Two former PFL welterweight champions, Magomed Magomedkerimov and Sadibou Sy, faced off for the belt and a million dollar prize at the 2023 PFL Championship in Washington DC on Saturday.
Russian wrestler Magomed Magomedkerimov won the inaugural PFL title in 2018 before withdrawing from the playoffs in 2019 then losing to rival Ray Cooper III in 2021. Come the 2023 PFL Championship, his five-fight winning streak took on Sy’s seven-fight winning streak, all in PFL for both of them. Sadibou ‘The Swedish Denzel’ Sy was the reigning champ, winning the belt in 2022 with his composed kickboxing, but he did not have to go through a Russian wrestler then. That proved to be his undoing, as Magomedkerimov choked out the Swede in the third round.
The pair clinched up early in the first round, but despite his wrestling background Magomedkerimov was unable to get to the long legs of Sy at first. However he was able to get to the back and get a takedown. When Magomedkerimov tried to put both hooks in Sadibou stood up. They maintained clinch contact and the Russian landed another takedown, but Sadibou Sy never settled on his back and sprung back up to his feet. Sadibou is not a high output striker, but he had decent lands in the firtst and was the most comfortable striker. However Magomedkerimov had success on the feet due to his enthusiasm; he landed a big overhand right near the end of the round despite the kickboxing credentials of the Swede.
In the second Magomedkerimov once again insisted on the clinch early but had trouble getting any sort of top control. Sy’s takedown defense was strong but again Magomedkerimov landed big once on the feet and was able to get a takedown while his opponent was stunned from that. Yet again, Sadibou sprung back up and gained the upper hand in the clinch. The dynamic of the fight was different than many expected at first. As the round drew to a close they fought at distance again and Magomedkerimov was the one pressing forward and landed all of the powerful punches on the feet, potentially putting him up two rounds.
Sadibou Sy got more aggressive in the third round, and had more success at first but seemed uncomfortable when he ate a hard right to the body one minute in. Due to being hurt, Sy shot a takedown on an experienced grappler. Magomed Magomedkerimov simply locked up a guillotine, sat back on it, and used it to begin to clamber to mount, forcing Sy to tap. That was the exact technique he won his first ever PFL title with, when he beat Ray Cooper III in 2018.
Magomedkerimov received his oversized million-dollar check from the PFL and went straight into a faceoff with Jason Jackson, champion of the recently acquired Bellator, with the potential of a fight in 2024 between them.