The Professional Fighters League (PFL) is finally returning to the MMA scene this Friday night for the first time since 2019. The fight promotion decided not to host events in in 2020 due to the pandemic, but they are coming back stronger than ever. In the offseason, PFL signed many rising prospects like Mohammed Usman -the brother of Kamaru Usman- and legends of the sport, such as Anthony Pettis and Rory Macdonald. On top of this, stars like two-time Olympic gold medalist, Kayla Harrison, are set to return for the 2021 season. The hype is real, and the first event of the regular season will be headlined by former UFC champion Anthony Pettis versus Clay Collard. This will take place on Friday, April 23rd, at 5:30 PM ET on ESPN+ and later at 9 PM ET on ESPN 2. The card will feature 10 fights total, so without further ado, let’s dissect the 4 fights on the main card.
Anthony Pettis vs Clay Collard.
The former UFC lightweight champion -Anthony Pettis- is wasting no time getting in on the action in his new home at the PFL. Having fought his last fight in the UFC just four months ago, he is set to take on another former UFC fighter, Clay Collard. Pettis, currently on a 2-fight win streak, has proved that after all his time in the fight game, his unique striking and kickboxing are nothing to be messed with. Expectations are high for his PFL debut and he definitely has what it takes to meet them. Just like Pettis, his opponent, Clay Collard, stayed active during the pandemic, but in a different way. Collard has not competed in a Mixed Martial Arts bout in two years, instead he has competed in boxing, fifteen to be exact. With this new experience, I expect his boxing specifically to be sharper than ever before, and it will be an interesting challenge for Pettis. I think both fighters remaining active will strongly benefit both of them and lead to an exciting fight. With that being said, boxing may have been an excellent choice for Collard, but returning to MMA could prove to be a challenge. While boxing may have its similarities to MMA, Collard will now have to worry about more than just his opponents’ hands, but kicks and takedowns as well. Pettis is a proven kickboxer as well, nearly finishing his last opponent with a spinning back kick. Collard’s break from competition in MMA gives Pettis a strong advantage in my opinion as well as his top level striking.
My Prediction: Anthony Pettis by TKO
Natan Shulte vs Marcin Held
The Co-Main event for Friday night’s card will be another fight in the lightweight division between the defending PFL lightweight champion Natan Shulte against the newcomer Marcin Held. Fighting out of American Top Team, Shulte is among the best in the lightweight division and is currently on a 9-fight winning streak. Held, while new to the PFL, is anything but new to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. With professional fights dating back to 2008, Marcin Held has been competing for over a decade and is still in the prime years of his career. He is receiving no favors in his PFL debut against Shulte, but if there is anyone who is up for the challenge, I believe that’s Held. Held is an excellent grappler with 14 of his 26 professional victories coming by way of submission, but so is Shulte with nine submission victories. I can see this fight turning into a ground control war, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both fighters choose to stand up to avoid the other’s submission attempts. While Held is a game opponent for Shulte, I believe he is the more rounded fighter, with top tier training partners and PFL experience.
My Pick: Nathan Shulte via Unanimous Decision
Movlid Khaybulaev vs Lazar Stojadinovic
The second fight of the main card will be a featherweight bout between Movlid Khaybulaev vs Lazar Stojadinovic. Khaybulaev, a technically undefeated fighter, is returning for his second season in the PFL after his viral flying knee knockout against Damon Jackson. Stojadinovic, will make his PFL debut after having fought in well known promotions such as LFA, Titan FC, and even the Contender Series. Khaybulaev is without a doubt one of the PFL’s top prospects, hailing from Dagestan, Russia, with 15 professional victories. He has already fought and defeated current UFC fighters in the past such as Herbert Burns and Damon Jackson. While Stojadinovic does not have the same resumé, he is a skilled mixed martial artist plenty of experience and a great gym behind him, Xtreme Couture. In Stojadinovic’s last four fights, he has been finished via strikes twice. I believe this is a problem for him as Khaybulaev has proven he has strong knockout power and the threat of his take downs and wrestling only adds to that.
My Pick: Movlid Khaybulaev via TKO
Lance Palmer vs Bubba Jenkins
The first fight on the main card Friday night’s card will be between the defending PFL Featherweight Champion Lance Palmer verse another PFL newcomer Bubba Jenkins. The first thing that stood out to me when this fight was announced is the wrestling pedigree both fighters bring to the table. Lance Palmer is a former NCAA Division I All-American and Bubba Jenkins is a former NCAA Division I national champion. I’m curious to see if their wrestling will cancel out and they will choose to strike instead, similar to Covington vs Usman. In his time in the PFL and WSOF, Lance Palmer has been dominant, currently on an 11-fight win streak and the two-time PFL featherweight champion. Jenkins may have his hands full with Palmer, but his elite wrestling could be a potential struggle for Palmer. I think this fight will be more competitive than the odds currently indicate, as Palmer is currently a heavy favorite, at -400.
My Pick: Lance Palmer via Decision
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