The first of six title fights at Wednesday’s PFL 2021 World Championship saw the lightweight title up for grabs.
And, of course, one million dollars in prize money awaited the lightweight tournament champion.
Raush Manfio had something of a storybook season, stepping in as a short-notice replacement, beating all three of his opponents, including Anthony Pettis, and landing in the championship finale. Loik Radzhabov had been here before, only to come up short against Natan Schulte in the 2019 final.
It was Manfio who got going early in Wednesday’s lightweight championship fight, finding a home for his right hand.
Manfio, who had claimed ahead of the fight that the first round would be Radzhabov’s most dangerous, seemed to do everything he could in the early going to ensure the round was his. He held center, forcing Radzhabov to the outside. That right hand landed more than once. Manfio did have to endure a barrage of strikes when Radzhabov charged forward near the midway mark, but the Brazilian weathered the storm. A low kick later spun Radzhabov around, and it seemed to signal a change in approach, as he put the fight, and his oppoent, against the fence, trying to land a takedown with a body lock.
Late in the frame, Radzhabov came forward slinging heavy leather. Manfio ducked under a punch and finished the round with a body lock by the fence.
A heated exchange kicked off round two, as both men pushed down on the gas pedal. Both men would connect; Radzhabov loaded up on a solid punch about 90s seconds in, but Manfio ate it before the pair clinched. That clinch didn’t last, and back at range, they continued to exchange. A kick appeared to trip up Radzhabov just as he was delivering a punch, and Manfio looked to target the limb again shortly after. He’d return to that as the round progressed, and Loik Radzhabov’s mobility appeared hampered, leaving him susceptible to a body kick late in the round.
A clinch opened up the third, with both men landing in close. Manfio’s right hand was in action once again, but Radzhabov was far from done, bullying his opponent back to the cage wall with a flurry of punches. Manfio landed a knee followed by a left hand; Radzhabov hit nothing but air with his counter. He’d find success with a short-lived takedown later in the round, and finish the frame strong, putting Manfio on his heels.
Another hot start in round four saw both men connecting, followed by a takedown by Loik Radzhabov. Manfio immediately escaped up, but Radzhabov connected with a combo, followed by his opponent landing knees and body kicks. Manfio’s right hand backed Radzhabov up, and Loik appeared hurt. Manfio tied up with him, and Radzhabov looked for a takedown but didn’t seem to have the energy let to complete it.
A comparatively fresher Manfio fired knees in the clinch and then went up top with a combo, walking Radzhabov down. More knees in the clinch followed. Each time Radzhabov retreated, Manfio would walk him down and clinch once again. Radzhabov was showing tons of heart, and manged to fire back, only to miss badly. He was beaten and bloodied, but Radzhabov would not go away. He escaped the round, arguably by the skin of his teeth.
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Round five saw Radzhabov find some extra gas at the bottom of the tank. Manfio would again find success in the clinch, and by the midway mark, Radzhabov was practically stumbling around the smart cage, leg compromised, all but spent. Manfio dug to the body with a punch and followed that with a knee. Radzhabov fired off a spinning kick, but he didn’t have much behind it. They continued to exchange, and Manfio turned up the heat with a minute remaining. In the end they’d go the distance in a grueling and wildly entertaining five-round war.
“This a dream come true,” Manfio exclaimed following the fight, and understandably so. After entering the tournament as a virtual unknown, replacing Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Manfio overcame the odds, and went all the way — just as training partner and friend Natan Schulte had done twice previously.
Radzhabov, meanwhile, goes back to the drawing board after losing his second straight tournament final.
Your PFL 2021 lightweight world champion: Raush Manfio!
Official Result: Raush Manfio def. Loik Radzhabov by unanimous decision (48-46, 48-46, 49-46)