Fighters break down optimal strategies to secure spots in PFL playoffs


David Michaud picked a terrible time to suffer the quickest loss of his career.

Michaud, 30, has been a professional fighter since 2009, and he has an impressive overall record of 15-5. May 9, however, was not his best night. He suffered a 17-second, knockout loss to Sadibou Sy, courtesy of a vicious kick to the body.

Had that same result taken place at any other time in Michaud’s career, yeah, it would have stung. Yes, it would have taken time to move past it. But Michaud’s loss to Sy did not come under normal circumstances. It happened in the first round of the 2019 Professional Fighters League’s regular season.

And because of that, the loss could have an enormous impact on his next fight: a welterweight matchup against Handesson Ferreira at PFL 4 on Thursday in New Jersey.

“Going into this next round, I have zero points, and I am dead last in every tiebreaker,” Michaud told ESPN. “I know the position I’m in.”

The entire concept of the PFL — which is in its second full season — is built around points. Michaud is one of 12 welterweights vying for eight playoff spots, with the winner of each division earning $1 million. Points are assigned by result — three for a decision win, four for a third-round finish, five for a second-round finish and six for a first-round finish.

In the event of a tie after two “regular-season” fights, there are a number of potential tiebreakers to get into the playoffs — and without getting into too many hypothetical situations, let’s just say it’s not good for Michaud that his first loss took all of 17 seconds.

So how do PFL athletes change their strategies, depending on the situation they’re in going into the second round? ESPN highlighted two different scenarios to help get an answer. (Note: The PFL’s second round takes place on July 11, July 25 and Aug. 8, and airs on ESPN2 and ESPN+).

David Michaud, welterweight
First Round: Lost to Sadibou Sy at 0:17 of the first round
Next Fight: Handesson Ferreira on Thursday (PFL 4)
Scenario: It’s possible Michaud could make the playoffs with a three-point decision, but his chances obviously increase with a finish. Five different welterweights will start the second round with four points or more.

Michaud: “I’ve got to get a win — but that said, if I take this guy down and lay on him for 15 minutes, getting those three points probably won’t be enough to get in the playoffs. Obviously, the first round would be the best, but even if it’s the second and third rounds and I’m ahead, I have to be fishing for a finish.

“Before the fight, that’s not something I can focus on, though. I can’t allow myself to be warming up that night and have an eye on the TV, trying to figure out how guys are doing or how many points they have. Maybe if there was a situation like, ‘Hey, you have to have five points to make the playoffs,’ that’s something I’d want to know, but there are plenty of fights after mine, and it’s hard to predict how they’ll go. I can’t be trying to do math in my head before I go out and fight.

“And even if I knew I needed a certain number of points, I don’t want to go out there and fire everything I’ve got, get clipped and take a loss. If you’re in the top 10 of the regular season, you could still be an alternate, so there’s still a chance to make the playoffs. You want to take risks, but at the same time, not do something that’s going to cost you a fight.

“Nobody is expecting anything out of me after the first round. I’m an afterthought. I always have the mindset of keeping my fights as short as possible. I’m not too worried about the points. I feel like I throw more power shots than most guys, and I set a good pace. If you can survive the first round with me, I’ll break you in the second.”

Steven Siler, featherweight
First round:
Lost a decision to Gadzhi Rabadanov
Next fight: Jeremy Kennedy on July 25 (PFL 5)
Scenario: Siler enters the second round ranked No. 6 out of 12 despite losing in the opening round. He advanced all the way to the PFL finals in 2018 but lost to Lance Palmer.

Siler: “All I have to do is win. I’m still somehow No. 6, so as long as I get a win, everything should play out. Obviously, a six-point finish would be the best thing, and that could move me all the way up to No. 4 or No. 5, which would mean a better seed for the playoffs. If it’s the third round and I’m up two rounds to none, do I coast and take the three points or go for the finish? It’s tough, because I just need points.

“The playoff seeding, it matters and it doesn’t, really. It does in the fact you want the best matchup possible, but stylistically, you look at a wrestler like Andre Harrison — he usually doesn’t finish fights, so he’s going to be a lower seed. But he’s still one of the harder matchups.

“I’m kind of excited about this next matchup, because I know how good Jeremy is. The last guy, I had trouble focusing in camp. Jeremy is also coming off a loss, so you have two guys who are a little more desperate than the ones coming in with points. You don’t want to take a risk that’s going to make you lose the fight, but if there’s something that’s a little more questionable, that you might not go for in a regular fight, you’re probably more likely to go for it.”

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