One of the faces of the Professional Fighters League, two-time lightweight champion Natan Schulte almost withdrew from the 2021 season.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the world, PFL came up with a safety protocol that included a 17-day quarantine period for fighters before events. Speaking with MMA Fighting prior to his bout with Marcin Held, which goes down Friday night in Atlantic City, N.J., Schulte said he discussed leaving the season over the protocol.
Schulte, who recently became a father, wasn’t happy with the idea of leaving his wife and son behind and spending three weeks in Atlantic City prior to every fight.
“It wasn’t easy to stay away that long, but there was nothing we could do,” Schulte said. “As athletes, we have to follow the protocol the promotion set up.”
According to Schulte, PFL was willing to waive that 17-day period should he be vaccinated for the novel coronavirus, but the Brazilian lightweight opted against vaccinating mid-camp and “risk” experiencing any reaction.
“There was nothing we could do,” said Schulte, who was infected by the COVID-19 once. “It was either doing [the 17-day quarantine] or not fighting. I really considered the idea of not fighting, but I spoke at length with my manager and he convinced me not to [withdraw]. He told me to fight and then we would discuss the quarantine again for the next fight, maybe not staying that long.”
Schulte said his second fight this season is expected to go down at the fourth PFL card of the season on June 10, and he probably won’t get vaccinated in between bouts. The American Top Team lightweight would return home for approximately four weeks before returning to Atlantic City again, and “hopes” for a shorter quarantine next time around.
The PFL returns with a different system in 2021, with less competitors and shorter playoffs. Instead of eight athletes advancing to playoff, only four will earn points to secure spots in semifinals matches.
Schulte believes it makes things harder since “two decisions victories doesn’t necessarily guarantee a spot” and “adds pressure” over fighters to secure finishes, so he enters Friday night’s event aiming to stop Held.
“I think he’s a tough opponent, a good fighter with good leg locks and heel hooks,” Schulte said. “He has a good ground game, he’s a good black belt [in jiu-jitsu], but I’ll fight the same way I always do, putting pressure and going for the knockout — or maybe a submission. If we go to the ground, I believe I can take his back.”
Schulte mentions fellow American Top Team lightweight and close friend Raush Manfio as the toughest matchup in the PFL lightweight division, but sees former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis as fantastic opportunity for his career marketing-wise.
“Pettis is a good fighter, but he doesn’t offer the same danger of other fighters,” Schulte said. “I really want to fight him, and a win over him definitely elevates any athlete. I have good chances of winning against him.”