Dilano Taylor isn’t supposed to be here.
No, really, he is not supposed to be here.
Not after a knockout by Rory MacDonald. Not competing for a major title just four years into his fighting career. One fight is enough to win 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 too lie. It broke my spirit a bit. I really seized this opportunity and I really jumped into it,” Taylor said to MMA Fighting. Because MMA can be so unpredictable, I was willing to put my career at risk. It’s okay to lose. 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 that Magomed flew me to the airport on Tuesday instead of a Sunday, because it was so late and they couldn’t hurry. 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 bizarre twist of events, Taylor was again called on short notice to fight Magomedkerimov and replace Zeferino. “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 returning home and thinking: ‘Wow! That was a terrible mistake. It was really me who fumbled it. Taylor stated, “I can’t believe it happened.” “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. This is what I truly believe.
” If you tell us that I must fight Bellator’s champion, or the UFC champion, then it does not matter. I can tell you either they have to beat me on one day notice. It’ll be tough for me because they don’t know how to win. I don’t think they will understand my strategy. This is how I truly 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. He was also made to look amateur at 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. That was one of my first fights. It was a wild fight. This is what you want to do. The fight was over and he rolled to my face. I thought, “Oh s ***, that is insane.” This is the thing I want. Although I am not sure what is wrong, I will do this regardless. “Why not?” I thought to myself. 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. Rory was amazing. I can remember seeing him rise in Bellator. 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. It was a time when I thought, “Do I have the right to do this?” I felt powerless. It felt as if I was in a coma. ‘Am I good enough for this sport?'”
There was no time for reverence when Taylor found his name across from MacDonald’s. Taylor would be eligible to play in the PFL’s postseason tournament, regardless of whether he was a reserve or not. 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 thinking, after hitting him first, “Is he ****** here with me?” Taylor asked. “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. This is why I only took a second. MMA is a fast sport, and many people rush to get up-kicked. I’m not trying to get up-kicked. Let me draw what he is going to do first. Then, go .”
The math of Taylor’s run is staggering when you look at it. He won three fights in four days notice, and now he could make a significant change to 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 that it’s likely how my entire life has been,” Taylor stated. “I am the oldest person in my family. 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. You shouldn’t do this. 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. People laughed at me and thought that I was insane. “I said it repeatedly to others. ‘I’m going to be a millionaire by 25.’ I wrote it on the board. There were many things I had to write on the board. It was there every morning, and I would wake up every single day to see it. I also went to bed to it each night. 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. It was there.
“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.”