Rakim Cleveland

Photo courtesy of Cleveland's Instagram account

Rakim Cleveland doesn’t plan on wasting second chance with the PFL

The Professional Fighters League celebrated six people accomplishing their dreams when they concluded their first season, however, Rakim Cleveland was not one of those individuals. “The Boogeyman” Cleveland was ousted in the first round of the playoffs by eventual light heavyweight champion Vinny Magalhaes. Magalhaes was able to use his world-renowned grappling and submit Cleveland via armbar.

Heading into that fight, Cleveland knew he had to avoid going to the ground with the submission specialist. So he knew after having success early on the feet that he made a mistake by clinching with Magalhaes.

“Definitely it was a mistake, I should’ve stepped back after throwing that left and coming with more punches, we live we learn. My coaches talk about it all the time, they still bring it up to keep it fresh on my mind.”

“He’s a dangerous guy when it comes to grappling and I knew that. I made the mistake of clinching up with him in that first round when we were both nice and dry and he was able to execute his game. When he grabs you, it’s kind of his world and I went in there with him.”

Since both Cleveland and Magalhaes are both back for PFL’s second season, Cleveland might have an opportunity to face Magalhaes and he believes he now has the right game plan for him now.

“It’s just be more busy. Vinny is a talented fighter, he’s a powerful striker and he’s a world class grappler. He’s the kind of guy that you gotta bring the fight to him, you can’t wait on him.”

But the possibility of a rematch wasn’t a possibility a little over a month ago. Cleveland wasn’t initially brought back by the PFL for season two.

“I was surprised honestly that I wasn’t going to be on the original roster before they resigned me, I was surprised. Going into the playoffs and the performance I put on, I didn’t go undefeated like I wanted to, I took an L to Maxim Grishin, I lost in the first round in the playoffs but I made the playoffs. And the loss I took in the playoffs was the guy that went to the finals. I was definitely surprised when I got the news that I didn’t make the top 12. When contacting Ray (Sefo) and Ray spoke on that possibility, he told me to stay ready, I’m on the alternate list. That’s how I took it, I kept working hard, I booked a fight, to keep myself fresh and active just in case I didn’t get a phone call or anything like that. That was just my mindset was, work hard, improve, get a couple of wins and you never know what happens. It so happens that Ray gave me the call and I’m grateful for the opportunity. You’re always grateful for a second chance and I’ll make sure this second chance doesn’t go to waste.”

In his return, the American Top Team product says fans can expect a different version of him this year, a far more aggressive version.

“Expect more aggressive, expect stronger, expect more active. I won’t be as laid back as I was last season. I was kinda being more of a counter striker type of fighter last season. I gotta up the output and overwhelm these guys and put them away. None of them can take my power, that’s hands down. They’re all going to try and grapple me, I know that, as soon as I tough them, they’re going to grapple. So, I gotta touch them, I gotta make it count when I touch them and I gotta touch them often, that’s the game plan.”

In order to execute his game plan, Cleveland knew he had to strengthen his grappling game and takedown defense as his opponents have been able to take advantage of him in those aspects in the past. But he says working with American Top Team coaches such as Din Thomas have given him confidence that his grappling and takedown defense have drastically improved.

“You can definitely tell a difference, the higher-level guys, I’m not saying I’m stopping all the takedowns but they are definitely having a harder time taking me down and controlling me.”

He’ll get to test his game plan against Viktor Nemkov at PFL 3 on June 6. Nemkov is entering the PFL with a record of 28-7. Cleveland respects his opponent but doesn’t believe Nemkov isn’t a finisher.

“Viktor is a good striker, he’s a good opponent, he has a judo background, he’s a sambo world champion but Viktor is not a finisher. If you look at his record and you watch him fight, he doesn’t finish people very often, he’s got lots and lots of decisions on his record. I think in this world, in this style of fighting, you want to be a finisher, you want to be that guy that packs that power, winning a decision doesn’t guarantee you a spot in the playoffs, you gotta get as many points as you can. I respect his game, I respect his striking, definitely, I always respect a good striker. I definitely respect his sambo championships, but Viktor’s in for a rude awakening when it comes to me.”

Cleveland vs. Nemkov takes place on June 6 at the Nassau Coliseum and airs on ESPN Plus.