ATLANTIC CITY — Professional Fighters League featherweight contender Andre Harrison went from being nearly knocked out to qualifying for the playoffs Thursday at Ocean Casino Resort.
Harrison (21-1-1), from Long Island, New York, rebounded from some early punishment from Russia’s Movlid Khaybulaev (14-0-1) to earn a three-round majority draw in PFL 5.
“(A draw) is not what I wanted, but I had an opponent who was tough as nails,” Harrison said after the mixed martial arts bout. “He got me in the first round, and I got him in the second. It was two competitors battling. I’d love to run it back in the playoffs.”
Khaybulaev made a spectacular debut in the PFL two months ago, knocking out Damon Jackson with a flying knee just 10 seconds into their bout. It was the fastest stoppage in PFL’s two-year history.
He landed the same move against Harrison late in the first round Thursday. Harrison dropped to the canvas. Khaybulaev landed a couple of punches before the bell sounded and jumped onto the top of the cage, thinking the bout was over.
Referee Keith Peterson, however, had not stopped the bout before the bell and ordered the fight to continue.
“I had spoken to both fighters in the dressing room before the fight, and I told them to keep moving and to protect themselves at all times,” Peterson said. “That’s what (Harrison) did. He followed my instructions to a ‘T.’”
Harrison rebounded in the second round with some punches that seemed to slow Khaybulaev and pushed the pace in the third round to earn the draw.
Both fighters earned one of the eight spots in the playoffs, which are scheduled for Las Vegas in October. Winners in each weight class in the finals on New Year’s Eve in New York will each receive $1 million.
Alex Gilpin (13-2), of Madison, Wisconsin; Canada’s Jeremy Kennedy (14-2); Brazil’s Luis Rafael Laurentino (34-2); defending PFL featherweight champion Lance Palmer (19-3), of Columbus, Ohio; Houston’s Daniel Pineda (25-13); and Russia’s Gadzhi Rabadanov (11-3-1) also qualified for the playoffs.
Palmer emerged as the favorite to win the $1 million for the second straight year with an impressive performance in a third-round TKO over Laurentino.
“I always say, ‘Welcome to the party!’” Palmer said. “I’m excited for the win and ready for Vegas.”
Steven Siler (32-20-1) of Provo, Utah, who lost to Palmer in last season’s final, was eliminated Thursday with a loss to Kennedy.
Defending champion Natan Schulte (17-3-1) of Brazil led the list of eight lightweight qualifiers.
Schulte, who won $1 million last season, stayed in contention to earn another million with a three-round unanimous decision over Canada’s Jesse Ronson (20-10). Schulte is 6-0-1 in two years with the PFL and has just one loss in the last seven years.
“Regardless of how tough a fight may be, you just have to be resilient and strategic about it,” Schulte said through an interpreter. “In the end, all the effort and hard work shows through.”
Schulte earned the top seed for the playoffs, followed by Russia’s Islam Mamedov (18-2). Mamedove locked up the second seed Thursday with a first-round TKO over China’s Bao Yincang (12-8).
Russia’s Akhmed Aliev (18-5) and Rashid Magomedov (23-3-1); Nate Andrews (15-2), of Providence, Rhode Island; Salt Lake City’s Ramsey Nijem (10-7); Tajikstan’s Loik Radzhabov (12-1); and Long Island’s Chris Wade (16-5) also qualified.
The PFL regular season ends at Ocean on Aug. 8 with the heavyweight and light-heavyweight divisions.