Raush Manfio was almost ready to give up.
After spending nearly three years trying to line up fights only to have opponent after opponent either refuse to face him or drop off the card before the bout could happen, the Brazilian born lightweight was at a crossroads in his career.
“After my last fight, my wife was pregnant with my first daughter,” Manfio explained to MMA Fighting. “Things already got really difficult with our first child. The first year I had no fight. In the very first year, I had two sponsors that gave me a salary. I had no extra money but I could pay everything I needed like the rent, the food, I have enough to live.
“After that first year, I lost the sponsors. So I needed to grab a fight immediately but because no one wanted to fight me, I worked doing all kinds of stuff you could imagine. I was really trying to commit myself to training to grab a fight but it was almost impossible.”
Stuck in an impossible situation off a loss to Sidney Outlaw in Titan FC, Manfio couldn’t catch on with any major promotions because they all wanted him to get at least another win. Then he struggled to find opponents willing to face him on the regional scene because he had earned a reputation as a veteran who would be an incredibly tough out for anybody trying to catch the attention of organizations like the UFC, Bellator or PFL.
Without any fights available to him, Manfio had to start working odd jobs just to make ends meet for his growing family.
The situation got so dire that the 30-year-old lightweight contemplated calling it a career and returning home to Brazil where he could hopefully find steady employment.
“I started cleaning offices, I cleaned churches, I did security jobs. I gave private classes,” Manfio revealed. “I did barbecues. The most work I did was cleaning cause I could clean offices late at night so I could train in the morning. This was the difficult part. Before the pandemic started, I was at the worst moment in my life. I was almost ready to quit and return to Brazil. I wondered if I’d have some job there. I was desperate.
“In that moment, I was desperate and then my wife told me she was pregnant with our second child. It’s really difficult this moment right now but I had two options. I can sit and cry or I’m really going to do something to change my life.”
Manfio decided he was going to give fighting one last try with hopes that some promotion would give him a chance to prove himself. At the time, Manfio was still working whatever job could provide him a paycheck that would also allow him the time to continue training.
He had to rely on that money along with help from his close friend, teammate and two-time PFL champion Natan Schulte to help him survive until he could get the chance to compete again.
“That was the guy that didn’t let me stay starving for a couple of months in my house because I borrowed money from him a lot of times,” Manfio revealed. “I owed him almost $15,000 because he helped me many, many times.
“I had times where I couldn’t pay the rent and he just told me ‘don’t worry, follow God and in the right time he’s going to honor you like he did to me’ cause he already won the title twice.”
Just when it looked like all hope was lost, Manfio got the call that changed his life forever.
“When [my manager] Brian Butler called me, I remember he told me ‘we have a fight’ and I said thank God, where?” Manfio said. “Because we already had nine fights cancelled, I was not ready for No. 10.
“He told me ‘no, it’s going to happen, it’s the PFL.’ I dropped to my knees and started crying.”
According to Manfio, who replaced UFC veteran Olivier Aubin-Mercier in the 2021 PFL season, he earned $10,000 to show and $10,000 to win for his first fight. It was more money than he had ever made as a professional fighter.
He earned a win over Joilton Lutterbach but that was just the start of what became an improbable run as Manfio ended up defeating ex-UFC champion Anthony Pettis, Clay Collard and eventually Lolk Radzhabov in the finals of the PFL lightweight playoffs.
Manfio became PFL champion but he also took home the $1 million grand prize that came along with the victory.
Looking back now, Manfio admits it was hard not to think about the money considering how much that would mean to his family but he had to compartmentalize his thoughts when approaching that final fight this past October.
“I tried not thinking about the money during that fight,” Manfio said. “I didn’t think about it until the exact moment when they put my arm up and now you are the champion.
“I thought about the belt. That was a huge motivation because that has no price. Because if I transfer the million dollars to you right now, you are the millionaire and I am not. A belt, I can’t transfer to you so that is the legacy.”
Of course it didn’t take long after the event ended for Manfio to realize just how much his life had changed over the course of six months as he evolved from the brink of retirement to becoming a PFL champion with a million dollars in the bank.
The money he earned from his first season with the PFL allowed Manfio to pay back Schulte for every dollar he had borrowed and he was able to catch up on bills as well as other expenses to ensure he was caring for his family.
It was most definitely life changing money, although Manfio promises it hasn’t changed him beyond no longer worrying if he’ll make rent at the end of the month.
“This makes our lives a lot easier,” Manfio said. “I think right now I can pay for my kids to go to college. Save some money for them. This changes everything for us. But I think we didn’t realize how much it would change for us because we never had money. This is new for us. We have always been very humble.
“But this money also makes the fire in my heart even bigger. Because I love this. I asked God my whole life to be able to do this. I want to make really good fights. This motivated me to train even more. I love the moment that I’m living right now but don’t misunderstand me. I don’t care about the fame. I had no fans when I started. I love this sport before receiving any attention. The reason is still the same. I want to be the best because I love this.”
Winning a second PFL championship would be the biggest prize of all because once again, Manfio isn’t getting lost in the financial gain that comes along with his victories even if he’s no longer starving for fights.
“To be motivated by money is wrong,” Manfio said. “When you’re in caught in a fist-fight, the last thing you’ll think about is money. What motivates me this year is my dream. I’ve asked for this my entire life, to be fighting the best.
“I was away for three years, hoping for an opportunity to fight two or three fights and maybe enter the UFC, and now I’m living the dream.”
MMA Fighting’s Guilherme Cruz contributed to this story.