PFL 2021 #3: Regular Season Preview

The PFL will return to our screens on Thursday night with the first round matchups for the Heavyweights and the Lightweights. They will have a lot to live up to following some phenomenal performances in the last couple of weeks.

The Heavyweights

Fabrício Werdum (24-9-1) vs Renan Ferreira (6-2)

Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabrício Werdum makes his first PFL appearance. He is one of the best submission experts in MMA history, with a wide range of weapons from armbars to triangles to guillotines at his disposal. He is also decent in the stand up. He will face fellow countryman Renan Ferreira who can end the fight on the feet in a hurry. Coming from Team Nogueira, he’ll know exactly what to expect from Werdum as Big Nog has fought him twice, but can he keep it standing?

Ali Isaev (9-0) vs Hatef Moeil (10-4)

Isaev won the 2019 tournament. He hails from Dagestan and like many of his countrymen, he has a strong wrestling background. He has combined this with a strong kickboxing game to become a very well rounded fighter. His opponent Moeil is a striker who has plied his trade on the European scene up to now. The winner of this one will likely pick up some bonus points for a finish.

Mohammed Usman (7-1) vs Brandon Sayles (5-1)

Mohammed is the younger brother of UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman. Like his sibling, he has a good wrestling base. He is a finisher with power in his hands, winning 3 by KO and 2 by submission. Sayles’ nickname is “Man of War”, partially due to his military background and partially due to his fighting style. He’s going to walk forward, bite down on the mouthpiece and swing with everything he has.

Denis Goltsov (25-6) vs Justin Willis (8-2)

Russia’s Goltsov was the runner up in 2019. He’s one of the most experienced heavyweights at this level. He has a combat sambo background and is very dangerous wherever the fight takes him. He’s Aleksei Oleinik with a better kickboxing game and has won 20 of his last 22. Willis is a UFC veteran who fights out of AKA in California. He likes to use his weight grappling against the cage. He’s a bit wild in the standup and he’s unlikely to trouble a good striker.

Ante Delija (17-3) vs Bruno Cappelozza (10-5)

Croatia’s Delija is a well rounded martial artist. His last three wins came at KSW, PFL and Rizin so he’s well used to this level of competition. Cappelozza is a striker who lives by the sword and dies by the sword. He’s coming to end this within the distance and will put his chin on the line to do it. This fight has potential to be fight of the night.

The Lightweights

Kayla Harrison (8-0) vs Mariana Morais (16-10)

Harrison is a two time Judo Olympic gold medalist and is one of PFL’s biggest stars after winning the 2019 tournament. As her background would suggest, she’s an elite grappler who can snatch your arm or finish you with ground and pound. Her striking has been improving fight to fight too. Morais is on a three fight win streak at the weight, having fought at 125lbs and 135lbs previously. She is an Invicta and KSW veteran. Her paths to victory are limited here, Kayla will have the grappling and size advantage. She’s going to have to rely on her striking which isn’t elite.

Genah Fabian (2-1) vs Laura Sanchez (1-0)

Fabian is a kick-boxer from New Zealand who has also competed in pro boxing. Both of her victories have come via punches. Sanchez is also a kick-boxer, with her sole victory coming via a right hand followed by knees and ground and pound. She is very tall, coming in at 6 foot. This will be the highest level either lady has competed at.

Larissa Pacheco (13-4) vs Julija Pajić (3-0)

Pacheco was the runner up in 2019 and is also a UFC veteran. Her only pro losses have come to Kayla Harrison and former UFC Champions Jessica Andrade and Germaine de Randamie. She is a strong grappler that has power to end it on the feet. Pajić is an up and coming prospect from Macedonia. She is unbeaten as a pro that hasn’t needed the judges’ scorecards to date. Her key to victory here is her striking.

Cindy Dandois (16-5) vs Kaitlin Young (11-10-1)

Dandois has fought in the UFC and Cage Warriors. She is a judoka who is very good at getting takedowns and then dominating in top position. Her striking isn’t great. Young is a Muay Thai fighter who has four wins from her last five, so her form is better than her record suggests. If she can keep it standing, she’s in with a great chance. She will need to stay away from the cage as if Dandois gets her down, she’s unlikely to get back up until the round ends.

Helena Kolesnyk (5-2) vs Taylor Guardado (0-1)

Kolesnyk is an Invicta veteran, however lost both her contests there via submission. She is a boxer that can finish it within the distance if she can keep it on the feet. Guardado was a runner up in the Invicta Bantamweight tournament last year, winning two fights to get to the final (officially recorded as exhibition bouts as they were one round fights). She has a solid amateur career and has been competing for over a decade. She’s likely going to try and clinch by the cage and use her grappling.

PFL 2021 #3 is live on Thursday night from 22:30 and is available on ESPN and 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.