PFL books best friends, suspends them when they don’t murder each other

PFL pulled off some primo promotional malpractice this weekend.

By: Tim Bissell | 3 months ago


PFL finally did something to earn a headline out of their largely forgettable events thus far this season. Though, despite the incident in question being the most interesting thing involving PFL since they signed Francis Ngannou, what went down this Friday was nothing to be proud of.

At PFL 6 Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio were matched up in the quarterfinals of the 2023 lightweight tournament (which nets the winner a $1 million prize).

This matchmaking had people scratching their heads from the jump.

Here’s veteran MMA broadcaster Aaron Bronsteter of TSN asking an important question.

“Why would the PFL match up Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio?” asked Bronsteter, citing that they both had 1-0 records and one of the other quarterfinals was Shane Burgos vs. Yamato Nishikawa, who were both coming in on 0-1 records.

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What made the match-up even more bizarre is the fact that Schulte and Manfio are very close friends. Schulte is even the godfather of Manfio’s daughter.

Cageside Press writer Jay Anderson then revealed that Manfio had told him that he was hoping for the match-up to fall apart so he didn’t have to fight his friend (though, apparently he would have been OK with doing so in the playoffs or the final).

Here’s what Manfio said about Schulte to MMA Fighting in a 2021 interview.

“He’s my best friend. He has helped me with everything I asked. He had the money of the [previous PFL seasons] and helped me pay for my rent several times when I had no money, he bought something for me to eat. I’m [in the United States] because of him. He’s a friend sent by God. On the other side, I felt terrible for having to ask him that.”

So the event went ahead with a fight that no one wanted to be in (and no one wanted to see based on our traffic).

Here are the PFL 6 highlights in case you really want to see them.

The resulting fight was a dud, as you’d expect (and hope for) when two people with genuine affection for each other are put in this situation.

Clearly neither man wanted to harm the other (a conceit of which MMA is build upon). Schulte won the elevated sparring session by unanimous decision, which should have advanced him into the semifinals.

PFL had a change of plan, though.

PFL punished the fighters for their mistake

After a bad fight, which they made happen, PFL decided to suspend Schulte and Manfio stating that their fight “did not meet the standards which all PFL fighters agree to uphold in competition.”

The rest of the statement claimed it was “very clear” that Schulte and Raush did not meet the standards of their contracts and, as a result, both have been booted from the tournament and have lost any chance to compete for a $1 million prize.

Schulte’s place in the semifinals was gifted to splashy free agent signing Shane Burgos.

Good job PFL. You booked a stinker and got exactly what you deserved. Now, instead of chalking that up as a lesson and letting both Schulte and Manfio move on with their careers, you decided to punish them for not putting their friendship on hold and trying to kill each other.

To borrow a phrase from Luke Thomas, this is textbook ‘Promotional Malpractice’. And, yes, you can question why two close friends are entering a tournament for a million dollar prize that only one person can win.

But my answer to that is… look around. Life changing money in MMA is rare to find so fighters need to jump on every opportunity they can to compete for such a payday.

Also why didn’t PFL provide a pathway for Manfio and Schulte to possibly meet in the finals (which sounded like situation which would have elicited Manfio’s best efforts). Imagine the storyline that would have been in play for them then?

But, no, instead we get a thoroughly unsatisfying incident that puts a stain on the remainder of the PFL lightweight tournament.

Hopefully the lesson can be learned anyway. Simply put, friends should not fight (despite what Dana White’s deepest desires).

Luke Thomas closes the story with this:

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About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE's lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

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