Dilano Taylor isn’t supposed to be here.
No, really, he is not supposed to be here.
Not coming off of a knockout of Rory MacDonald. Not competing for a major title just four years into his fighting career. Not one fight away from winning a million dollars.
Taylor, who fights Sadibou Sy in the PFL welterweight finals Friday at the PFL 2022 World Championships in New York, entered the 2022 season on reserve duty after winning a fight as part of the league’s Challenger series. He knew his number might be called, but couldn’t have expected it to be on the shortest of possible notices as he was brought in to replace Joao Zeferino at PFL 3 when Zeferino’s opponent Magomed Magomedkerimov had to withdraw due to visa issues a day before the May 6 show.
He beat the much more experienced Zeferino (it was Zeferino’s 35th pro fight, Taylor’s ninth) by split decision to earn three points in the standings, but found himself without a guarantee that he would be remain part of the PFL’s regular season plans. As it turned out, he wasn’t booked for PFL 6, the next scheduled event to feature welterweights.
“I’m not going to lie, that broke my spirits a little bit because I really seized the opportunity, I really jumped in this,” Taylor told MMA Fighting. “I really put my career on the line realistically speaking because MMA is such a fickle sport. You can lose, and that’s fine. But to take a fight on a day’s notice with only nine fights at the time against a seasoned vet who had three times the experience of you, it’s kind of wild. It’s unheard of. So I really went out there and did this on a day’s notice and just to kind of get tossed to the side and not even know if I’m going to come out as an alternate again or anything like that.
“I remember when I fought Magomed, they flew me out on Tuesday as opposed to a Sunday because they were so late and I couldn’t rush. I didn’t have time to gather myself the way they were trying to rush me. They were like, we’ll fly you out on Tuesday and I had to make weight and everything.”
In a strange twist, Taylor was called in on a day’s notice again, this time to replace Zeferino and fight Magomedkerimov. “The Postman” was given another last-minute delivery assignment, one that proved too tall a task as he was finished in the second round by the 2018 league champion.
Taylor definitely thought his campaign was finished after that.
“I remember coming back home thinking, ‘Wow, I really fumbled the bag. I really fumbled the ball. I can’t believe that happened,’ Taylor said. “The only reason I felt like this, like I can’t believe that happened, was because I feel like on any given notice I’m a tough fight for anybody. That’s genuinely what I believe.
“If you tell me I have to go fight the champion of Bellator, the champion of the UFC, it doesn’t matter who, you tell me I have to fight them on a day’s notice or they have to fight me on day’s notice, I’m going to be a really tough matchup for them because they’re not going to know what to do. They’re not going to understand how to beat me. That’s genuinely how I feel.”
But it wasn’t over. One more time the PFL would call upon its most reliable reserve and one more time Taylor answered the call on short-notice, though at least he’d get two days instead of one to prepare for the biggest name he’d been matched up with yet: Former Bellator champion Rory MacDonald.
Not only was Taylor facing a bonafide star, he was facing one of the men who had inspired him to become a fighter. And who had made him look like an amateur in the gym.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh damn, I’m fighting Rory, that’s crazy,’ Taylor said. “To put it in perspective: I started training in 2015. Rory’s fight against Robbie Lawler [at UFC 189] was in 2015. So that was actually one of the first fights that I saw. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is crazy. This is what I want to do.’ The fight ended and they panned to his face and I was like, ‘Oh s***, this is crazy. This is what I want to do. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m going to do it anyways. Why not?’ I remember thinking to myself, ‘That should not be me. I can’t leave my face like that.’
“I remember having so much respect for Rory as well as Robbie Lawler in the fight too. I remember watching Rory come up in Bellator and seeing his rise and thinking, ‘This guy’s amazing. He’s such a tough dude.’ He actually came and trained at Kill Cliff for a bit. I trained with him twice, but I didn’t really train with him like that. He came to do camp for the PFL regular season but he didn’t really stay there that long to do it. I remember when he trained there, he submitted me six times in five minutes. I remember thinking, ‘Do I deserve to be in this sport?’ I felt helpless. I felt like I was drowning. ‘Am I good enough for this sport?’”
There was no time for reverence when Taylor found his name across from MacDonald’s. Reserve or not, a win would book a spot for Taylor in the PFL’s post-season tournament. So no matter what history they had, when it was time to fight, Taylor “flipped the switch” as he puts it.
The switched-on Taylor picked up a career highlight, needing a little under four minutes to put MacDonald away via strikes in what would end up being the last fight of MacDonald’s career. Rewatching the finish, you can see Taylor pause for a moment before pushing for the finish. It’s a moment he remembers distinctly.
“I remember after I hit him at first I thought, ‘Is he f****** with me? Is he trying to bait me in?’” Taylor said. “Of course, it gave me flashbacks of getting submitted six times in five minutes and I was like, ‘Is he f****** with me?’ Then when I saw him ball up, I was like, ‘He’s not f****** with me. F*** it.’ I don’t have time to think, just go, go, go, go, swarm him. That’s why I took that brief second. Also, a lot of people in MMA rush in and get up-kicked. I’m not trying to get up-kicked. Let me see what he’s going to do, draw it out of him first, and then go.”
The math of Taylor’s run is staggering when you look at it. Three fights on a total of four days’ notice and now one more win that could change his life. Through it all, the 25-year-old has kept a cool head, a demeanor that he credits to his upbringing as the de facto man of the house.
“I feel like it’s probably how I’ve been like my whole life,” Taylor said. “I’m the oldest in my household. The oldest is like the third parent or the second parent in my case because I grew up in a single-parent household with two other brothers. My mom had to work, when she was at work, I was babysitting. So I had to be like, ‘Don’t touch the door. Don’t do that. Don’t do this.’ I had to make sure they get fed, I had to make sure this happens. I guess over time it progressively made me more and more and more mature moving forward. That’s what I would say. I feel like that’s how that came about.
“I used to get into a lot of fights in school and I feel like maybe that translated into me wanting to do something more than just fight in the street and go fight in the gym or something.”
Don’t let Taylor’s modest approach fool you. Despite being a pro for less than five years, Taylor knew early on that big money lay ahead for him, including the kind of payday that veteran fighters dream of. All because he was in the right place at the right time when the PFL needed someone to save their fights.
Maybe Taylor is supposed to be here.
“I remember saying to myself I’m going to be a millionaire by 25,” Taylor said. “I kept saying it to people and people laughed at me, thought I was crazy. ‘I’m going to be a millionaire by 25.’ I wrote it on the board. I wrote a bunch of things on the board that I needed to see. I woke up to it every day, I’d see it every day, I went to sleep to it every day. I even took a video of myself saying, ‘I’m going to be a millionaire by 25.’ People thought I was crazy, but I felt like I manifested it years ago. I saw it already.
“Can I say that in 2016 I was thinking of being a millionaire? No. I was just trying to fight and have fun, but now it’s become something more.”