With his arms up and his head down, an exhausted Chris Wade took a moment to himself against the cage after the fight.
The judges’ scores were being totaled and the principals were mulling about the cage as the reading of the official decision drew near. By the time Islip's Wade made it to the center of the cage to stand next to the referee and his opponent, he knew. He knew his dream would have to wait another year.
The third-seeded Wade lost a unanimous decision to No. 7 Loik Radzhabov in the lightweight semifinals of the Professional Fighters League playoffs on Thursday night at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. All three judges scored it 30-27.
After a grueling three-round fight, which was preceded by a grueling two-round quarterfinal bout against Nate Andrews, Wade fell short of a spot in the championship and a chance to fight for $1 million.
Instead, Radzhabov will face defending champion Natan Schulte in the championship round on New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater. Schulte (19-3-1) choked out Ramsey Nijem with a rear naked choke in the quarterfinals then did the same to Akhmed Aliev with an arm triangle choke in the semifinals.
Radzhabov (13-1-1) got the better of the striking throughout the fight. Wade hit on a pair of head-toss takedowns and saw some success with his grappling. But throughout the fight, Radzhabov managed to fend off Wade as well as use his own grappling for submission attempts. Radzhabov outstruck Wade for the fight, 57 to 27.
Earlier in the night, Wade used his wrestling and pressure to win a majority decision over Andrews. (In the PFL’s playoff format, the quarterfinals and semifinals are on the same night, so fighters must “fight twice, win twice” to earn a shot at the title and seven-figure payday.)
The judges scored the quarterfinal bout, 19-19, 20-18, 20-18, in favor of Wade.
“I know I have to fight again, so that’s in the back of my head,” Wade said after that bout. “You don’t want to take too much damage, get into a 10-minute striking fight with somebody as talented as him on the feet, so I wanted to control the fight and limit damage.”
Wade wasn't able to do that as easily in the semifinals against Radzhabov.
Against Andrews, though, Wade pressured from the start and controlled where the fight took place. He got a takedown and was able to stay in top position for most of the first round. In the second round, Andrews was able to get off a few strikes that connected, but Wade eventually took the fight where he wanted to, the ground.
Wade connected on 13 of 18 strikes in the two-round fight, doing most of his damage with 10 of 11 ground strikes. Andrews landed 14 of 30 strikes for the fight.
Wade (17-5) beat Andrews (16-3) in the PFL’s regular season last July with a similar grappling approach. After that fight, Wade said Andrews was tougher than he had expected. Asked after Thursday’s quarterfinal win if Andrews had made adjustments, Wade was clear with his answer.
“No, he didn’t. I knew he wouldn’t be able to,” Wade said. “[I’m a] state champion [wrestler] from New York. He’s from Rhode Island. You don’t learn how to stop takedowns in six weeks, so I knew he couldn’t win the fight.”