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PFL newcomer Raush Manfio offered to fight for free during three-year layoff

Raush Manfio (pictured) will fight Joilton Lutterbach at PFL season opener in Atlantic City.
Photo via PFL

Brazilian lightweight Raush Manfio fell on his knee and cried when he picked up the phone and was told by his manager that he would be joining the Professional Fighters League lightweight roster in 2021 after nearly three years away from the sport.

Manfio, who faces Joilton Lutterbach in the prelims of Friday night’s PFL season opener in Atlantic City, N.J., hasn’t entered a cage since he lost the Titan FC lightweight belt to Sidney Outlaw in June 2018. He has tried securing deals with Bellator, Contender Series and even PFL since, but was told “just win one or two first” on several occasions.

Manfio’s struggle trying to get fights hasn’t gotten any better since the COVID-19 pandemic started in the beginning of 2020. The American Top Team lightweight says he’s had nine bouts cancelled in little over two years, and his main sponsor, which paid him a monthly fee, eventually cut ties with him.

“I remember I offered to fight for free, man,” Manfio said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “‘Just get me a fight in any promotion, I’ll fight right around the corner just so I don’t lose this sponsor.’ What can I say, that was God’s will and I couldn’t get a fight. I even offered to fight for free at Titan. ‘I need a fight in the next 45 days.’ But I couldn’t get one [fight].”

The Brazilian fighter lost the monthly check that helped him pay his rent and make ends meet, and the pandemic hit shortly after, leaving him “almost in depression.” He considered moving back to his native country and working at his stepfather’s construction company in Sao Paulo, but changed his mind after his stepfather offered the job and advised him to “forget MMA.”

Manfio needed to do something if he really wanted to stay in Florida, though, and that’s when his teammate and friend Natan Schulte, the two-time PFL lightweight winner and godfather of Manfio’s daughter, volunteered to help.

“He’s my best friend,” Manfio said. “He has helped me with everything I asked. He had the money of the [previous PFL seasons] and helped me pay for my rent several times when I had no money, he bought something for me to eat. I’m [in the United States] because of him. He’s a friend sent by God. On the other side, I felt terrible for having to ask him that.”

The former Titan FC titleholder started teaching private classes to make extra money, and got a job as a janitor at a local hospital. Manfio was working up to 13 hours a day at the hospital and training only once a day in the gym, helping teammates Edson Barboza, Thiago Moises, Renato Moicano and Mateusz Gamrot prepare in camp for UFC fights, when he finally got a call from PFL.

“You must have a strong mind in order to be a good fighter, and you must survive and evolve as a person to achieve that,” he said. “If you’re a weak man, that will probably reflect on the fight. I had to learn how to make money over the past three years. I wasn’t diagnosed with depression, but it was starting. It was bad.”

Manfio is booked to fight Friday and knows he will have a busy second half of 2021 if all goes right for him in the lightweight season. Being allowed to have two sponsors in the cage is the reason why he’s “more happy” in PFL over a possible UFC deal, and the million-dollar check at the end of the year would forever change his life.

That said, Manfio could be forced to face his close friend Schulte to pocket that prize. Schulte’s mother Margarete called Manfio to congratulate him on the PFL deal and started crying over the possibility that they face each other inside the cage.

“I’m praying we only meet in the final,” he said. “My heart would be in pieces in any other situation but this. If we fight in the final, we’ll brawl for a good reason [laughs]. That’s a good problem to have. Imagine two Cristians there, showing how God changed our lives. From nothing to winning an entire tournament to reach the final? It’s like Goku and Vegeta.”