- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
NEW YORK — The PFL had high hopes for Anthony Pettis when it signed him to a multiyear deal in 2021. But for the second consecutive year, Pettis has failed to make it to the tournament finals.
Pettis (25-14), a former UFC champion, dropped a unanimous decision to Stevie Ray in the main event of PFL’s event Friday inside Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. All three judges scored the lightweight fight 29-28 for Ray (25-10).
The semifinal bout was a rematch of a fight that took place just six weeks ago during the 2022 regular season. Ray, of Scotland, won that fight as well, when he tapped Pettis in a rare modified twister.
All week, Pettis, 35, had promised the rematch would be different. He went into their first fight with nothing to really gain, as he had already secured a playoff berth in his opening fight of the season with a first-round finish. He credited Ray for the win, but acknowledged it had been hard to get motivated for a fight when the outcome wouldn’t change his playoff status.
Pettis looked good on the feet Friday against Ray but was badly outmatched on the floor. Pettis landed good kicks to the body but Ray walked him to the fence in the first and second rounds, took him down and hunted a variety of submissions.
Ray will advance to the finals Nov. 25 at a location to be announced. He will face Olivier Aubin-Mercier (16-5), who punched his ticket to the finals with a strong decision win over Alex Martinez. Aubin-Mercier dropped Martinez with left hands twice in the fight and controlled him on the floor.
The Friday event also saw light heavyweights Robert Wilkinson (16-2) and Omari Akhmedov (24-7-1) advance to that division’s finals. Wilkinson, of Australia, knocked out Delan Monte in the opening round of their semifinal matchup with knees. He’s been on fire in 2022, recording three consecutive finishes. Akhmedov defeated Josh Silveira by unanimous decision.
All four of the 2022 PFL finalists have fought previously in the UFC. Wilkinson made two appearances in 2017 and 2018, including one against current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Akhmedov went 9-6-1 in the Octagon from 2013 to 2021. Ray fought in the UFC from 2015 to 2019, and Aubin-Mercier was there from 2014 to 2019.
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