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Rising Stars: PFL 10 Prelims Fighters to Watch

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Wednesday’s PFL 10 event had plenty of main card stardom, but some prelim fighters stole the show with impressive finishes and dominant clinic-like decision wins. Several fighters on the prelims took home a million dollars, and each winner on the card will have their careers trending in the right direction.

Names to Look Out For

Antonio Carlos Junior (13-5-0 2 NC)

Carlos Junior put together a dominant performance in the final prelim on the card, dominating Marthin Hamlet for roughly two minutes before he locked in a rear-naked choke to take home the light heavyweight title and one million dollars. He looked sharp early, wobbling Hamlet with a right hand and taking his back before sinking in the rear-naked choke.

It was a bittersweet moment for the UFC veteran, whose father died three days before his bout. However, his family waited until after the bout to let him know, as they did not want to affect his training and ruin his big opportunity. This shot was deserved by Carlos Junior, who beat former PFL champion Emiliano Sordi and was winning a fight declared a no-contest due to an accidental groin strike. However, it was enough to make the playoffs, and Carlos took advantage of the stage, escaping nearly unscathed with his finish of Hamlet.

Carlos Junior seems to be happy in the PFL, and he is making far more money in that promotion than he ever would in the UFC, so we should expect to see a run of dominance in the promotion for him. After all these years, it finally seems “Shoeface” found a shoe that fits.

Rush Manfio (15-3-0)

Rush Manfio is quite an inspiring story. He was selected as an alternate for the PFL playoffs, yet he defeated a former UFC champion in Anthony Pettis and the reigning PFL champion, Clay Collard. His third straight decision win, however, was the sweetest. Manfio had finally captured the glory of a title, and as a fighter considered an alternate, he embarked on an almost improbable run.

Manfio engaged in an early striking battle with Radzhabov but began pulling away in the fourth round. He strung together an impressive string of knees in the clinch before landing several body kicks that seemed to hurt Radzhabov and turn the fight in his favor. The fifth continued the same way as the fourth, with Manfio overwhelming his opponent on the feet and doing enough to earn the unanimous decision win and the title.

If Manfio wants, he should be able to fight in any promotion he wants, but PFL most likely provides him the opportunity to maximize the prime of his career with its higher pay and tournament format, optimizing the number of fights he gets in a year. His skill set seems to be improving with every fight, and he should be a dangerous opponent for anyone in the PFL lightweight division for years to come.

Movlid Khaybulaev (19-0-1, 1 NC)

Khaybulaev has been on a tear recently, winning 19 of his last 21 fights, and his other fights were a no-contest and a draw. He ascended to PFL stardom the same way he always did by dominating Chris Wade for five rounds. He used his wrestling to control the fight, winning all five rounds on all three judges’ scorecards and leaving Wade helpless to advance his situation. Khaybulaev walked away almost unscathed and a million dollars richer, and he has quite a career ahead of him.

This sort of smothering, wrestling-heavy style is popular amongst fellow Russians. The UFC’s featherweight division is full of striking specialists such as Max Holloway, Giga Chikadze, and Dan Ige. If the 31-year-old Dagestani can improve his striking, he could be a serious force in the UFC or continue his stifling run in the PFL, too. The Dagestani wave has arrived across MMA, and Movlid Khaybulaev is yet another crest to deal with.

These fighters should have fantastic continuations to their careers, and it appears they can only improve. Where they go next is up to them, but they should have a myriad of options to choose from: PFL champion just happens to be one of them.

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Featured Image credits to PFL MMA

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I’m a freshman at the University of Georgia who is a massive sports fan, and I have a passion for writing about the things I love, including MMA.