Shane Burgos was surprised by PFL playoff decision, sympathizes with suspended Natan Schulte

Shane Burgos understands why some people are confused that he still has a shot at one million dollars.

In a 2023 season that included a high of the biggest free agent signing in league history and the low of a rash of drug test failures, the PFL was in the headlines once more this past June when it suspended lightweight competitors Natan Schulte and Raush Manfio for a fight that was deemed to have not met “the standards which all PFL fighters agree to uphold in competition.”

Schulte defeated Manfio by decision at PFL 6 in an uneventful bout between two fighters who also share a deep friendship (Schulte is the godfather of Manfio’s daughter). The PFL suspended Schulte for the lackluster performance and suspended him from the playoffs, making way for Burgos to claim a spot.

Burgos defeated Yamato Nishikawa by decision on the same card, but he didn’t earn enough points to qualify for the postseason. Or so he thought. He was mid-flight, on his way home, when he suddenly received good news that also put him at the center of a controversy.

“It was weird,” Burgos said on The MMA Hour, explaining how he heard about the Schulte news. “I won the fight, obviously I’m happy I won the fight, because at the end of the day winning the fight is the most important thing. So I’m happy I won the fight, but I’m like, damn, I’m bummed out because I’m out of the f****** playoffs. That sucked.

“I didn’t actually go to sleep because I was having my third daughter, she was due any day now, so I had to get my ass back home. So I got on a plane at 5 a.m. that morning, didn’t even go to sleep. I land, and then my [physical therapist] is like, ‘Shane, did you check your phone?’” … He throws me his phone, and I’m like, ‘What the f – this is obviously fake.’ I’m looking and then I’m like, ‘Oh s***, MMA Fighting posted it. What the f***?’

“Then I get service, and I see just blowing up, like ‘Holy s***, what is going on?’ Completely took me by surprise. What a weird experience.”

Burgos entered his inaugural PFL season with plenty of hype after going 8-3 in the UFC’s featherweight division, including winning his last two fights for the promotion. He moved up to lightweight after signing with the league, and he went 1-1 in the regular season with a win over Nishikawa and a loss to 2022 champion Olivier Aubin-Mercier.

It wasn’t difficult at the time for Burgos to do the math and come to the conclusion that was out of the playoffs.

“I know people think that I knew about it beforehand,” he said. “Honest to God, I had no clue. I even told my wife, ‘I’m so bummed. We’re having the baby, at least I’ll be able to just focus on being a dad for the next couple of months.’ I land and I send her that, right away I’m like, ‘Everything I sent last night, never mind. I’m back in.’”

The Schulte vs. Manfio bout took place on the preliminary portion of PFL 6, so Burgos was able to watch his fellow lightweights compete well before it was time for him to make the walk to the SmartCage. Like most observers, his read on the fight was that the two friends weren’t putting 100 percent into finishing the fight.

So is he OK with the league’s decision to punish Schulte?

“Yes and no,” Burgos said. “It’s a s*** position to be in. I 100 percent feel for those guys, and I said it before, one of them is the godfather of the other one’s daughter, they’re best friends. That sounds like a terrible position to be in. I can’t fault them for fighting the way that they fight. One part of me understands why they did that. I can’t imagine going in there with basically a brother to me, and trying to knock his f****** head off, and trying to crush his dreams, that’s got to be rough. I saw those guys backstage after, they were both distraught because they felt bad that they had to fight each other, and I feel for them. That’s 100 percent a s*** position to be in, so I can’t judge the way they fought.

“But then putting myself in the PFL’s shoes, I understand why they made that decision. It’s a league, it’s a professional league, you have people betting on the fights. You bet on that fight, you’ve kind of got to avoid that bet, and it puts the PFL in a really weird position. That’s why I keep saying it had nothing to do with me, per se. Had Yamato knocked me out, I think they would have given him the opportunity, as well.”

Burgos finished fifth in the PFL regular season standings, which made him the next man in line for a playoff spot with Schulte’s removal. Still, the optics of the situation painted an unflattering picture as Burgos had received plenty of hype when he was signed on the offseason.

None of that matters now as Burgos has to get back to focusing on winning as he takes on Clay Collard in the main event of next Wednesday’s PFL Playoff event. A victory puts him in the lightweight finals, where he can win a league title and a $1 million prize.

And if he goes all the way, he doesn’t think anyone should hold his good fortune against him.

“Damn, if it was anyone else, no one would say anything, but it’s me, now it looks like they’re playing favoritism,” Burgos said. “That kind of falls on me. It’s not my fault. Listen, I was given this opportunity and all I can do is make the absolute most out of it and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”