MMA

Dakota Ditcheva not concerning self with critics of PFL season matchmaking

The season format utilized by PFL has its fans and detractors — doesn’t everything? — but a key gripe has crept toward the forefront of the conversation of late.

It goes something along the lines of: Wouldn’t it be nice if there was more transparency with the matchmaking process?

Dakota Ditcheva poses after winning her first fight of the 2024 PFL season on April 4.
Dakota Ditcheva poses after winning her first fight of the 2024 PFL season on April 4. PFL

The fighters don’t seem to have much input in the process — dear friends Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio certainly didn’t prefer to fight last season, and it showed in their action-less bout — but little is known about how the 10 competitors at each of the six divisions annually are matched up ahead of each leg of the two-fight regular season.

So don’t ask Dakota Ditcheva, tied for the lead in the season standings and owning the tiebreaker, why she was the lone woman who’d just been victorious in the flyweight division to be matched up with a fighter coming off a loss, while all other winners are tasked with facing winners while all others coming off a loss will face one another when the season resumes Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

“I don’t even comment on things like that. Like, the tournament’s the tournament,” Ditcheva told The Post during a recent video call ahead of her bout against Chelsea Hackett. “I think what people have to remember as well is this is a business. PFL are going to be able to have exciting matchups. They’ve got to be able to make money, things like that. 

“The tournament is gonna work how it’s gonna work. You enter it, and at the beginning, you’re going to get put with whoever they tell you. So for me, I don’t really care. There’s another two rounds coming. It’s not like this is going to be my fight and I’ve won it all. I’ve got another two tough fights. So for me, I’ll just get through Chelsea and go to the next one. I’m not really bothered who I get put against.”

True enough, Ditcheva (11-0, 10 finishes) will surely have her hands full with whomever she is to face in the semifinals this summer — and as the standings leader with the maximum six points plus the fastest-finish tiebreaker, she is a near lock to advance provided she makes weight on Wednesday.

While past seasons in the women’s weight classes have lacked depth — Kayla Harrison and Larissa Pacheco have won all four of the previous campaigns at lightweight and featherweight — the group of 125-pounders in the 2024 field is intriguing.

There’s Ditcheva, who won the PFL Europe competition a year ago, former Bellator champions Liz Carmouche and Juliana Velasquez, UFC title challenger Taila Santos, and ex-Bellator standouts Jena Bishop and Kana Watanabe.

Other than Ditcheva, the only two women in the field without UFC or Bellator experience are Hackett and Lisa Mauldin, the woman Ditcheva TKO’d in 3:54 on April 4.

Ditcheva, 25, credited the depth of field to PFL’s acquisition of Bellator, its rival for the No. 2 position in North American MMA, with creating a real proving ground for flyweight women in the company.

Dakota Ditcheva looks to strike against Lisa Mauldin.
Dakota Ditcheva looks to strike against Lisa Mauldin. PFL

“The merge with Bellator’s perfect,” said Ditcheva, the Englishwoman who now lives in Florida and trains at American Top Team. “It’s brought in a lot of different competition. And we saw in that first round how well a lot of the fighters did, so I’m looking forward to it. There’s a lot of good names.”

And, to Ditcheva’s point, she’s almost certain to face one or two of the aforementioned women in her quest to win the season title and earn $1 million along the way.

For the sake of hype-building, PFL has to be hoping the stars align for Ditcheva to draw Santos at some point during the playoffs.

The two have verbally sniped each other since the season began.

Ditcheva took a dig at Santos’ 2023 loss to Erin Blanchfield — who had recently taken her first ‘L’ in the UFC with a decision defeat at the hands of Manon Fiorot in an unofficial top-contenders matchup — in the final fight of her UFC contract.

Santos, unappreciative of the perceived soft matchmaking against 24-year-old Hackett — 4-2-1 as a pro after losing to Jena Bishop by first-round armbar to begin the season — jabbed Ditcheva about the matchup.

“If it was me getting that push, that extra little bit of help, I would be a little bit ashamed because everybody else is grinding their way to the top, and she’s almost getting a bye,” Santos, who faces Bishop Thursday after a first-round submission of Ilara Joanne in April, told Cageside Press.

Ditcheva, in her response to The Post, posed a hypothetical to Santos — whom Ditcheva cited as the woman she envisions standing opposite her in the championship fight based on respect for her skills.

“If she had got matched up, would she have said, ‘I’m not fighting,’ or would she have done it? What does she want me to do? Pull out? Kick up a fuss?” Ditcheva posed rhetorically. “This isn’t my decision. There’s nothing I could do about it. So, I get where people are coming from, maybe I think the same, but what am I going to do about it? They don’t me that’s who I’m fighting, so that’s who I’m going to get in and fight.”

All the while, Ditcheva maintains she isn’t sleeping on Australia’s Hackett — a fellow former youth muay thai competitor of whom she had not been familiar — and fully intends to fight with a mind on finishing.

Six points tends to be enough to get into the playoffs, with rare exceptions, and any victory would lock up a playoff spot, so a finish isn’t necessary.

Ditcheva has no intention of letting off the gas and playing it safe to ensure a victory, but she also isn’t planning on ignoring her coaches’ wishes in a hypothetical in which she’s clearly winning entering the final round Thursday.

“I mean, yeah, I will try and listen to them. That will be something that’s on my mind,” Ditcheva concedes with a smile. “But when I’m in there, I’m a total different person so 100 percent still be going for the kill, whether it’s the first round or the last.”