Mixed Martial Arts fans in Atlanta were treated Friday night when the first professional MMA event took place in over three years.
The Professional Fighters League (PFL) announced a three-week trip to Atlanta to close out the back half of their 2022 season.
The first event highlighted both the lightweight division and the light heavyweight division, and with plenty of playoff spots up for grabs and many big names competing on the card, the Atlanta fans got their money’s worth.
But who stepped up when the lights shined the brightest? Let’s start with the lightweight division.
For the Paraguayan native, PFL 4 offered something unique to his career, the main event fight against Clay Collard. Martinez knew the stakes were high as Collard was a favorite to win the 2022 PFL lightweight championship.
To add to the mountain Martinez would face, both fighters came into the fight with three points and a win in their first fight of the season, meaning this fight was a “win and get into the playoffs or lose and have your season cut short” scenario.
When the cage doors closed and the fight began, fans quickly realized that both fighters had a strong sense of urgency from both fighters.
The first round saw Collard and Martinez go toe to toe in the pocket, trading significant punches to one another. For most of the first round, Collard seemed to be getting the better of the exchanges.
In the second round, things picked up right where they left off, and Collard landed a left hook that sent Martinez crashing to the canvas. When fans thought the fight was about to be stopped, Martinez landed a takedown and got Collard to the mat. Martinez would control Collard for the majority of the second round.
With each man winning a round, both fully displayed urgency in round three.
Ultimately Martinez got the fight back down to the mat, won a razor close split decision victory and earned his spot in the playoffs.
“It was a win or go home scenario. That was it, and the loser doesn’t get to stay on. You knew whoever wins gets to go on to the next one,” Martinez said in his post-fight interview.
For Olivier Aubin-Mercier, his time in the PFL has had its ups and downs.
His 2021 season was cut short due to injury, despite being a favorite to make the playoffs. For him the 2022 season was about reminding the fans how dominant he can be. The promotion allowed him to showcase this as he was slated to fight two of the toughest lightweights on the roster in Natan Schulte and the 2021 PFL Lightweight champion, Raush Manfio.
After passing the first test with a split decision win against Schulte, Aubin-Mercier would have to take out the former champ to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Aubin-Mercier would do just that.
A unanimous decision win (30-27, 30-27 and 29-28) gave the Canadian the three points he needed to punch his ticket.
While the fight was very technical and lacked consistent action, Aubin-Mercier believes this was his opponent not wanting to take any risks.
“It’s a weird feeling because I think it was not my most exciting performance, but it was my easiest fight. I do think Manfio knew he was in the tournament anyway, so he didn’t take any risks to get hurt for next month. So I have the feeling that he didn’t really commit,” Aubin Mercier said. “I mean, I won’t take any chances. There [are] a million bucks at the end of the tournament.”
On the light heavyweight side, one man stole the show Friday night.
The odds were stacked against Delan Monte coming into this fight with the 2019 PFL light heavyweight champion, Emiliano Sordi.
Monte was coming off a submission loss in his first fight of the season, putting him at the bottom of the rankings. In addition, PFL newcomer Josh Silveira picked up six points just an hour before Monte would take to the octagon.
Monte came out guns blazing and pulled off the impossible. Just 90 seconds into the fight, Monte unleashed a flurry of punches which stunned Sordi and forced him to cover up.
Monte would close the fight by raining down punches on his defenseless opponent until the referee stopped the fight.
Monte earned the six points he needed to overtake his divisional rival and move his way into the playoffs. The Brazilian was overcome with emotion when he got the news that he was selected.
The PFL returns next Friday, Jun. 23, at the OTE Arena. PFL 5 will showcase the heavyweight and featherweight divisions, headlined by the 2021 Heavyweight champion Bruno Cappelozza.