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Chris Wade exceeding his own expectations in PFL

Chris Wade after beating Bubba Jenkins in a

Chris Wade after beating Bubba Jenkins in a featherweight fight during the PFL playoffs at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021 in Hollywood, Fla. Credit: Cooper Neill/Cooper Neill

With confidence and purpose, Chris Wade wore the black and gold PFL shirt at last month’s news conference.

Those are the championship colors of the Professional Fighters League, the ones reserved for the men and women who advanced through the regular season and playoffs to claim the PFL championship belt and the oversized $1 million check.

But this was an event to promote the six championship fights, still a month away at that point, so why was the Islip-raised Wade the lone potential millionaire-to-be rocking the black and gold?

"I’m really living that championship mindset," Wade, 34, told Newsday. "I'm really trying to talk the talk, walk the walk. I want to reinforce in my subconscious that I'm a champion, that I'm the best in the division."

Wade gets a chance to prove that on Wednesday night when he faces undefeated Russian fighter Movlid Khaybulaev (18-0-1, 1 no contest) in the featherweight championship in Hollywood, Florida.

The clothing choice highlighted Wade’s new mindset toward fighting in his third season with the PFL after three years in the UFC and three previous years working his way up the regional MMA circuit.

He’s more focused. More determined. More goal-oriented.

"For a long time I was seeking mediocrity in this sport, I think, intentionally," Wade said. "Every goal I ever set for myself, I reached. I like would tell you that, 'Yeah, I want to be the UFC champion,' but in secret I would come back from a fight thinking about just how nice it was if I could just be top 15 and then I just keep getting paid, keep getting these checks, that I'll be fine. I didn't seek that extra level. I was just seeking comfort, I guess."

No more. Being sidelined for all of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic -- PFL canceled its whole season, gyms in New York were shut down for several months -- forced Wade to look internally. Did he still want this for a career? Was it time to put MMA to bed and start a new, longer-lasting and physically less demanding career? Wade (20-6) decided to give it another run.

"PFL helped me reset myself," he said. "There’s no hiding in the politics of anything because the season just pushes forward. And you have to get to that end result. I like that. It put some onus on me. Do I want to be the best? Do I want to be a champion? This whole thing reinvigorated me. I was on the ropes, giving this sport up. This whole COVID thing annihilated everybody. I spent a year not making a dollar."

Wade barely made the PFL roster this season. He competed at lightweight in the PFL’s 2018 and 2019 seasons, reaching the semifinals both times, but that didn’t appear to be an option after the PFL signed former UFC champion Anthony Pettis.

Featherweight became an option, but it certainly wasn’t just handed to him. Wade was the last of the 10 featherweight fighters to be announced for this season, and it wasn't done alphabetically.

"I've always known that Chris has all the ability to be champion," PFL president of fighter relations Ray Sefo said. "He made the playoffs in the first season. I didn't see that full potential in the second season. And, you know, after the second season, we weren't really sure whether we're going to bring him back."

Sefo said he came away from conversations with Wade in the offseason believing in Wade's verbal promise to fulfill his fighting promise.

"The tone that I heard was, it was about him being champion," Sefo said. "It was about him showing that he can prove everybody wrong."

Wade has held up his end of the bargain thus far. In the regular season, he beat Anthony Dizy by unanimous decision then recorded his first career knockout against Arman Ospanov. Wade earned enough points (7) to advance to the PFL semifinals. There, Wade dominated Bubba Jenkins, outwrestling the former NCAA champion wrestler.

"That's the kind of skills, the kind of will that I see in Chris and hence the reason why I really fought for him to be in the season this year," Sefo said. "He showed everybody that he can get to the championship."

Chris Wade's road to the 2021 PFL Championship

Regular Season

April 23: Beat Anthony Dizy via unanimous decision

June 10: Knocked out Arman Ospanov at 2:13 of round 2

Playoffs

Semifinals: Beat Bubba Jenkins by unanimous decision on Aug. 27

Championship: vs. Movlid Khaybulaev on Oct. 27

PFL Championship fight card

Main Card, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPN+

Women's lightweight championship: Kayla Harrison vs. Taylor Guardado

Welterweight championship Ray Cooper III vs. Magomed Magomedkerimov

Women's lightweight showcase: Claressa Shields vs. Abigail Montes

Heavyweight championship: Bruno Cappelozza vs. Ante Delija

Featherweight championship: Movlid Khaybulaev vs. Chris Wade

Prelims, 4:30 p.m. on ESPN+

Light heavyweight championship: Antonio Carlos Jr. vs. Marthin Hamlet

Lightweight showcase: Loik Radzhabov vs. Raush Manfio

Middleweight showcase: Omari Akhmedov vs. Jordan Young

Women's lightweight showcase: Julia Budd vs. Kaitlin Young

Lightweight showcase: Don Madge vs. Nathan Williams

New York Sports