The main beneficiary of the PFL’s recent controversial decision to suspend Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio has given his opinion on the situation, and admitted that he has sympathy for Schulte, whose playoff spot Burgos has just inherited.
Schulte and Manfio faced off at PFL 6 as the lightweight regular season came to a close in Atlanta last week. The pair are longtime close friends, and their bond was evident in an awkward encounter that saw both men fight within themselves during a below-par three-rounder at Overtime Elite Arena.
Schulte picked up the unanimous decision victory, with the points from that win securing the former two-time PFL lightweight champion a spot in the playoffs. But, despite the Georgia commission having no issue with the bout, PFL’s higher-ups did, and they took the unprecedented decision to suspend both men, and declare that neither man would earn any season points from the fight.
It meant that Schulte’s spot in the semis was abruptly rescinded, with the next man in the standings, former UFC featherweight contender Shane Burgos, bumped up to the playoffs as the fourth seed.
The PFL’s decision has come in for widespread criticism for undermining their meritocratic competition model and, speaking to Fight Bananas, Burgos admitted that the situation was an unfortunate one for everyone involved.
“I sympathize with those guys – I’m not a heartless motherf****r,” he said.
“I get it, man. Like, they’re best friends, godfather of the other one’s daughter, I think it is. That’s a difficult position to be in. So I do feel for them in that position. But watching it backstage, you could tell. They didn’t want to hurt each other and, like I said, I sympathize because I’ve never been in a position to fight a teammate, let alone a best friend. So I do feel for them.”
Burgos explained that the unexpected suspension of Schulte and Manfio, and his subsequent promotion to the playoffs, came completely out of the blue, with news not reaching him until is flight home landed back in New Jersey.
“No, not at all. Everyone thinks that I did (know), for some reason, but I didn’t get word of that,” he said.
“I didn’t get word of the whole thing happening until I landed back in Newark. So I landed back in Jersey and my phone’s blowing up with a bunch of stuff and it took a minute. My PT was on the flight with me … he throws me his phone from a couple hours back, and I’m like, ‘What the f**k?’
“On my phone, the texts are going up, they’re like, ‘Holy s**t! What is going on right now?’ And then I spoke to my manager and yeah, I found out that way, literally on the plane.”
As a top-level fighter, Burgos is confident that he belongs at the highest level of the PFL’s 155-pound division. But he also said that, based on the competition’s qualification rules, he didn’t deserve to get a playoff spot ahead of Schulte.
“If you ask me, do I deserve to be in this position? Yes, I do think I deserve to be in this position,” he explained.
“But do I think I deserve to be in this mission more so than Natan? No, I don’t.
“The dude, no matter what, he has two wins going into the playoffs. So I think he does deserve it more so than I (do).
“At the end of the day, it says win on his record over Manfio, and it says win on his record over Stevie Ray, so he has two, and I am one and one, so yeah, he deserves it more than I do.
“I still think I deserve it overall, but not more than him, I don’t. If you’ve got to pick four guys, the four guys that have two wins each, those guys deserve it ahead of me. I’m the fifth guy, the next guy in line after that.”
The whole situation has created a rare negative story about the PFL, which has been growing in stature and earning positive reviews over the past couple of years. For Burgos, it was a situation that could have been avoided ahead of time.
“Hindsight is always 20-20, right? Maybe don’t match them up unless it’s in a playoff position or unless it’s for the million dollars,” he said.
“I think maybe it would have panned out a little bit differently because they could have matched them up later, if need be.
“I understand the frustration for everybody, from the outsiders, and from Schulte and Manfio. I completely understand. It’s a s**t position. But then I also understand the frustration from the PFL when they’re trying to put on these fights and then you guys don’t want to fight each other, understandably. I completely get it.
“Maybe don’t put them in that position to begin with, because it was a s**t position to be in. You’ve got a guy, his daughter’s looking at you fight his godfather. That’s weird, man. That’s really weird.”
But, with the decision seemingly now made, and with there being no sign of the PFL changing their stance, Burgos now finds himself in the semi-finals, and just one win away from the million-dollar final.
He’ll take on the number one lightweight seed, Clay Collard, in what on paper looks like a spectacular stand-up bout. Burgos said that now he has to shake off the negativity surrounding his unusual promotion to the playoffs, and focus on the job at hand.
“One hand, I’m excited. I’m happy about it and on the other hand it’s like, ‘Damn. I gotta deal with everybody saying you don’t deserve it,’ which, like I said, I get it, guys. But I didn’t go backstage and be like, ‘Put me in instead, and take them out.’ I would never do that. It is what it is. I just have to go out there and make the most out of it. And Clay had a great fight with Stevie Ray the other day so, yeah, it’s gonna be a banger.”