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PFL champ Raush Manfio eyes Anthony Pettis, Jeremy Stephens for ‘PPV superfight division’ match

Raush Manfio (right) defeated Anthony Pettis via decision in 2021.
Cooper Neill, PFL

Raush Manfio’s main goal for 2022 is to capture another championship belt in the Professional Fighters League — his second in a row — and a million-dollar check. That doesn’t mean he’s not aiming for “superfights,” too.

Manfio is booked to face Olivier Aubin-Mercier in the main card portion of Friday’s PFL 4 in Atlanta, a win that all but secures a spot in the lightweight playoffs after his successful start in the season with a third-round finish over Don Madge in April.

One of the names to watch in 2022, Manfio said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca he wants to get paired up against big-name fighters in the newly-created “PPV superfight division,” cards that will air on pay-per-view with a promised 50-50 split in pay for fighters.

“I’d really like a rematch with Anthony Pettis, especially on this new pay-per-view format,” said Manfio, who won a split decision over “Showtime” in his second PFL appearance back in June 2021. “His name sells more, and the first fight gave me a nice feedback [from fans]. And Jeremy Stephens also has a [big] name. Even though he’s coming off losses, he has a name and it would be a great fight.”

Stephens made his PFL debut this past April, after a long run under the UFC banner, and lost a decision to Clay Collard. “Lil’ Heathen” has now gone winless in his past seven bouts, and hopes to snap the skid when he faces Myles Price on Friday.

“I’d knock him out before the second round is over because he comes in way too open,” Manfio said. “It’s never nice to beat someone who’s on a long losing skid because the media will say it doesn’t add too much, but he has a name from fighting in the UFC and has done good fights, and I think it’s someone I can KO. I’ve asked to fight him next, actually, but they booked me against Olivier Aubin-Mercier. I don’t know what their criteria was, but these two names would be excellent fights.”

Asking for Stephens and getting Aubin-Mercier forced Manfio to change his game plan completely, really. “The Canadian Gangster” is 3-0 so far under the PFL banner with decisions over Marcin Held, Darrell Horcher and two-time PFL champion Natan Schulte, and Manfio sees him as the worst match-up for him in the company roster.

“I like the opponent,” Manfio said. “Honestly, I think he’s the guy that can give me most problems in the tournament. But, even though I think he’s that guy, I’m ready for the challenge. Getting past him now, the other guys are mostly strikers and that’s where I fight my best. I think it’s going to be a great victory, and I’m going for the knockout again.”

Manfio admits it’s not as “fun” to face Aubin-Mercier in a cage given his fighting style, but stopping his attempt in the grappling and wrestling area might break him mentally.

“That’s my plan, to frustrate him,” Manfio said. “He’ll get desperate. ‘Man, I spent all this energy to take him down and he’s already back up?’ We’ll use that in our advantage. Watch my last fight, the punch that ended it. When I speed things up, man, I end it. He gives away more openings than Don Madge, and I’ll have more opportunities to end the fight.

“I think I’ll stop him. But, being honest here, I have four points and I’m ahead of everybody else except for Anthony Pettis. If I win the first and second rounds, I won’t rush things up in the third. I’d rather win by points and guarantee a spot in the playoffs [than take risks]. A win on points guarantees me that.”