What we learned from PFL 3: Tiller's triumph, Magalhaes' stumble and more

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Goltsov, Sordi make big impact at PFL 3 (2:26)

Sean O'Connell, Randy Couture and Yves Edwards recap all the action at PFL 3. For more, sign up for ESPN+ https://plus.espn.com/ (2:26)

PFL 3 had a handful of standout performances, but after a lot of early finishes at PFL 1 and PFL 2, a long stretch of decisions in a row surprised some people.

To break down the fallout from the final wave of first fights -- in the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions -- we asked our panel five key questions that could tell us a lot about how Thursday night's card played out, and what we can expect when these 24 fighters step back into the cage.

Was it just bad luck that the PFL didn't get more finishes at PFL 3?

Yes and no. On a card with the big fellas -- heavyweights and light heavyweights -- it was going to go one of two ways: plenty of quick knockouts or unattractive, three-round decisions. On Thursday, it went the latter way. -- Marc Raimondi

I think it had more to do with conditioning. A lot of fighters seemed gassed after the first round, which featured more action than Rounds 2 and 3 in most of the bouts. But those are the pros and cons of the bonus system: you chase the early stoppage, and you can run out of gas quick. It happened a lot at PFL 3. -- Myron Medcalf

Not so much bad luck as bad fight IQ. Guys would land a good punch or kick and not follow up. There'd be a takedown, but little ground-and-pound or submission threat. It made for a night lacking in engagement by the fighters and, as a result, the fans. -- Jeff Wagenheim

Was Jordan Johnson the victim of a bad decision, and did he do enough to make you think he could still be a factor despite being somewhat undersized?

Yeah, I think Jordan Johnson deserved to win that fight, especially since he had a significant edge in strikes and controlled the action on the cage. But I could also understand how a judge could see Johnson playing it safe rather than trying to win. He's a talented grappler and he showed that against Maxim Grishin, so he still has a chance. -- Medcalf

There are levels to this game, and Johnson apparently didn't have the pedigree for this step up in competition. OK, so I'm being sarcastic, but the truth is, his fight was a wakeup call for anyone who thought an undefeated fighter with four UFC victories would come in and wipe up the canvas with this PFL competition. Go ahead and question the decision if you want, but that's just a distraction from this cold reality: Johnson did not distinguish himself at any point during his fight with Maxim Grishin, and the lingering image from his 15 minutes in the cage was of him getting put on his keister by a straight punch in the third round. The problem for Johnson wasn't that he was too small, it was that his performance was. -- Wagenheim

I had Johnson winning but didn't have a huge problem with the decision. The second round was close. Either way, it wasn't an auspicious start for Johnson, who was undefeated and 4-0 in the UFC before he departed for PFL. -- Raimondi

Is Ronny Markes dangerous enough to contend if he sorts out his weight issues?

Absolutely, but there's really no excuse coming in 5.8 pounds over weight, especially his first fight of the season. Markes can go undefeated in 2019, but if he doesn't make weight it won't mean a thing. In PFL, weight misses mean you get zero points. -- Raimondi

Who benefits from a lackluster night of fights? The guy who, because he missed weight, is ruled ineligible to earn any points, that's who. Markes' second-round KO otherwise would have been good for five points, but instead he gets bupkis. His saving grace is that only two other light heavyweights had finishes, so Markes ends up only three points behind most of the night's winners. Point totals aside, he looked better than all of the losers and most of the winners in his division, and with eight of the 12 fighters making the playoffs, rest assured Markes will be there ... if he can get win his next fight with the scale. -- Wagenheim

Ronny Markes had a good outing against an inexperienced opponent (Sigi Pesaleli) who is just 25, which is the same number of professional fights Markes had entering before Thursday. His experience gave him the clear advantage as he controlled the fight, but I saw a lot of light heavyweights on a Thursday night I believe will challenge Markes, who will go into his next bout without any points after missing weight. I'm not sold on him yet. -- Medcalf

Which fighter had the biggest letdown at PFL 3?

Vinny Magalhaes. The PFL 2018 light heavyweight finalist was as much as a -650 favorite against Emiliano Sordi. And the fight didn't end up being close. Magalhaes wasn't able to get Sordi down to utilize his incredible Brazilian jiu-jitsu and ended up getting pieced up by the Argentine striker. -- Raimondi

I'll go with Rakim Cleveland, who has clearly been working on his grappling skills at American Top Team. He's a talented boxer who escaped multiple choke attempts by Viktor Nemkov, but he failed to hurt Nemkov when they were in the center of the cage. It's not really clear what his strategy was. Can't waste those opportunities, and I think he missed a golden one. -- Medcalf

It has to be Vinny Magalhaes, doesn't it? He didn't just win all four of his fights leading to last season's final, he did it like this: submission in 1:37, TKO in 1:34, submission in 1:20, submission in 1:58. Short of current play-by-play man Sean O'Connell (who knocked him out in the final) stepping from broadcast position into the cage, Magalhaes looked unbeatable on paper. But it was on canvas, not paper, that Emiliano Sordi fought him, and Magalhaes ended up on that canvas a bunch before referee Dan Miragliotta mercifully ended the carnage in the second round. -- Wagenheim

Who are your favorites at light heavyweight and heavyweight after Night 1?

Kelvin Tiller had me from the moment he walked out to Sam Cooke. And when the Kansas City heavyweight was introduced as "Mama's Boy" -- with his proud mother cheering him on from cageside -- how could you not love the guy? Then, once the bell sounded, Tiller really made an impression with a slickly poised first-round submission.

At light heavyweight, I've got to go with Sordi, not just because he defeated Magalhaes but because of the combination of skills and smarts he used to beat him. Sordi lit up the Brazilian while the fight was standing, and to his credit, he kept it standing for practically the whole way. Even when he dropped Magalhaes and had him hurt, Sordi resisted the urge to engage on the mat with the four-time World Jiu-Jitsu Championships winner. -- Wagenheim

At heavyweight, Kelvin Tiller looks as if he'll be a load to handle. That kimura finish against Muhammed DeReese was absolutely nasty, and if Tiller can add submissions to his substantial power, that is dangerous. Sordi looked so good at light heavyweight in beating Magalhaes it would be hard to say he won't be a contender who will be there in the end. -- Raimondi

My favorite at heavyweight is Ali Isaev, who will just take people down and win grind-it-out fights. And it's hard to pick anyone but Emiliano Sordi after he dominated Vinny Magalhaes in the main event. -- Medcalf