Former UFC Champion Anthony (Showtime) Pettis (25-13-0) meets Scotsman Stevie (Braveheart) Ray in the other lightweight semifinal at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden.
“When I tell the story to my grandkids, I won’t be talking about the Hulu theater. I’m just saying Madison Square Garden,” joked Aubin-Mercier.
The Hulu Theater seats between 2,000 and 5,600, in contrast to the 20,000-seat Garden, which has hosted a who’s who of martial arts over the years, including boxers Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson, and more recently MMA stars like Canadian Georges St-Pierre, (The Notorious) Conor McGregor and Daniel (DC) Cormier, among others.
Unlike other MMA promotions, the Professional Fighters League features a regular season, playoffs, and championships. The four fighters in each division who accumulate the most regular season points advance to the playoffs, with the two semifinal winners battling for the title and a $1 million payday.
While the PFL schedule offers certainty about fight dates, it makes for a tight schedule.
Aubin-Mercier (15-5-0) won both regular season bouts this year, winning a unanimous decision over Brazilian Natan (Russo) Schulte at PFL 1 on April 20 and a split decision against the on June 20 at PFL 4 Brazilian Raush Manfio 17. Manfio was the champion of 2021.
Martinez advanced to the playoffs with a unanimous decision over Ray in PFL 1 and a split decision over (Cassius) Clay Collard in PFL 4.
“I like Alex. I consider him a friend,” Aubin-Mercier said. “We used to train together. “
But this knowledge from three years ago at the Tristar Gym in Montreal may not help him.
“I have to be careful not to underestimate him. I think he’s really evolved over the last few years,” said Aubin-Mercier.
“I’m not so happy that I’m fighting the guy because I like him,” he added. “But it is what it is.”
Aubin-Mercier remembers his first fight in the UFC all too well, when he faced another acquaintance in Chad (The Disciple) Laprise in April 2014 in The Ultimate Fighter Nations finals.
He underestimated Laprise after “outperforming” him in training and lost a split decision.
“I can’t do the same. Last time, Chad Laprise kicked my butt in front of thousands of people,” Aubin-Mercier said, laughing. “I really paid for it. I have to be careful this time.”
Aubin-Mercier won seven of his next eight UFC fights before losing three in a row, all by decision against Arman Tsarukyan, Gilbert Burns and Alexander (The Great Ape) Hernandez. He signed with the PFL in March 2020.
Since leaving the UFC, he’s changed his training camp, reducing his sparring and focusing more on technique.
“It really worked,” said Aubin-Mercier, who trains at both H2O MMA and Tristar in Montreal. “I think physically and technically I’m a lot better than I was in the UFC. I think I’m smarter, more technical. I’m really happy with what has happened in the last two or three years.”
Aubin-Mercier, who likes to spend time in the kitchen when not fighting, has won all four of his fights since leaving the UFC.
Canadian welterweight Rory (Red King) MacDonald is also in the PFL playoffs. He meets Russia’s (Prince) Magomed Umalatov in the 170lb semi-final on August 13 in Cardiff, Wales.
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 4, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press