PFL midseason report: Can Dakota Ditcheva keep the No. 1 seed?

Dakota Ditcheva remains undefeated with first-round TKO (0:27)

Dakota Ditcheva secures a Quick 6 with a dominating first-round TKO against Lisa Mauldin. (0:27)

The most exciting stretch of the PFL season starts Thursday in Uncasville, Connecticut, as the promotion returns for the second half of the season.

In most other sports, the majority of the drama is reserved for the playoffs. And to be sure, the intrigue of the PFL playoffs and finals is self-explanatory. Single elimination format with $1 million on the line. The PFL's "postseason" provides fantastic memories every year.

But if you're looking for drama and storylines, the second round of the regular season is for you. It's the most unique aspect of the PFL format. Due to the point system, fighters often know when they need a finish literally to the second. This is also where PFL's matchmaking ends and pure competition begins. Once the standings are set, PFL has no control over who fights who in the playoffs.

Here is one burning question for each division going into the second round, starting with the two divisions that will be in action at Mohegan Sun Arena:

Heavyweight: Can Linton Vassell make things right?

June 13, Uncasville, Connecticut

The PFL-Bellator MMA merger worked out well for some fighters and poorly for others. That was always going to be the case. If you take two different entities with two different models, they won't blend perfectly together. One fighter who has suffered a bit in the transition is Vassell.

Vassell was one of the better stories in Bellator. He'd worked his way back into heavyweight title contention at age 40 with five consecutive wins, three of which he won as an underdog. He was supposed to fight Ryan Bader for the heavyweight title last October but was forced to withdraw due to illness, and then the merger re-shuffled everything.

He headlines the next PFL fight card opposite Valentin Moldavsky. Moldavsky holds the No. 1 spot in the division with six points. Vassell has zero, thanks to a TKO loss to Denis Goltsov. And he currently doesn't look like a favorite to make the playoffs. Expect Vassell to fight aggressively, because he needs points. And if he were to pull it off, it would be one of the best comebacks of the year.

Women's flyweight: Who will Dakota Ditcheva face in the playoffs?

June 13, Uncasville, Connecticut

Liz Carmouche is the best fighter in this division, but Ditcheva is easily the most intriguing right now. What is Ditcheva's ceiling? We're going to find out by the end of the year. There is no doubt about it, the PFL is interested to see who Ditcheva will face in the playoffs. She's already the No. 1 seed, and the organization gave her a favorable matchup in the second round against Chelsea Hackett.

Will Ditcheva take care of business? How good will she look in doing so? And when the night ends, how will the playoffs shake out? Ditcheva could end up facing Carmouche in the semifinals. She could also face former UFC title challenger Taila Santos, who looked like a wrecking ball in the first round.

Lightweight: Which fighter will sneak into the playoffs?

June 21, Salt Lake City

It's going to happen for at least one. The lightweight standings are wide open, so it will be one of those situations that play out throughout the night. The guys who fight later on the card should have an advantage, because they'll have clarity on how many points they'll need. This is where the PFL points system is felt most, where playoff odds are changing fight-to-fight.

Patricky "Pitbull" Freire and Bruno Miranda could go into their main card matchup knowing they need a first-round finish, which would be wild. All eyes will be on Clay Collard, who is fighting in his home state for the first time since 2019. It should be a scene, but it could also add pressure to a man still seeking his first PFL championship and will almost certainly need a win here to advance.

Light heavyweight: What does it look like when it's a 'first-round knockout or bust' situation for half of a division?

June 21, Salt Lake City

Going into the second round, the light heavyweight standings are genuinely absurd. Five fighters have the maximum of six points, while the other five have zero. This is when game plans change -- a win is not enough for half of this division. This second round is going to be ultra-aggressive and potentially chaotic.

One of the specific names to watch is Sadibou Sy. He is one of the best strikers in the entire sport, and will be fighting with a sense of urgency. The marquee matchup to watch is Rob Wilkinson vs. Josh Silveira. It's the only matchup in which both men already have six points. A loss could leave either of them out of the playoffs, despite a first-round finish earlier this year.

Featherweight: What's Brendan Loughnane's path to a second championship?

June 28, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

We'll know the answer to this question by the time Loughnane walks to the SmartCage, as he's the headliner of 2024 PFL Regular Season: Welterweights and Featherweights opposite Justin Gonzales. Let's call it like it is: Loughnane is the clear face of this division. He is easily the biggest name, and from a promotional standpoint, the PFL has to love that he's currently the No. 1 seed.

Loughnane experienced the heartbreak of the points system last year, when he failed to make the playoffs despite getting a first-round knockout win over Marlon Moraes. He's drawn a winnable fight against Gonzales, and he'll know the range of his playoff outcomes going into the fight.

Loughnane vs. Adam Borics would be a great playoff matchup, and based on the standings, they would square off if the playoffs started today. Loughnane vs. the undefeated Dagestani Timur Khizriev would also be intriguing. Loughnane is in charge of his destiny right now, and the appeal of this division's postseason will hinge largely on what Loughnane does.

Welterweight: Are we going to see Magomed Umalatov in a big fight or not?

June 28, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Umalatov has been with the PFL now since 2021. He is undefeated, having won six fights during that time. He has been scheduled to fight the likes of Rory MacDonald, Magomed Magomedkerimov and Ray Cooper III, but withdrew from each fight for various reasons. He's made the playoffs twice and withdrawn twice.

Umalatov is coming off a decision win over former Bellator champion Andrey Koreshkov, and should beat Brennan Ward in his upcoming matchup if he's truly as good as advertised. He only has three points from the first round, so a playoff berth is not a given. Many people in this sport, especially around the PFL, want to learn how good Umalatov is. Will this finally be the year he gets into the playoffs and gets the kind of fights that will show that? Or will we still be waiting?