Canadian welterweight Rory (The Red King) MacDonald is headed to the Professional Fighters League playoffs despite losing via decision to Sadibou (The Swedish Denzel) Sy at PFL 6.
The judges scored Friday night's bout at Overtime Elite Arena 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 for Sy (11-6-2 with one no-contest).
The taller Sy was able to fight off MacDonald's takedown attempts and use his movement to score with punches from range.
"Preparing for this guy, I swear I woke up in the middle of the night and I'm like 'Damn, I'm facing Rory,'" Sy said after the decision. "He made me better:"
MacDonald (23-9-1) has lost three of his last four outings and is 3-5-2 over his last eight.
Unlike other MMA promotions, the Professional Fighters League features a regular season, playoffs and championship. The four fighters in each division who earn the most regular-season points advance to the playoffs with the two semifinal winners meeting for the PFL title and a US$1-million payday.
Despite Friday's loss, MacDonald enters the playoffs as top seed in the 170-pound division and will face No. 4 (Prince) Magomed Umalatov of Russia, who defeated (The Jordanian Lion) Jarrah Al Silawi via first-round TKO.
Sy, who clinched the second playoff seeding, will face No. 3 Carlos Leal of Brazil. All four semifinalists finished with six points.
Friday's PFL 6 main event saw Kayla Harrison, a two-time Olympic champion judoka, stop fellow American Kaitlin (The Striking Viking) Young by TKO in the first round. Harrison (14-0-0) is after a third straight PFL lightweight title. Young (12-13-1) took the fight on two week's notice.
MacDonald, a former Bellator champion and UFC contender, made short work of American Brett (Fudoshin) Cooper in May in his opening fight of the season, winning by first-round submission. Sy opened with a decision win over Russian Nikolai Aleksakhin.
MacDonald, a B.C. native who now makes his home in Montreal, earned three points for the May win and another three for the first-round finish. Sy collected three points for each of his victories.
Hawaii's Ray Cooper III, who won the welterweight title last year, rebounded from a loss last time out to record a first-round TKO victory over Brett Cooper on Friday. But Cooper, sitting sixth in the welterweight standings with five points, misses out on the playoffs.
Russia's Magomed Magomedkerimov, the 2019 welterweight champion, also missed the playoffs at five points despite beating American Dilano (The Postman) Taylor by second-round TKO.
The PFL post-season events are set for Aug. 5 in New York, Aug. 13 in Cardiff, Wales, and Aug. 20 in London.
MacDonald joined the PFL in December 2019 but had to wait until last year to make his debut after the 2020 season was wiped out by the pandemic.
At six foot three, the 35-year-old Sy (pronounced "see") had a three-inch height and four-inch reach advantage over MacDonald, who was favoured by the bookmakers.
MacDonald tried for early takedowns, but was denied by the lanky Sy. The fight was halted briefly in the first round for an inadvertent MacDonald knee to Sy's groin. When the action resumed, the Swede kept to the outside, lashing out a jab.
The 32-year-old MacDonald suffered a gash to his right cheek in the first round, trying unsuccessfully for another takedown.
MacDonald continued looking for a takedown in the second round with the fighters clinching at the fence.
The Canadian came out with purpose in the third round, connecting with some strikes but was unable to get Sy to the ground.
Sy took MacDonald down via a leg trip with two minutes remaining. MacDonald got up quickly and the fight was paused for another MacDonald groin strike as the two clinched at the fence.
Referee Blake Grice warned MacDonald. "Don't do it again," he said.
According to PFL stats, Sy connected on 62 of 85 strikes compared to 35 of 70 for MacDonald.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022