Natan Schulte looks to return to PFL World Championship form this season after winning back to back titles in 2018 and 2019 and then missing the PFL Playoffs the past two seasons. Across from Schulte will be 2022 PFL Runner-Up Stevie Ray who looks to win the $1 million dollar prize and a PFL World Championship this season after coming up just short last year.
The opening bell rings and Schulte is all aggression from jump, peppering Ray with kicks and instantly walking him down until Ray has nothing but fence behind him. They exchange low kicks before Ray shoots a single that Schulte easily slips out of.
Ray changes levels once again but Schulte is staying on him, marching forward behind his hooks as Ray lands a nice knee to the body in the clinch. They reset but Schulte is fighting like a man possessed, just missing with a big front kick as Ray returns fire with a body roundhouse before eating a right hook from Schulte.
Schulte is throwing a lot of low kicks early and keeping Ray on his back foot. Ray lands another nice kick to the body and Schulte winds up landing a takedown and finishing in the closed guard of Ray who is a dangerous submission threat off his back.
Schulte passes off to half guard and begins to look to set up his signature arm triangle submission but Ray is defending well so far as Schulte has opened up a cut just above the right eye of Ray and continues to throw punches and do damage from top position.
Schulte is landing some very nice ground and pound here as Ray clings to the half guard position with about 40 seconds remaining. Ray looks to attack a triangle from the rubber guard but the round will end with Schulte postured up and raining down punches.
The action continues and again Schulte is pressuring from the jump, taking Ray down quickly and taking the back before Ray knows what hit him. Schulte rolls through to take the back in open space with over four minutes to work and this is trouble for Ray as Schulte is landing some big punches from behind.
Ray does a good job defensively of rolling through to half guard and negating some of the danger from back attacks but Schulte loves the arm triangle from this half guard position. Ray gives his back once more but uses the threat of a knee bar to get back to full guard.
Schulte is staying heavy on top and continuing to do damage here as Ray seems outgunned here and is struggling to get back to his feet or improve position as Schulte looks to pass to mount but cannot free his leg.
Schulte attacks that arm triangle but Ray is able to escape and then regain full guard from the mount, averting a very dangerous moment with 90 seconds remaining in the round. Schulte passes to half guard with relative ease but Ray gets the butterfly hooks in before getting back to full guard. Ray isn’t doing a bad job with his defensive grappling but he may very well be staring down the barrel of a 10-8 round here after getting off next to no offense.
Ray isn’t showing tremendous urgency to get back to his feet as the round winds down and Schulte is absolutely content to continue peppering in ground and pound and riding out the round in dominant position.
Our final round is underway and Ray will most definitely need a finish here. Schulte isn’t coming out with the same pace as he was in the first two rounds but he doesn’t necessarily need to with two rounds already in the bank.
Schulte quickly slips under a Ray punch and hits an outside trip to land in full guard and Ray needs to go for broke with submission attempts here as he’s clearly been outgunned on the feet. Schulte passes off to half guard once again and begins looking for the arm triangle. To Ray’s credit he’s still staying very active off his back, rolling for a leg lock and not allowing Schulte to get too dominant of a position.
Ray throws a backhand off his back and the frustration seems to be setting in as Schulte just has him glued to the mat at this point and continues to land ground and pound as he sees fit. This is easily the best we’ve seen Schulte look since his World Championship runs as Ray again attacks a leg lock that Schulte defends expertly.
With one minute remaining Ray needs to make something happen as Schulte is just burying him with top pressure and ground and pound. Ray attempts an elevator sweep but Schulte defends perfectly and they wind up back in full guard as time melts away here. The 10 second clapper hits and Schulte finishes with a massive right hand to punctuate a dominant performance.
In a return to form for two time PFL World Champion Natan Schulte, he earns three points for a definitive decision victory over 2022 Runner-Up Stevie Ray.
Natan Schulte def. Stevie by Unanimous Decision (30-27 3x)