ATLANTIC CITY — The opportunity to become a millionaire is a powerful incentive for competitors in the Professional Fighters League.
Twelve mixed martial arts fighters stayed in contention of earning the PFL’s top prize of $1 million Thursday at Ocean Casino Resort. Eight men’s welterweight competitors and four fighters in the new women’s lightweight division qualified for the PFL’s playoffs.
“Making the Playoffs is a huge deal,” welterweight qualifier David Michaud said. “You don’t make it and you don’t get paid the big money. I’m here to get paid and now I have a chance to win a title and cash a big check.”
A large, loud crowd showed up at Ocean’s Ovation Hall for the first of PFL’s three appearances at the arena this summer. Its regular season continues with men’s featherweights and lightweights vying for playoff spots July 25, followed by light-heavyweights and heavyweights Aug. 8.
The PFL playoffs are scheduled to be held in Las Vegas in October with the championship bouts in six weight classes slated for New York’s Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve.
Michaud will be joined in the welterweight playoffs by defending champion Magomed Magomedkerimov, 2018 runnerup Ray Cooper III, Glaico Franca, John Howard, Chris Curtis, Sadibou Sy and Andre Fialho.
Magomedkerimov (25-5), of Russia, moved a step closer to earning another $1 million with a hard-fought, three-round, unanimous decision over Cincinnati’s Curtis (21-6), who also earned enough points to advance. The two will meet again in the first round of the playoffs, assuming Magomedkerimov is medically cleared. He is seeded second while Curtis is seventh.
“I broke my (right) hand in the first minute of the first round,” Magomedkerimov said. “Hopefully it isn’t too serious and I will be able to heal up in time for the Playoffs so I can end him next time we fight.”
Brazil’s Franca (21-5) earned the top seed with a third-round TKO over Sweden’s Sy (8-5-1), who is the third seed.
Boston’s Howard (28-15-1) scored a stunning victory Thursday to earn the fourth seed in the playoffs. Howard, who had lost his first-round bout, landed a thunderous left hook that sent last season’s runnerup, Hawaii’s Cooper (18-7) to the canvas in a heap, then landed two more shots to clinch the knockout. Cooper also qualified for the playoffs as the sixth seed.
“It was awesome,” Howard said. “Ray throws bombs so I wanted to make sure I hit him before he hit me.”Michaud (16-5), from Phoenix, will be seeded fifth after posting a first-round TKO over Brazil’s Handesson Ferreira (14-3-1).
Fialho (11-2), from Portugal, earned the eighth seed without even fighting Thursday. He received a walkover-win when his scheduled opponent, Hawaii’s Zane Kamaka (13-6) failed to make weight Wednesday.
Kayla Harrison, Genah Fabian, Kayla Harrison, Sarah Kaufman and Larissa Pacheco earned the four berths in the inaugural women’s lightweight playoffs with victories.
Harrison (5-0), from Middletown, Ohio, had little trouble advancing. The two-time Olympic Judo gold medalist posted a first-round submission over Las Vegas’ Morgan Frier (4-3).
“The submission was probably there earlier in the round,” Harrison said, “but I really like hitting people since I was never allowed to in Judo.”
She will be the second seed in the first round of the playoffs behind Kaufman (22-4), who secured the top seed despite not competing Thursday.
Kaufman, from Canada, picked up six points with a first-round victory last month in New York and added another three points with a walk-over win when Roberta Rodrigues checked in 1.6 pounds over the 155-pound weight limit in Wednesday’s weigh-in.
“It’s great because everybody wants to be the number one seed,” Kaufman said. “But my goal is to be number one at the end of the season. That’s what matters.”
Both Pacheco and Fabian rebounded from first-round losses with impressive performances Thursday.
Pacheco (12-3), from Brazil, handed Canada’s Bobbi Jo Dalziel (5-1) her first loss with a first-round submission. Pacheco took Dalziel to the canvas in the opening minute and worked in an armbar to halt the bout.
Fabian (2-2), from New Zealand, floored Moriel Charneski (3-7) with a straight left and followed up with flurry.
“I felt the left hand land and knew I had her,” Fabian said. “I had to land a couple more punches before the referee stepped in, but that is how the game goes sometimes.”