Rama and Halsey threw down at PFL 2

Bring on the Big Boys – PFL’s classy 205 pound field includes Rashid Yusupov, Brandon Halsey, Maxim Grishin, Vinny Magalhaes

PFL’s 2018 regular season light heavyweight weight bracket will begin to take form this Thursday when PFL touches down in Chicago, Illinois for their second event of 2018.  The 205 pound field includes a host of former champions from notable promotions across the world including M-1 titleholders Vinny Maghalhaes and Rashid Yusupov, Bellator champ Brandon Halsey, WFC Akhmat champ Maxim Grishin, WSOF champ Smealinho Rama, and King of the Cage champs Ronny Markes and Jason Butcher.  What a field!  One thing’s for sure, this is a world class collection of fighters and we should be in for some great fights this Thursday at PFL Chicago, broadcast on Facebook and NBC Sports Network – read on for more on the 12 competitors who make up the 2018 PFL lightweight field!


First a little about PFL rules! PFL 2018 regular season scoring gives the winner 6 points for a round 1 finish, 5 points for a round 2 finish, 4 points for a round 3 finish, and 3 points for a decision victory.


Your six PFL Chicago light heavyweight bouts in no particular order:



Brandon Halsey (10-3, ex-Bellator champ, #43 World)
Smealinho Rama (10-3, ex-WSOF champ, #64 World)

The former Bellator champ Brandon Halsey is an absolute wrecking machine on his best nights, with career-making quick finishes of Alexander Shlemenko and Brett Cooper highlighting his resume. Halsey used his power wrestling and dangerous striking games to vault to the top of Bellator’s middleweight ranks. More recently he transitioned to 205 in Fall 2017 with a clear unanimous decision win over ranked light heavyweight Mikhail Ragozin in Russia. Still just 31, Halsey boasts a wealth of experience against strong competition and has found the finish in 7 out of 10 victories. That propensity for finishing should set Halsey up nicely for success in PFL’s points based regular season competition.

Halsey tapped Storm Shlemenko in seconds at Bellator 126

On the other side of the cage from Halsey, former WSOF champ Smealinho Rama was always undersized for the heavyweight division. The Canadian weighed in at 228 pounds for his first title defense against Blagoi Ivanov at WSOF 21, well within cutting distance of the 205 limit. Rama has looked solid since dropping to light heavy, including a finish of 2018 PFL heavyweight fighter Jake Heun and a competitive decision loss to Ronny Markes. It may be important to note that the 26 year old Rama has had some success against wrestlers, including a 2014 decision over since-retired Oklahoma State star Steve Mocco. Look for him to try to keep this on the feet and score the 6 points via violent KO, the same gameplan that has led Rama to a 90% finish rate in his 10 wins.

Rama TKO’d Derrick Mehmen at WSOF 14 for the belt


Rashid Yusupov (9-0, M-1 Champ, #18 World)
Rakim Cleveland (18-9-1, #82 World)

The highest ranked light heavyweight fighter in the tournament, per Fightmatrix math rankings, 26 year old Rashid Yusupov tore through the M-1 light heavyweight division from 2014 through 2017. His ascent culminated in a decision win over Tapology #5 Russian light heavyweight Viktor Nemkov to earn the title, followed by a dominant three round TKO performance in his first title defense against highly regarded German Stephan Puetz. The southpaw Yusupov is big and athletic for the division, and he mixes his physical gifts with an ability to patiently pick through his opponent’s deficiencies at range. Imagine if the undefeated Gorets Fight Team member can keep his record perfect throughout the PFL 2018 regular season and playoffs – he’ll find himself right in the thick of the light heavyweight rankings discussion.

Yusupov TKO’d Puetz to defend the M-1 belt

Rakim Cleveland may be the biggest underdog in the 12 fighter PFL Chicago light heavyweight field, per Tapology fight pickers, but expect the “Boogeyman” to show up ready to sprint the upset in the biggest spot of his 29 fight career. Cleveland’s win-loss record may read 18-9, but 16 of this wins have come by finish and most of the losses can be attributed to a 1-4 record when cutting to middleweight along with two losses to the much bigger Derrick Lewis at heavyweight. With two TKO victories over UFC vet Houston Alexander in 2017, Cleveland set himself up for this opportunity to compete with the world’s elite light heavyweights in PFL. This is a young 205 pound field, and Cleveland is still only 29 years old – who knows what improvements we’ll see from the devastating KO artist, who has occasionally had some trouble staying on his feet when he faces strong grapplers.

Awesome kick KO by Cleveland in the regionals


Ronny Markes (18-5, KOTC champ, 3-2 UFC, #44 World)
Sean O’Connell (17-9, 2-5 UFC, #65 World)

Natal, Brazil native Ronny Markes started his UFC career with three straight wins over Karlos Vemola, Aaron Simpson, and Andrew Craig in 2011-13. But he got a very quick hook from the promotion following consecutive losses to elite talents Yoel Romero and Thiago Santos in his next two appearances. Back on the regional scene, Markes has kept busy with a 4-2 record including wins over regioanl legend Tony Lopez and fellow tourney fighter Smealinho Rama. Both of his recent losses have come by submission, which shouldn’t be a problem at PFL 2 against the swing-first, swing-second Sean O’Connell. If either man is going to work this fight to the mat it’s probably Markes, whose only two finishes since his 2011 UFC debut have come by submission. That said, the 30 year old Markes is among the smaller light heavyweights in the field, so it may be tough for him to put those grappling skills to good use this season.

Ronny Markes highlights via HELLO JAPAN!


After briefly retiring from the sports following a 7 fight UFC run, “The Real OC” Sean O’Connell was lured from retirement by the potential of throwing down for the $1 million PFL championship prize. Like Markes, O’Connell has often had to deal with bigger light heavyweight opponents during his time in the big leagues, but these two 6’1″ light heavies will be looking eye to eye on this evening. O’Connell fights are always fun, as he tends to throw caution to the wind and trade with whatever man is set in front of him. While neither of these two is a pure finisher, both O’Connell and Markes boast finishes in over 50% of their wins. Fireworks are to be expected, especially with PFL’s violence-first regular season scoring system.

O’Connell clocked Matt van Buren in the UFC


Maxim Grishin (26-7, WFCA champ, #39 World)
Jason Butcher (11-2, KOTC champ, 5-2 Bellator, #65 World)

Hailing from Stary Oskol, where he’s been trained by the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Maxim Grishin spent years competing as undersized heavyweight (just like his mentor!) and amassed a solid record including a submission of UFC contender Alexander Volkov. Since cutting down to 205 back in 2012, Grishin has been nearly unstoppable with 13 victories in his last 14 fights. At 34 years old and 34 fights deep into his pro career, the WFC Akhmat champion is ready to finally take his talents to the world stage when he battles longtime successful Bellator middleweight Jason Butcher at PFL 2. Like most elite Russian talents, Grishin is the kind of fighter who can get it done either on the feet or on the groundhis latest win was a head kick KO at the expense of Matej Batinic in February 2017. To this point the Russian ace has mixed 13 KOs with 5 subs and 8 decision wins.

Back in 2010, Grishin RNC’d Alexander Volkov


Seven fight Bellator vet Jason Butcher is a more recent convert to light heavyweight, having moved to the class just last year. Butcher has gone 2 for 2 at 205, with a pair of first round KOs that earned him King of the Cage title accolages. The Ohio native will enter as the underdog against Grishin, but with 11 finishes in 11 wins anything is possible when Butcher steps inside the cage with the Russian. Just ask BJJ ace Giva Santana, who avoided tapping out to Butcher’s potent sub game at Bellator 98 but had no answer when the American inserted fists into face:

Butcher takes out “The Arm Collector” in Bellator


Dan Spohn (16-5, 1-0 DWCS, #36 World)
Bazigit Atayev (18-1, 39 y/o, 0-1 PRIDE, #169 World HW)

Sure, Dan “The Dragon” Spohn may have committed a pretty serious case of gimmick infringement – pretty sure Senhor Machida has that nickname wrapped up for a few more years! – but the talented Ohio native also has put together a strong resume since his early career UFC and Bellator appearances. After losing at the TUF 19 finale, Spohn tallied eight wins in nine fights including finishes of UFC heavyweight Zu Anyanwu and a Contender Series season 1 win over Angela DeAnda. The 6’4″ Spohn is a serious offensive threat at range, and is the kind of fighter who rarely lets the fight into the hands of the judges when he has an advantage to exploit. He’s also crazy tough, as he showed in the bout versus DeAnda, where Spohn was seriously rocked early but managed to force the fight to the ground and score a comeback arm triangle choke.

Opposite Spohn is one of the biggest surprise entrants in the entire PFL 2018 league, 18-1 Pride veteran Bayzigit Atayev. Atayev’s first shot in the spotlight came at Pride 24 when he lost via round 2 TKO to the one and only Alistair Overeem – we’re talking 16 years ago here! After vanishing abruptly in late 2006, Atayev reappeared last year with a quick KO of Florida’s Jeremy May at Kunlun MMA 10 in China. Who knows what Atayev will have to offer against a much nastier foe in Spohn. Perhaps an interesting note – both Spohn and Atajev came in a few pounds under the 206 pound weight limit for Thursday’s bout, and were the only two light heavyweights to do so.

Big thanks to @Mr_Honky for proof of Atayev’s recent existence:


Vinny Magalhaes (14-9, ex-M1 Global Champ, #41 World)
Jamie Abdallah (7-2, ex-Australia FC champ)

Perhaps the most credentialed fighter in the entire field, Vinny Magalhaes made his name as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player but hasn’t yet ascended to the top of the mount in MMA. “Pezao” had his chance at WSOF 33 when he faced Dave Branch for the WSOF light heavyweight title but fell short on the cards after 25 minutes. You won’t be surprised to hear that the 33 year old Magalhaes has finished 11 of 14 professional wins by submission; he’s also been finished just 3 times in a challenge-packed career that’s included bouts with elite entities Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, and Viktor Nemkov. Maghalaes will be a huge favorite in this bout with the unknown Abdallah, and has 6 big reasons to try to get this fight finished in the first five minutes.

Vinny showed his elite BJJ skills vs Matt Hamill at WSOF 24:

“The Real Deal” Jamie Abdallah enters the PFL 2018 regular season on the heels of TKO losses to UFC vet Rob Wilkinson and PRIDE legend Sokoudjou. Before those setbacks, the 27 year old had torn through the Australian regionals with six KOs in seven bouts from 2011-15. But unless you’re a diehard fan of the Australian MMA scene, Abdallah’s still looking for his first win against a world level opponent. We’ll see if the Australian Top Team rep can figure out a way to keep it on the avoid and avoid dealing with Magalhaes’ prodigious jiu-jitsu skills.

Here’s how Abdallah looked last year vs Sokoudjou


Get even More Hyped!!! for PFL 2 with DC’s preview of the 12 man lightweight regular season field:

Get to Know the Lightweights! Will Brooks, Chris Wade, and LFA champ Robert Watley lead a strong veteran field at PFL Chicago


Love World MMA?  We do!  The Geek Guide covers every major pro fights on planet earth:

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