There might not be a hotter fighter in the PFL right now than Emiliano Sordi.
“He-Man” picked up two-first round finishes on Thursday at PFL 9 in Las Vegas to book his ticket to the league’s light heavyweight championship finals in New York on Dec. 31. There, he will face Jordan Johnson.
All fighters competing in the PFL playoffs were required to fight twice in one night, with quarter-final matchups being two-round affairs (in the event of a draw, judges were asked to pick a winner based on overall performance).
It is Sordi (21-8) who has been the breakout star of the league’s 2019 season, having finished all four of his opponents this year including his PFL 9 adversaries Bozigit Ataev (21-5-1) and Sigi Pesaleli (1-3). Sordi entered the night as the No. 1 light heavyweight seed and he blew through Pesaleli, an experienced kickboxer, in the first round to set up a trilogy bout with Agaev.
Agaev eliminated Sordi from the 2018 playoffs and Sordi earned his revenge with interest, finishing Agaev via strikes inside of a round in August and then taking a 2-1 advantage in their series with a first-round rear-naked choke submission on Thursday.
Seven is turning out to be a lucky number for several PFL championship hopefuls.
Johnson (12-1-1) joined fellow No. 7 seeds Daniel Pineda, Loik Radzhabov, and Rosholt as 2019 league championship finalists, outworking Rashid Yusupov (12-3) and Maxim Grishin (30-7-2) to places himself on the league’s year-end card where he will face Sordi.
It wasn’t an easy path for Johnson, who picked up the first loss of his career when he made his PFL debut in June. He then narrowly escaped the quarter-finals after fighting Grishin to a draw in their rematch, advancing on the judges tiebreaker decision. However, in his semifinal bout with Yusupov, Johnson pushed the pace in rounds two and three, putting his wrestling to good use to earn a clear-cut victory on the scorecards.
The heavyweight finals that closed the show proved to be a listless affair with a miraculous finish as Isaev (8-0) snatched victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat with a TKO flurry at the very last second of round three. Up to that point, Isaev and Denis Goltsov (25-6) engaged in a tentative stand-up battle, with the taller Goltsov appearing to have the slight edge on the cards.
Isaev probably needed a finish and seemed in no hurry to get one until he connected with a looping right hand and then unloaded with ground-and-pound. Referee Herb Dean gave Goltsov a chance to recover, but would wave off the bout with one second remaining in the third round.
That was the second win of the night for Isaev. In the quarter-finals, he relied on his wrestling to win a lopsided decision against Kelvin Tiller.
The other heavyweight finalist is Rosholt (20-7), who made it to the final four last season. Known for his consistent—if not always entertaining—wrestling game, Rosholt stuck to his specialty to get past Tiller (11-5) and Muhammed Dereese (8-2). Dereese actually tried to outwrestle Rosholt in their quarter-final meeting, only to end up with Rosholt on his back. From there, Rosholt landed dozens of unanswered punches on a turtled up Dereese to force the stoppage.
In the co-main event, Rosholt completely controlled late-notice replacement Tiller from top position for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision win. Tiller had actually lost earlier in the night to Isaev and his second chance was created by both Francimar Barroso (25-7-1, 1 NC) and Alex Nicholson (14-9) being declared medically unfit to continue after their quarter-final contest (Barroso defeated Nicholson by unanimous decision).
Aside from Isaev’s season-saving finish, the highlight of the night may have belonged to Yusopov. Facing last year’s light heavyweight runner-up Vinny Magalhaes, Yusupov controlled the distance before blasting Magalhaes with an uppercut-straight combination that instantly shut Magalhaes down.
Sordi and Johnson will now meet in the light heavyweight finals, while Isaev and Rosholt will meet in the heavyweight finals, with the winners taking home a 2019 PFL title and a $1 million prize. The 2019 PFL Championships will take place at Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York on New Year’s Eve.
For complete PFL 9 results, click here.