It’s a high-intensity battle of former lightweight champions, as good friends and American Top Team training partners Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio will scrap with both looking for a big performance in order to make this year’s PFL playoffs.
Schulte enters this fight with four wins in his last five bouts, but he missed the 2021 and 2022 playoffs thanks to crucial losses during the regular season. Schulte, who won the lightweight championship in 2018 and 2019, enters tonight with a 13-2-1 record in the PFL. Despite missing the postseason, Schulte competed in the World Championships card in November, where he scored a submission of Jeremy Stephens. Schulte opened his 2023 season in April with a decision win over Stevie Ray.
Schulte was responsible for Manfio’s biggest career success, going from a PFL alternate in 2021 who hadn’t fought in about three years, to going 4-0 in the year and becoming the lightweight champion. Manfio, a former Titan FC lightweight champion, knocked out Don Madge in last year’s season but missed the playoffs after a loss to eventual lightweight champ Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Schulte’s 2023 season started successfully in April as well with a win over Alexander Martinez.
Any stoppage victory for either man earns them a playoff spot.
The two slowly move in the center of the SmartCage. A kick to the body by Manfio. Schulte with some light leg kicks. A one-two from Manfio, who starts to work his left jab. Another one-two from Manfio. Manfio goes for a body kick, but Schulte counters it and tries to get a takedown, but Manfio is able to stay standing. Low kick by Schulte as we’re back to a slower pace. Schlute gets in and scores the takedown.
Manfio tries to cage walk, but multiple times Schulte is able to keep Manfio’s legs down while pressuring Manfio’s back. Schulte gets a hook in as he lands a couple of punches from top, though they’re not that effective. The referee calls for action. Manfio manages to get to his feet and it now becomes a clinch battle against the cage. Schulte scores the trip and gets back in top control, inside Manfio’s guard.
Manfio works the jab again and fires off a quick combination. Schulte with a light inside kick. Body kick by Manfio. Right hand by Manfio. A light combination by Manfio. A left hand by Manfio, but Schulte rushes in and looks for another takedown. Schulte takes Manfio’s back while standing and gets Manfio down to a knee. He’s eventually able to get both legs down with two minutes left in the round.
The referee called for action as neither man seems to be doing much of anything. Manfio gets back to his feet, but Schulte is able to trip him back down. The referee calls for separation and brings the fight back standing with just over a minute left in the round. Manfio fires off a light combination before the two lightly trade. Schulte looks for another takedown in the closing seconds, but he’s not able to get it.
A couple of light combinations by Manfio to start the round. Manfio fires a head kick, but it’s blocked. Manfio trying to land inside with his punches. Schulte pins Manfio up against the fence again, and he’s able to bring Manfio down once more and gets to the back. Manfio gets back to his feet, but Schulte gets him back down and gets a hook in with a backpack grip.
Manfio is able to get off the ground and get out of Schulte’s hook, as the referee once again asks the men for action. Schulte again looks for a way to get to the choke, but Manfio scrambles back to his feet. They separate with about 40 seconds left. Right hand by Manfio. Each lands a kick to the body. Manfio with a one-two, though Schulte is the one coming forward. Manfio lands a little more before the bell.
Schulte clinches a playoff spot as a result of his win here.
Natan Schulte defeats Raush Manfio by unanimous decision (30-27x2, 29-28) earning 3 points and clinching a playoff spot in the PFL Lightweight Division