PFL 2021 #1: Regular Season Preview

The PFL will make their long awaited return this Friday night from Atlantic City, New Jersey. This will be their first event since New Years Eve 2019 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. All fighters on the card arrived 17 days in advance to enter a Covid free bubble at the Ocean Casino Resort. The lightweights and the featherweights are the first to compete in the 2021 season.

The Lightweights

Anthony Pettis (24-10) vs Clay Collard (18-8)

Former UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis was one of the highest profile signings ahead of this season. He is one of the most popular fighters in the world due to his spectacular striking style. He also has a great submission game should he need a plan b. Clay Collard is another former UFC fighter and has seen some recent success as a pro boxer with a 5 bout win streak, before dropping his last two. This should be an exciting stand up battle.

Natan Schulte (20-3-1) vs Marcin Held (26-7)

Schulte was the previous winner of the $1m PFL Lightweight Tournament in both 2018 and 2019. The 29 year old Brazilian is a slick BJJ player who can lock in a choke in seconds. On the feet he will eat some shots, throw plenty of leg kicks and use his striking to open up the ground game. He doesn’t have big power in his hands. He faces fellow BJJ black belt Marcin Held. Poland’s Held is a master in the leg lock game. Like his opponent, his striking is decent but lacks the pop of other lightweights in the tournament. If this hits the deck, we should be in for some fun.

Joilton Lutterbach (34-8) vs Raush Manfio (11-3)

This is a battle of the Brazilians. Lutterbach has packed a lot of fights into his 28 years, including in promotions such as Cage Warriors, KSW and ACB. He is one of the hardest hitting guys in the tournament and rarely goes to a decision. Manfio has a heavy top control game with good ground and pound. He’s capable on the feet, however he will be taking a huge risk against a more explosive striker in Lutterbach.

Akhmet Aliev (19-6) vs Mikhail Odintsov (18-2)

Russia’s Aliev was a semifinalist in 2019, losing out to eventual winner Schulte. He is a striker and possibly the heaviest hitter in the tournament. The power of his kicks are a real problem and he mixes up the levels well. Belarus’ Odintsov is going to try and get to the fence and grapple. Once he gets you down, he has heavy ground and pound and will look for you to give up your back. He won two international qualifiers to get here and will be tough to get out of there. This is a nice style matchup.

Loik Radzhabov (13-2-1) vs Alex Martinez (7-0)

Tajikistan’s Radzhabov was a beaten finalist in 2019. He is an aggressive fighter who will march you down like a terminator and is not afraid to change levels on you. Paraguay’s Martinez is an undefeated submission specialist. He has previously fought in Brave where he scored a knockout win. Experience could be a big factor here.

The Featherweights

Brendan Loughnane (19-3) vs Sheymon Moraes (11-4)

What a treat we have here. England’s Loughnane is one of the best fighters Britain has ever produced. He is very well rounded, with his magnificent striking and killer instinct standing out. If you hang around too long, he’s going to finish you. He has never been one to shy from a challenge, having competed under many premier organisations. Brazil’s Moraes will be happy to stand and bang in this one. He is a former UFC and WSOF alumnus with a very active kickboxing style. His head movement will be a difficult puzzle for Loughnane to solve. On paper, this looks to be the fight of the night.

Lance Palmer (22-3) vs Bubba Jenkins (14-4)

Palmer was the previous winner of the $1m PFL Featherweight Tournament in both 2018 and 2019. The American is one of the most dominant wrestlers in the sport and has reigned over the division for years. Jenkins likes to use his stand-up to get things to the mat, although his striking has come on leaps and bounds of late. With his opponent’s skillset, he’s going to lean on his striking more. He was Brave’s Featherweight Champion.

Movlid Khaybulaev (15-0-1) vs Lazar Stojadinovic (14-7)

Russia’s Khaybulaev is called “Killer” for good reason. He is the star of one of PFL’s biggest viral moments with his spectacular flying knee on Damon Jackson. He will pressure you on the feet and throw big shots. He likes to march you back to the cage and grind you down. When it hits the deck, you’ll carry his full weight and he is constantly trying to finish with submissions and ground and pound. Stojadinovic is a nice boxer. He punches in bunches, however his power has been lacking in the past. As a result, this could be a one sided affair.

Chris Wade (17-6) vs Anthony Dizy (13-3)

America’s Wade drops down to 145lbs following defeat in the 2019 155lbs semi finals. He has some fancy footwork and jumps into his strikes a lot. He is very active on the feet with no real knockout threat. He’s a good grappler on top, however has come a cropper when his back touches the mat. Dizy is a French wrestling champion, albeit maybe not as dominant as some others in the division. This could be a miserable opener for Wade if he’s not on top of his game.

Sung Bin Jo (9-1) vs Tyler Diamond (11-1)

South Korea’s Sung Bin Jo is one of the most exciting prospects on the PFL roster. He can finish it both on the deck and on the feet. The only question is what his ceiling is. His only defeat was in the UFC against David Teymur back in 2019. America’s Diamond is a former TUF contestant, with his only loss also under the UFC banner against Bryce Mitchell. Like most Team Alpha Male fighters, he has a very strong wrestling game. He is very mean in the clinch, throwing brutal knees and elbows. Whoever can take the fight into their own world should win this one handily.

PFL 2021 #1 is live on Friday night from 22:30 Irish time. The event will be tape delayed on Eir Sports in Ireland and on PPV in the U.K. on MMATV. ESPN hold the US rights for the card.

Seán Denny is a Dublin man who writes mostly on the European scene, with a keen interest in the Irish, UK and Polish scenes in particular. Follow me on Twitter at @DennyRants.