radzhabov then targeted the body, and was mixing up his strikes rather well. That forced Schulte to retreat, something rarely seen throughout the PFL’s 2019 season. Schulte took a left, and answered with a front kick. Radzhabov’s leg kick, however, had more on it. Radzhabov would fan on an uppercut, and the takeaway from the opening minute was that he had the clear edge in power.
Schulte, however, soon stunned Radzhabov with a right hand! Radzhabov practically froze for a moment, which allowed Schulte to go on the attack, backing him up. Radzhabov survived only to be taken down. With Schulte unable to make much happen on top, Radzhabov was able to escape back up. But after a strong start to the round, things were rather close heading to the second. Radzhabov rallied late, but Schulte had the biggest moment of the frame.
In the second, Radzhabov and Schulte went right to work. And after a minute of grappling, battling and trading, Radzhabov began connecting more and more often. Schulte was covering up, staying active, but more than a few strikes found their way through his guard. Schulte opted to take the fight down, but couldn’t keep Radzhabov there. Instead, Schulte was backed up, eating blows to body and head. Radzhabov was landing well in close, and a huge uppercut rocked Schulte. He ate a few more, and with half the round remaining, was in a dangerous predicament. The durability and heart of Natan Schulte could not be questioned, as he continued to fight on while under fire for a good portion of the round.
Schulte looked exhausted at the end of the second. He’d need to find a second wind with three rounds remaining. Radzhabov immediately fired to open the third. He continued to rip the body while mixing up strikes to the head. Schulte stayed with him, but his counters were less effective, and there were less of them. Radzhabov changed levels for a takedown, but changed his mind quickly. Early in the round, Radzhabov’s total arm strikes had tripled Schulte’s. With over half the bout remaining, that did not bode well for the defending champion. However, as the round wore on, Radzhabov appeared to have slowed a step. Schulte was pressing forward, still throwing. Still landing leg kicks. A late kick low seemed to hurt Radzhabov, nearly tripping him up. Schulte took advantage, teeing off on him! Moments later he got Radzhabov to the ground and got in mount, but with only seconds left in the round, there wasn’t enough time to capitalize.
Radzhabov came out looking for a takedown early in round four. Schulte fought it off, and whether the leg kick late in the third was an issue for Radzhabov remained a question. Another kick from Schulte dropped Radzhabov to the mat, and Schulte moved right into mount again. This time, he had over three minutes remaining. Schulte began looking for the arm-triangle choke, though Radzhabov was hip to his attempts. Radzhabov was able to break free, but another leg kick nearly dropped him again. Schulte was catching up in total strikes, and was well ahead in terms of leg kicks. The fight was soon back on the ground, and with Radzhabov’s legs looking like those of a baby deer, that was likely going to happen often. This time Schulte worked on a guillotine, without much success. Radzhabov would later attempt his own, with similar results.
The fifth round had Radzhabov on wobbly legs, looking to stay out of range of Schulte’s kicks. The Brazilian, however, was in the driver’s seat. Radzhabov drove forward for a single leg attempt, and managed to briefly get Schulte down. A scramble saw them move back up. Radzhabov managed to pop off a few uppercuts, landing each one. When they went down again, Radzhabov managed to get into side control. Schulte would break free, and use his wrestling to stay in control for the time that remained, finishing the fight on top.
A closely contested bout, with a ton of heart on display by both fighters. In the end, the judges awarded the bout to Natan Schulte, making him a two-time lightweight champion in the PFL! For the second year in a row, he takes home one million dollars.
Official Result: Natan Schulte def. Loik Radzhabov by unanimous decision (49-44, 49-46, 48-47)