PFL 2021 #2: Regular Season Preview

The PFL are back this Thursday night from Atlantic City, New Jersey with their second show of 2021. The Ocean Casino Resort will welcome the Welterweights and the Light Heavyweights for their first round of matchups.

The Welterweights

Rory MacDonald (21-6-1) vs Curtis Millender (18-6)

Former Bellator champion and UFC contender Rory MacDonald makes his PFL debut. He takes on fellow ex Bellator and UFC veteran Millender. MacDonald will be looking to regain his title challenging form in the tournament after a recent rocky period, which had left him on the brink of retirement. He’s a modern mixed martial artist. A very strong grappler who’s comfortable on the feet. Millender will likely try to kickbox in this one and will need to keep the distance to avoid being taken down, which has proven an issue for him in the past. He does have the power to end it on the feet, although we haven’t seen it in a few years.

Ray Cooper III (20-7-1) vs Jason Ponet (20-12-1)

Cooper won the tournament in 2019 and was runner up in 2018. He is a strong wrestler and usually tries to clinch his opponent and take them down against the cage. He has plenty of power in his striking game, both in the centre and in the clinch. He mixes levels well. Ponet is a veteran of the European scene, with his only defeats since 2016 coming to top names such as Piotr Hallmann, Chris Fishgold and Joilton Lutterbach. He is a flashy kick-boxer who throws everything at full power. He has had takedown defence issues in the past.

Gleison Tibau (34-14) vs João Zeferino (24-9)

It’s an all-Brazilian affair in this one. Tibau is a seasoned UFC veteran with strong wrestling who is very tough to finish. He’s not too much of a threat on the feet. He has only fought once since 2018 so inactivity could be a factor. Zeferino is a submission specialist and trains under Renzo Gracie, which will be his key to victory here.

Sadibou Sy (8-5-2) vs Nikolay Aleksakhin (26-5)

Sweden’s Sy is an exciting kick-boxer with knockout power. He had a notable draw with Ray Cooper III in 2019. Aleksakhin is a finisher and is always ready for a firefight. More often than not he is the one who lands the big shot to end it. He does take his fair share of shots in return which could be a factor here. This is a very tasty matchup.

The Light Heavyweights

Emiliano Sordi (22-8) vs Chris Camozzi (25-14)

Sordi won the tournament in 2019. The Argentine is predominantly a boxer with hands of stone. He’s a very quick starter and rarely sees the second round. His opponent is UFC veteran Camozzi, who comes in with a very rounded skill set. He has been mostly fighting in kickboxing in the last few years so will fancy his chances on the feet. That is a risky strategy considering his opponent’s skillset and he hasn’t won in MMA at this level since 2016.

Antônio Carlos Júnior (10-5) vs Tom Lawlor (10-7)

This is a battle of UFC veterans. Brazil’s Carlos Júnior is a high level BJJ black belt, with a particular knack of taking the back. “Filthy” Tom Lawlor is one of the biggest characters in MMA. He is a man of many hats, including podcasting and professional wrestling. He is also a good amateur wrestler which will be his key to victory here. His last win came way back in 2015.

Jordan Young (11-1) vs Askar Mozharov (23-7)

Young is a talented up and comer and is a slick submission artist. His specialty is chokes. He will need his grappling in this one as Mozharov is a vicious striker. He is aggressive and will come out swinging full power punches and kicks from the off. He also has a combat sambo background to fall back on if it does hit the deck.

Cezar Ferreira (13-8) vs Nick Roehrick (9-1)

Ferreira is another strong BJJ guy who has fought in the UFC. His chin has shown weakness in the past, however he has improved his defence over the years and hasn’t been knocked out since 2015. Roehrick is very unlikely to test that chin. He’s a grappler by trade and his striking is only really a big threat on the mat. His only loss came to Jared Cannonier.

Dan Spohn (18-7) vs Marthin Hamlet Nielsen (6-1)

Spohn is one of the few predominantly standup fighters in this division. He’s very experienced and has competed on both The Ultimate Fighter and the Dana White Contender Series. He is a finisher. Nielsen is an all rounder who has come through Superior Challenge and the Cage Warriors Academy. He mixes his striking and grappling well and will be looking for level changes. His only loss came to Modestas Bukauskas.

PFL 2021 #2 is live on Thursday night from 22:30 and is available on ESPN+ in the USA, on MMA TV (PPV) in the U.K. and on YouTube / Eir Sport (on delay) in Ireland.

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.