FOR ten Professional Fighters League lightweights only four fights separate them from taking home the $1million cash prize.
The PFL is MMA’s only league format, spanning over a regular season and play-offs.
Fighters in eight different weight classes enter the two-fight regular season where they compete to advance to the play-offs.
That consists of a two-round quarter-final and three-round semi-final in one night, where the winner advances to the championship finale.
Up for grabs is the life-changing $1m cheque and championship belt to go with it.
The lightweights are in action tomorrow night in Dallas, Texas, and here SunSport runs you down who is in it to win it.
The Brazilian, 30, is the reigning and defending champion having gone 4-0 last year to take home the gold and cash prize.
He has a record of 15-3 and beat the likes of ex-UFC champion Anthony Pettis and professional boxer Clay Collard last season.
Manfio almost retired before last season to focus on coaching and his office cleaning job.
Thankfully, he gave it another go and came off $1m richer. Manfio defends his crown against Don Madge.
South African Madge, 31, is 10-3 and made his PFL debut last year beating Nathan Williams.
He has also featured in the UFC, winning both his bouts with one on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s undercard.
Visa issues and opponent cancelations saw Madge depart from the UFC to sign for PFL – where he will fight champ Manfio in his first full season.
He said: “I wanted to get the champion out of the way first and test myself against the guys who have already been through it and already accomplished what I’m trying to accomplish.”
Stephens, 35, comes into the season as one of the most experienced talents on the roster, with a record of 28–19-1.
In his UFC career, he fought the likes of Max Holloway, Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar.
But perhaps he is most remembered after Conor McGregor said “who the f*** is that guy” during a press conference with Stephens.
The American veteran marks his PFL debut against pro boxer Collard.
Collard was another veteran in MMA but shot to fame during the coronavirus pandemic when Bob Arum’s Top Rank stable hosted behind-closed-door fights.
He went 3-1 during that period but only began boxing in 2017 to help pay for his car repair.
Collard, 29, who had four UFC fights, signed for PFL in 2020 and stunned Pettis in the opening round last year.
He was knocked out by eventual winner Manfio and returns to the league by facing fellow power-puncher Stephens.
The Brazilian, 30, is a two-time PFL champion after consecutive wins in 2018 and 2019.
Schulte was paid just $400 in his 2011 debut – but now has $2m in prize cheques to his name.
The former champ lost last season to Marcin Held, losing his crown.
But he hopes to bounce back in his return fight against Canada’s Olivier Aubin-Mercier.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Aubin-Mercier, 33, goes by the nickname “The Canadian Gangster”.
He made his name in the UFC but after three straight losses, the lightweight looked elsewhere.
Aubin-Mercier signed for PFL and won both his opening fights for the promotion.
But this year he enters the regular season but will have to overcome two-time champ Schulte in the opener.
The former UFC lightweight champion, 35, signed an exclusive deal with PFL last year but was stunned by Collard in the opening stage.
A second loss to Manfio meant Pettis’ exit from the season was confirmed.
But he is back for more and returns on May 6, two weeks after the lightweight league begins.
Pettis will fight Irishman Myles Price as he attempts to bounce back from last year’s upset.
Price, 33, made his name fighting in BAMMA and Bellator in Europe, even beating Conor McGregor’s training partner Peter Queally in 2019.
But he is ready to crack America by fighting ex-UFC star Pettis, who claimed is the perfect opponent.
Price told SunSport: “I definitely feel it’s not the ideal style for Pettis if he wants to go out there and look good -which is something you can’t let happen, really.”
He added: “I’m going to go in there and give the best version of myself, and that’s what’s important”
Ray, 32, flew the flag the Scotland over many years in the UFC, most recently beating Michael Johnson in 2019.
He then announced his retirement but after nearly three years out, Ray is back and ready to hit the big time.
The Brit signed a multi-fight deal with PFL and will debut in the 2022 season with his first bout against Alex Martinez on the weekend.
Ray overcame a knee injury during the coronavirus pandemic by becoming a yoga teacher.
The Paraguayan, 27, was twice beaten in PFL last year after going 7-0 in his career.
Martinez has fought in South Africa, Abu Dhabi and Canada before signing with PFL in America.
He is perhaps the most inexperienced in the season with only ten fights.
But Martinez fights the returning Ray, who is coming out of retirement after almost three years out.